Rep. Steve Daines has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to open more access to public lands, which dovetails with a similar measure now working its way through the Senate.
The Making Public Lands Public Access Act (H.R. 3962) would use federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to pay for easements or right-of-way purchases across private land that surround public property. Daines, R-Mont., wants the Department of Agriculture to put at least 1.5 percent of the LWCF or $10 million a year, whichever is greater, toward those purchases.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., sponsored the same measure in the Senate as part of a larger package of conservation measures called the Sport Act (S. 1660). In addition to the LWCF access provision, the Sport Act would exempt lead bullets and fishing weights from Toxic Substances Control Act oversight, allow the sale of electronic duck stamps, allow the importation of legally killed polar bear trophies and clarify the rules for film crews operating on federal land. It also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“Hunting, fishing and hiking on our public lands are important parts of many Montanans’ way of life, and traditions I’ve enjoyed sharing with my kids,” Daines said in an email statement Thursday. “But almost 2 million acres of public land in Montana are inaccessible to the public. This is unacceptable. I strongly believe we must ensure the public has access to the public lands we already have. There is strong, bipartisan agreement that the Land and Water Conservation Fund can play an important role in increasing access to these lands.”
The measure won support from representatives of Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Boone and Crockett Club.
On Tuesday, Tester led a coalition of 31 senators asking President Barack Obama to request full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The account comes from royalty payments from offshore oil and gas production on federal land, and can accept up to $900 million a year. However, Congress has rarely appropriated that full amount.
Both the House and Senate bills await committee hearings, which they must pass before they can be voted on.