Tester sportsmen's bill advances easily in Senate
Written byPHIL TAYLOR, Greenwire
A Montana senator's bill to boost hunting and angling opportunities on public lands easily cleared a procedural vote this weekend in the Senate, ensuring it will be the chamber's first order of business when it returns in mid-November.
Sen. Jon Tester's (D-Mont.) S. 3525 would conserve wetlands, allow funding for shooting ranges on public lands and safeguard the use of lead bullets and fishing tackle, among other provisions. It would also extend a decade-old law that allows federal agencies to conserve sensitive habitats using proceeds from the sales of lower-value federal lands.
The bill passed, 84-7, at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, the chamber's final act before adjourning for the campaign season.
Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain, who had earlier tried to attach their bill to promote a copper mine in Arizona, voted against Tester's bill. Democrats Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Robert Menendez of New Jersey also opposed the measure, as did Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
The bill has drawn broad support from the National Rifle Association, the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the Wilderness Society, but is opposed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which criticized language barring U.S. EPA from regulating lead bullets and fishing tackle.
"It's encouraging to see that people can work across the aisle when it comes to our natural resources," Paul Schmidt, Ducks Unlimited's chief conservation officer, said in a statement Saturday. "Some of the most important programs for waterfowl, including the reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a provision allowing for an increase to the price of the federal duck stamp in order to conserve more wetlands, and the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act, are part of this package."
The vote followed days of intense political jockeying as Paul demanded a vote on his bill to block foreign aid to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt and Republicans sought to postpone a vote on Tester's bill, which, while broadly supported in substance, was seen as an political ploy to burnish his re-election bid against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).
Caught in the middle was a six-month stopgap funding measure that needed to be passed to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1. After voting down Paul's bill and passing a separate resolution addressing Iran's development of nuclear weapons, senators passed the spending bill 62-30 with no amendments, allowing it to go straight to the president's desk.
Before voting on Tester's bill, House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made one final push to replace it with H.R. 4089, a House-passed bill to require federal land managers to prioritize hunting and fishing when crafting land management plans (E&E Daily, April 18).
Passage of the House sportsmen's bill -- which Rehberg strongly supported -- would send the measure straight to the president's desk, McConnell said. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) objected, saying the House bill was much smaller in scope.
In addition, the House bill was opposed by wilderness and national parks groups and drew objections from the Obama administration over language handcuffing the president's ability to designate new national monuments and barring the Bureau of Land Management from restricting target shooting.
Tester's package included provisions in the House bill to safeguard the use of lead bullets and allow hunters to import polar bears legally hunted in Canada. He said earlier this summer that sportsmen in Montana had expressed concerns about other aspects of the House bill.
Saturday's vote was a partial victory for Tester as he returns to the campaign trail in Montana, which boasts one of the nation's highest numbers of hunters per capita. Deer and elk hunting season begins Oct. 20, and bow hunting for many species has already begun.