New legislation introduced recently by Congressman Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) could soon affect large swaths of federal land. The Recreational Fishing & Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act of 2013, or H.R. 1825, will require the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create an “open until closed” policy on millions of acres of public land. Previously, the rights of hunters, anglers, and other sportsmen to federal land was unclear and at times jeopardized by local politics.
“There is an open policy for sportmen’s use of federal land,” Congressman Benishek told Outdoor Hub in an interview. “It is not particularly spelled out in the use of federal land that specifically lists hunting, fishing, and shooting as a protected right because it was always assumed. This act actually codifies in statute that federal lands would be open until closed […] in order to protect access for hunting, fishing, and recreational fishing on federal land. I grew up in northern Michigan, and I’ve been a sportsman all my life like many people. We want to ensure that our children and our grandchildren will be able to enjoy federal lands forever.”
The bill’s language has been updated since earlier versions of the act was introduced in late 2011 and early 2012. The 2013 bill specifically states that it will not open national parks and protected wilderness areas. This addressed much of the criticism by environmental groups to the previous bill, which some interpreted as setting a precedent where national parks–along with memorials and other protected areas–will be opened to hunting. Other critics were concerned that the bill will allow the use of motorized vehicles in areas previously not allowed. Congressman Benishek stated that nowhere in the bill will change current motorized vehicle policies.