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Improving public land access

February 19, 2019

Like thousands of families across Idaho, Vicki and I raised our children, and now our grandchildren, to enjoy the outdoors through hunting, fishing and recreation. Some of our best memories together have been spent on public lands across the state, which helped me develop a deep appreciation for our cherished natural resources. As someone who has to spend time in Washington, D.C., the ability to step off our porches and into the great outdoors is special to Idaho.

I have introduced or sponsored several pieces of legislation in the Senate to expand recreational opportunities and ensure the federal government is not hindering access for that recreation or other users of our public lands and water. Much to my pleasure, several of those bills were included in a larger land and natural resources management package, which passed the Senate recently.

The Natural Resources Management Act is a bipartisan package of 100 lands bills that was carefully negotiated by Republicans and Democrats from the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which I serve. It strikes a balance between preserving the natural landscapes of the West and improving opportunities for land use and natural resource development.

As sportsmen and women in Idaho know well, some bureaucratic federal regulations have made it more cumbersome to use our own resources for recreational purposes. I have been advocating for the Sportsmen’s Act for several sessions of Congress for this very reason and was pleased we were able to have several of its provisions pass in this package last week. These are common-sense public access measures like allowing bows to be safely transported through parks, federal land to be leased or permitted for shooting ranges and qualified volunteers to assist with wildlife management. It also codifies an “open unless closed” standard for federal land, broadening and simplifying sportsmen’s access and establishes clear, central publishing of land available to the public for hunting, fishing and recreation.

Equally as important is ensuring farmers and ranchers are able to continue using our natural resources responsibly to boost our economy and feed our families. My Reclamation Title Transfer Act was included in this lands package. Non-federal entities, like water and irrigation districts, operate two-thirds of Reclamation assets across the West. Unfortunately, these entities don’t have the freedom to make independent decisions and secure financing because while they operate and have paid for the assets, they don’t hold the title. With the current process, each individual transfer requires years of study, steep costs and an act of Congress. My bill streamlines this process, giving the secretary of Interior the ability to make these transfers directly.

Also included is much-needed reform to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). For too long, politically motivated groups have used taxpayer dollars to create an industry out of suing the federal government over natural resource projects. They have taken advantage of well-intended legislation and greatly burdened our agricultural and natural resource industries. These modifications, which I have supported for years, will require EAJA fees to be publically listed. This will protect veterans, small businesses and other individuals who truly need access to legal services while lessening the incentive for politically driven litigants disrupting vital economies.

Our land and water are integral to our most treasured pastimes and our most valued industries. Enjoying our public lands comes with a high degree of responsibility and stewardship to ensure future generations of Idahoans can continue to enjoy the natural beauty of our state and lands for many, many years to come. The bills we passed last recently will help meet that goal, and I was proud to vote yes.