Bills Would Undo Conservation Wins Hunters and Anglers Fought For

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Early this week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on four separate bills dealing with public land policies that impact hunters and anglers. Two of those bills would roll back recently instituted protections for wild lands in Minnesota and Alaska, one would give the mining industry more leeway when operating on public lands, and another would completely overturn a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that puts conservation on equal footing with mining, grazing, and timber production on BLM property. 

Kaden McArthur is the Government Relations Manager for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA). He tells Field & Stream that the slew of bills “targets the future of intact fish and wildlife habitat across the nation.”

“We are deeply discouraged to see the House of Representatives take politically charged action to overturn conservation achievements widely applauded by hunters and anglers,” McArthur says. “With limited time left before the end of this Congress, lawmakers ought to be focused on passing bipartisan policies like Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), that further the conservation of our wild places and wildlife, rather than walking back these actions taken by the Department of the Interior.” 

According to McArthur, the bills will see floor time on Tuesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 1st. Tomorrow, the House will vote on the “Superior National Forest Restoration Act” and the “WEST Act,” led by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT).

Boundary Waters and Public Lands Rule at Risk

F&S reported on the Superior National Forest Restoration Act late last week. Sponsored by Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, the bill would abolish a 20-year moratorium on mining in the watershed surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Ely, Minnesota. And it would breath new life into a stalled proposal to construct a sulfide-ore copper mine what could have negative ecological impacts on fish and wildlife in the Boundary Waters. More on that here.

The WEST Act would repeal the BLM’s Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, which the federal agency just passed earlier this month. McArthur says the rule was widely supported within the hunting and fishing community. “The BLM received 200,000-plus comments, 90 percent of which were in support of the Public Lands Rule,” he says.

The Conservation and Landscape Health Rule, or Public Lands Rule, will add conservation to a list of multiple-use priorities—oil and gas drilling, renewable energy development, livestock grazing, etc.—that the BLM must consider when managing its 245 million acres throughout the West and into Alaska. Among other things, it will ensure the preservation of intact landscapes that act as wintering grounds and migration corridors for both big and small game species. “As written, the WEST Act would both repeal the Public Lands Rule and never allow a similar rule to be written again,” McArthur says, “but we’ve been told that the authors of this bill are cutting that last part out in an attempt to gather more votes.”

Mining on Public Lands, Drilling in the Arctic

On Wednesday, May 1, the House will vote on both the “Alaska’s Right to Produce Act” and the “Mining Regulatory Clarity Act.” The former would reinstate controversial oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); the latter gives mining companies even more wiggle room that they already have when operating on National Forests and other tracts of public land, McArthur says.

Like the Superior National Forest Restoration Act, the Alaska’s Right to Produce Act is being sponsored by Minnesota Rep. Pete Stauber. “He’s also the Chairman of the Mineral and Resources Subcommittee in the House,” McArthur says. “And so a lot of these bill have his fingerprints on them.”

The bill would overturn established safeguards in the ANWR by re-opening oil and gas drill sites that the Department of the Interior (DOI) shut down last September. Some of these sites are in a proposed wilderness area that serves as a calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd, BHA said in a recent press release. Stauber’s Alaska bill would also overturn a DOI rule that recently increased protections on 13 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a vast chunk of public land north of the Brooks Range that supports the declining Western Arctic Caribou Herd.

The House is set consider the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act last, which McArthur calls a “poorly written bill that grants mining companies absolute rights when exploring for minerals and developing mines on public land.” While mining and prospecting are already allowed on public lands—activities that are governed by a law that’s been on the books, virtually unchanged, since Ulysses S. Grant was in office—this act would further empower mining companies by allowing them to mine and explore for minerals in federally designated wilderness areas.

McArthur says the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act is the mining industry’s response to a 2022 court decision that imposed common-sense regulations on public land mining practices. “In the Rosemont Court case, industry was using mining claims on public land to dispose of [billions of pounds of] mine waste tailings on a national forest [in Arizona],” he says. “And the court decided that that was not in fact what the mining claims were intended to be used for.”

According to a blog post published by the University of Arizona College of Law, the Rosemont decision has made large-scale mining on public lands “more difficult.” The 2022 post also predicted that the Rosemont case would force the mining industry to lobby Congress for preferential reforms.

Related: Feds to Deny Permit for Proposed Mining Road Through Alaska’s Famed Brooks Range

The text of the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act flatly states that it would “limit the right the Federal Government to regulate mining and mining-related activities in areas withdrawn from mining under the Wilderness Act” [of 1964]. “This is the opposite of the direction we should be going,” McArthur says. “What we need is good mining reforms.”

If you’d like to contact your representative about one or more of these bill, you can do so here.

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