S. 901 and H.R. 1997, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), are designed to ensure that our public lands are truly that: open to the public and available for reasonable and responsible public use, including hunting.
S. 901 and H.R. 1997 would amend the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (LWCF) to ensure that funds are made available to make purchases or improvements to public lands to improve access to those lands.
The legislation would require that 1.5 percent or $10 million dollars, whichever is greater, from monies requested from the LWCF each year go to projects designed to improve access through the purchase of lands, securing rights-of-way, and expanding public access to existing federal public lands that are currently inaccessible or difficult to access for hunting, fishing and other recreational purposes. The funds for these projects would come from LWCF monies already available for conservation projects, with no additional expenditures of taxpayer funds required.
Currently, more than 35 million acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have inadequate access, according to a Government Accountability Office report to Congress in 2004. S. 901 and H.R. 1997 require that these projects open good access for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities on the public lands involved. Increasing access to these public lands will increase public usage and create significant economic activity in the local communities.
While S. 901 and H.R. 1997 would provide funds to make key land acquisitions, the total acreage would be small, depending instead on easements, rights-of-way, and the purchase of lands that would directly improve public access to existing federal lands. Access projects generally involve small acreages of existing federal land that cannot successfully compete for LWCF funds against large tracts of land that become available for purchase by the federal government.
Projects have already been identified that would improve public access to hundreds of thousands of acres of existing federal land. Each of these projects would greatly enhance the public’s access to public lands.