Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutionsby Senator Lisa Murkowski
Posted on 2015-02-05
MURKOWSKI (for herself, Mr. Heinrich, Mr. Risch, Ms.
Heitkamp, Mrs. Fischer, and Mr. Manchin):
S. 405. A bill to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational
hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes; read the first
Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I am here on the floor today with my friend and colleague from the State of Idaho to speak in support of legislation we have just dropped today; that is, the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015. I have introduced it today, along with the prime cosponsor, Senator Heinrich from New Mexico.
I think it is important to recognize that this bipartisan bill is supported with original cosponsors, including the Senator from Idaho, Mr. Risch, Senator Manchin, Senator Fischer, and Senator Heitkamp, as well as myself and Senator Heinrich. I wish to acknowledge the role of Senator Heinrich in this and his staff for working with us to revise and reintroduce this important bill. I would also like to acknowledge the great work the bipartisan leadership of the Senate's Sportsmen's Caucus has done on this issue, led ably by my friend from Idaho. I think it is important to recognize the groundwork, the leg work that went into the development of this bill and the work the caucus did in doing so. So I thank my colleagues for all of their good, hard work.
We are here today to not only announce this reintroduction--because this is now the third Congress we have tried to advance the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act--but also to really kind of re-up the conversation about its importance and really to urge the Senate to come together to pass legislation such as we are talking about today.
We have sportsmen all over the country. I come from a big State that is wide open, and people come to Alaska to hunt and to fish. They never want to leave, and that is fine. That is how my husband came to Alaska--it was the lure of sport fishing on the Kenai River. So many of our military are on assignment to Alaska, and they end up staying because of the hunting and fishing and other recreational opportunities Alaska offers. It is not just places such as Alaska and Idaho that offer great outdoors opportunities; it is all over the country, from big cities to small towns, North and South.
For so many of us, hunting is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. Certainly my family is evidence of that. I think it is important to recognize that while we talk about hunting and fishing as being the best known recreational opportunities, we also include with this legislation enthusiasts who go outside to go boating and so many of the other outdoor activities.
We speak often on this floor about jobs and economic opportunities and what they bring to our Nation, the important role they play. Sportsmen and sportswomen really are economic contributors when we think about their role. Back in 2013 there were approximately 37 million people who hunted or fished in America. That is roughly equal to the entire population of the State of California. Those numbers are always on the rise. Again, when we have strong numbers, we also have strong economic impacts. Sports men and women spent roughly $90 billion in 2013. Those numbers have probably risen since then. Those dollars go not only to the gear and equipment, which is what we would expect, but also to the travel industry, to the hospitality industry, and to so many other sectors of the economy.
Spending by sports men and women also aids our conservation efforts. Excise taxes on fishing and hunting and shooting equipment, motorboat fuel, as well as the fees for licenses and stamps are all dedicated to State fish and wildlife management and conservation. These folks care deeply about the environment and conservation, and that 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.
I mentioned Alaska and its role as kind of a magnet for those who like to hunt and fish. In my State alone, we have over 125,000 individuals who engage in hunting every year. It has created more than $439 million in retail sales and $195 million in salaries and wages. In Alaska, we bring in over $53 million to the State and local governments each year. We had a big holiday a year or so ago when Cabela's opened its doors. It was as though we had finally arrived on the scene. All of our sportsmen--hunters and fishermen--were loving it.
On the fishing side, when we think about the economic impact in my State, it is even more impressive. Last year over 460,000 people bought fishing licenses to take part in some of the best fishing in the world. It brought about $1.4 billion to Alaska's economy. These are huge contributors to our tax base, to our economy, and they are key to who we are as a State.
Our Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2015 that we are introducing today builds on the efforts of last year. Last year's bill saw 46 Members of this Chamber coming together to support it. We have taken all of the provisions from the previous bill except for two that were enacted in other legislation and then we have added some additional bipartisan provisions. We have Senator Heinrich's revised HUNT Act. We have a couple of others that are new to the bill. All told, these measures increase access to provide greater opportunities for sports men and women to enjoy our public lands.
There are a lot of different components in the bill. I know my colleague from Idaho will speak to several of them. I wish to highlight a couple that I think are important in this discussion.
First is a bill I have championed for several years now called the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act. It protects recreational hunting and fishing on our BLM and our National Forest Service lands while reaffirming other prior congressional actions enacted to protect hunting and wildlife conservation. So the bill we have introduced--again, this is the same one we have had previously--requires BLM and Forest Service lands to be open to hunting, to recreational fishing, or recreational shooting as a matter of law unless the managing agency acts to close lands to such activity. So it is open unless otherwise closed. Leaving lands open unless closed means that agencies need not take action then to open them up to hunting and fishing. Agencies are still permitted to close or put restrictions on land for a number of purposes, such as resource conservation and public safety. But on the whole this is really an affirmation that sportsmen and sportswomen are welcome on our public lands. Isn't that what our public lands are supposed to be all about, which is being able to access them? The Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act has again been included in this bill. This [[Page S838]] was introduced previously by Senators Thune and Klobuchar as a standalone bill, but its language is very important to many of us and to nearly all the sportsmen's groups we have heard from.
We also have provisions in the bill that deal with some of the efforts to limit ammunition and fishing tackle by some organizations. I think we know that if we can't access, if we can't afford traditional ammunition and fishing tackle, it makes it pretty tough to go out and enjoy these opportunities.
We have good pieces in here relating to conservation priorities, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
I again the Sportsmen's Caucus and Senator Heinrich as the prime Democratic lead on this bill. My hope is that we will be able to build this coalition on the floor and get even beyond the number 46, which is what we had last go-around with this legislation.
I think we will have good discussion within the committee and here on the Senate floor. My hope is that the third time is going to be the charm for this sportsmen's legislation. It is important to us, it is important to our economy, and it is an issue which I am certainly willing to take aim at. Sorry for the pun.
With that, I yield to my friend from Idaho.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Idaho.