Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate took up a bill that all hunters and anglers should support.
Following an 80-17 vote to formally consider Senate Bill 3422, also known as the Great American Outdoors Act, the upper chamber began working toward final passage of the measure.
The bill, if passed, would provide $9.5 billion to shore up the decrepit infrastructure on America’s national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
More important, SB 3422 would stop the ongoing theft by Congress of money that should have been earmarked for those purposes all along.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in 1965 to acquire and maintain land for use by the public. The fund gets its money from fees and royalties paid by companies that drill for oil and gas in federal waters, from the sale of surplus federal lands, and from taxes on motorboat fuel.
Under the legislation, the fund should provide $900 million a year for our public lands. Sadly, in the 55-year history of the fund, only twice has the full $900 million been spent.
In all those other years, Congress has siphoned off a sizable chunk of that money and spent it for other federal programs.
Since 1965, $22.3 billion has been “diverted” — I prefer the word “stolen” — from those of us in America who hunt, fish and recreate on public lands.
That’s an average of $420.7 million a year. Think about it. Congress has swiped nearly half the money that should have been used for public recreation.
If that had happened in the private sector, it would have been called embezzlement. Inside the Beltway, it’s called “re-appropriation.”
If SB 3422 passes, remains more or less unchanged by the House of Representatives and gets signed by the president, Congress would thereafter be forbidden from filching Land and Water Conservation Fund money.
Congress doesn’t usually place restrictions on itself, but the Great American Outdoors Act appears to be an attempt to do just that. It’s almost as though they’re saying, “We can’t be trusted to do the right thing, so let’s pass a law that forces us to.”
Even more surprising, there appears to be strong bipartisan support. Eighty senators have signed on as co-sponsors. Both of West Virginia’s senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito signed on as co-sponsors early in the legislative process. Manchin, in particular, has taken a leading role in helping to push the measure.
There appears to be broad support among the public, too. In May, more than 850 outdoors, sportsman and conservation groups sent a letter that urged lawmakers to get off their collective duffs and get the bill moving.
Those groups included the Boone and Crockett Club, the National Deer Alliance, Fly Fishers International, the Quality Deer Management Association, the National Shooting Sports Association and the Ruffed Grouse Society.
Mountain State-based supporters include the West Virginia Environmental Council, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the West Virginia Land Trust, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition.
And those are only a handful of the bill’s proponents. With such a broad coalition pushing the legislation, chances appear good that the measure will find its way through the House pretty quickly.