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Published December 17, 2012, 10:27 AM

Senate sportsmen's bill needs work

Legislation would impose on land-use rights

By: National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Agweek

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council and American Farm Bureau Federation recently sent a letter to the Senate expressing concern regarding Title II, “National Fish Habitat,” of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (S. 3525), a section of the bill that addresses provisions on aquatic habitat.

According to Dustin Van Liew, PLC executive director and NCBA director of federal lands, Title II would harm private property rights and mandate new spending that the federal government cannot afford.

“While aspects of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act are good, including public lands access measures and language limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority, Title II would implement duplicative and possibly unworkable new regulations on vast amounts of land and water, both public and private,” Van Liew says.

According to Van Liew, the legislation would allow non-federal entities to buy private property and water rights for “conservation” of aquatic habitats, using “federal dollars, with approval by a federally designated board and under federally defined conservation standards.”

He adds that “the term ‘aquatic habitat’ that qualifies projects for funding is defined very broadly in this legislation, even including areas adjacent to an aquatic environment. This is effectively a regulatory blank check on private and federal lands. The ability of ranchers to utilize federal lands and their own private land would be greatly diminished because of the legislation’s conservation standard and the far reach of its aquatic habitat definition.”

Although the legislation proposes safeguards for property owners, NCBA, PLC and AFBF noted in their letter that those safeguards are not adequate in protecting against inappropriate regulation or acquisition of land. They say pressure easily can be put on these landowners, many of whom are farmers and ranchers, to sell their land when they otherwise would not. Van Liew adds that the House-passed version of the bill, H.R. 4089, contains positive multiple-use aspects, such as local oversight of designated national monuments.

“We urge Senate passage of a sportsmen’s bill that reflects aspects found in the House-passed version of this bill, H.R. 4089,” Van Liew says. “By requiring states’ approval and preventing any use restrictions or closures on monuments without a review period and public input, this provision in H.R. 4089 promotes democratic and federalist principles that keep governance as close to the governed as possible. This will help prevent damaging restrictions on lands that ranching families and other multiple-use industries have relied on and stewarded for generations.”