Federal public lands are an important destination for many Americans, including those that hunt and fish. Despite their popularity, many federal lands are currently unavailable to the public due to land ownership patterns that preclude hunters, anglers and others from gaining access to areas that could support fish and wildlife-dependent recreation. In response to this problem, CSF developed the “Making Public Lands Public” concept in 2006 to advance solutions that provide hunting and fishing opportunities on landlocked federal lands. Subsequently, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Members have introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at improving access to public lands for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. In the 116th Congress, the Making Public Lands Public Initiative was addressed through S. 47, the Dingell Act, and S. 3422, the Great American Outdoors Act, a significant win for sportsmen and women.
Nearly half of all hunters conduct a portion of their hunting activity on public lands. In western states that feature millions of acres of public land managed by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), hunters’ dependence on public land is even higher with more than 70% spending the majority of their hunting days on public ground in all western states except California. However, numerous reports suggest that access to Federal land is problematic in a number of areas. In fact, a 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee concluded that more than 35 million acres of BLM and USFS land have inadequate access. Lack of access to hunting lands is cited as a primary reason that hunters stop participating in this traditional sport.
For over a decade, CSF has been at the forefront of documenting the issue of inaccessibility to significant portions of federal public lands. As a result, CSF began the Making Public Lands Public initiative with the support and cooperation of allies in the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), a group of 50 non-governmental organizations representing millions of hunter-conservationists. AWCP requested that an access category be created within the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to be used by the USFS, BLM, USFWS, and the National Park Service (NPS) to open or improve access to existing federal lands for hunting, angling and other recreational activities.
On January 8, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus member Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Maria Cantwell introduced S.47, the Natural Resources Management Act, legislation that would dedicate 3% or $15 million (whichever is greater) from appropriations made to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to projects that secure recreational public access to Federal land for “hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, or other outdoor recreational purposes.” S. 47 passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote of 92-8 on February 12, 2019. On February 26, the bill passed the House on a vote of 363-62 and was subsequently signed by the President, becoming law on March 12, 2019.
Additionally, the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4 fully funds the Making Public Lands initiative by ensuring that at least $15 million of the funds made available for the Land and water Conservation Fund ($900 million annually) will be provided for the purposes of increasing recreational access for sportsmen and women.
- American Wildlife Conservation Partners: Wildlife for the 21st Century
- American Wildlife Conservation Partners: Making Public Lands Public Brief