FLOOR SPEECH: Introduction of Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015

I’ve come to the Floor to speak in support of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, which I co-sponsored and introduced today with my friend from New Mexico, Senator Heinrich. 

I want to start by thanking Senator Heinrich and his staff for working with us to revise and re-introduce this important bill. I also greatly appreciate the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Sportsmen’s Caucus on these issues. I very much look forward to working with the Caucus and others in this chamber to advance this bill.    

We are here today not just to announce the re-introduction of our Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, but also to renew the conversation about its importance – and to urge the Senate to come together to prioritize its passage.

Our sportsmen and women come from all over the country, from big cities and small towns, from the north and the south.  For many of us, outdoor activities are a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation.  Hunting and fishing are best-known among them, but the enthusiasts who go outside to boat or recreationally shoot enjoy a long tradition as well.   

Sportsmen and women also play an important role in our economy.  In 2013, approximately 37 million people hunted or fished in America.  That is roughly equal to the population of California, and those numbers are always increasing. 

With these impressive numbers comes a huge economic impact. Sportsmen and women spent roughly $90 billion in 2013, and those numbers have likely risen since then. Their dollars go not only to gear and equipment, but also to the travel industry, to the hospitality industry, and to many other sectors of our economy.

Spending by sportsmen and women also aids conservation efforts.  Excise taxes on fishing, hunting, and shooting equipment, motorboat fuel, as well as fees for licenses and stamps, are all dedicated to state fish and wildlife management and conservation.  These individuals care deeply for the environment and for conservation, which is why these excise taxes are in place to take care of our natural resources.  Since their establishment, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs have contributed over $14.5 billion to conservation.

Turning to my home State for a moment, in Alaska alone there are over 125,000 individuals who engage in hunting each year.  This in turn has created more than $439 million in retail sales and $195 million in salaries and wages.  Hunting in Alaska also brings in over $53 million to State and local governments each year. 

When you look at our recreational fishing industry, the numbers are even more impressive.  Last year, over 460,000 people bought fishing licenses to take part in some of the best fishing in the world and generated an estimated $1.4 billion to Alaska’s economy. These are huge contributors to our economy and tax base.  I cannot underscore just how important these industries are for Alaska.

Our Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 builds on last year’s effort, which was broadly supported by 46 members of this chamber.  It includes all of the provisions from the previous bill – except for two that were enacted in other legislation – and adds additional bipartisan provisions like Senator Heinrich’s revised HUNT Act.  Together, these will increase access and provide greater opportunities for sportsmen and sportswomen to enjoy our public lands.

For those who may not have followed our efforts over the last two Congresses to advance Sportsmen’s legislation, I want to take a few moments to discuss provisions in this package that are especially important from my perspective. 

First is a bill that I have championed for several years, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act.  It protects recreational hunting and fishing on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands while reaffirming other prior Congressional actions enacted to protect hunting and wildlife conservation. 

My bill – again in this year’s broader package – requires that BLM and Forest Service land be open to hunting, recreational fishing, or recreational shooting as a matter of law unless the managing agency acts to close lands to such activities.  Leaving lands open unless closed means that agencies need not take action to open them to hunting and fishing.  The agencies are still permitted to close or place restrictions on land for a number of purposes, including resource conservation and public safety.  But on the whole, this is an affirmation that sportsmen and women are welcome on America’s public lands. 

Next, I would like to discuss the Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act – which has again been included.  This bipartisan provision was previously introduced by Senators Thune and Klobuchar as a standalone bill.  Its language is very important to many of us and to nearly all of the sportsmen’s groups that we have heard from. 

This provision is necessary to push back against some extreme environmental groups who have been attempting to ban all traditional ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.  Their attack has reinforced the need for Congress to preserve and protect the rights of all sportsmen to choose their own ammunition and fishing tackle.  As many of us know, traditional ammunition and fishing tackle are significantly less expensive than alternative options, so this provision could quite literally be the difference in whether many sportsmen and women are able to continue participating in outdoor activities. 

I would also point out that our bill addresses some important conservation priorities, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 

I want to again thank Senator Heinrich and the Sportsmen’s Caucus. I look forward to working with our colleagues in the House to ensure Sportsmen’s legislation reaches the President’s desk.  I am sure we will have a robust discussion along the way, both in Committee and here on the Senate floor.  As we move this bipartisan effort along, I strongly encourage all of our colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to support the thousands of sportsmen and women in their home states by joining us in cosponsoring this important legislation.