Why the Natural Resources Management Act is so important
It was fitting, this week, that the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed the Natural Resources Management Act.
The 92-8 vote came on Feb. 12, less than a week after the deaths of two incredibly important North American conservation figures — John Dingell who died Feb. 7 and Tom Cade who died Feb. 6.
You might recognize the Dingell name from the Dingell-Johnson Act, also known as the Sport Fish Restoration Act, which assigned an excise tax on boat fuel and fishing gear to help pay for fish conservation and fishing access. It is John Dingell’s father, John Dingell Sr. whose name is on that bill. John Dingell Jr. took over his father’s seat in Congress five years after the Dingell-Johnson act was passed. He was a Democrat from Michigan and in addition to becoming the longest serving member of Congress in history before leaving office, he was one of the lead authors of the Endangered Species Act. Dingell also worked to get the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Wilderness acts passed.
Tom Cade, is less widely known. Though no less important, when it comes to raptors at least. Cade founded the Peregrine Fund and was one of the leading actors behind efforts to help restore American peregrine falcon populations. Since its creation the Peregrine Fund has worked with more than 100 raptor species and helped save several from extinction. Cade also helped found the North American Grouse Partnership after the peregrine falcon was taken off the Endangered Species list in 1999.
On the surface, a long-serving Democratic congressman and a bird biologist don’t seem all that closely related. Yes, both were instrumental in conserving wildlife in their own way but the similarity doesn’t end there. Both Cade and Dingell were lifelong hunters. Cade, in fact, was a falconer, meaning he hunted with raptors. Dingell, a hardcore Michigan duck hunter, lead the effort to create the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. It was hunting as much as anything else that inspired both men to work so hard for wildlife.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Hunters, more than any other group in the United States, are responsible for the recovery and restoration of this nation’s wildlife. Hunters have led the way on conservation for more than 130 years and continue to do so today. Which is why the Natural Resources Management Act is such a big deal.
The act is all about public lands. Among other things, it permanently authorizes and pays for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses royalty payments made to the federal government by oil and gas drillers to improve parks and expand public access to the outdoors. The act also includes such things as re-authorizing the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a private lands conservation program that allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to match privately raised conservation dollars. Another provision in the act, would create the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps which would hire kids and military veterans to maintain or improve national parks and other public lands.
South Dakota’s two Senators, for what it’s worth, wholeheartedly supported the Natural Resources Management Act. They both hail from the central part of the state and grew up hunting.
Sen. Mike Rounds said, in part, “In South Dakota, we treasure our public lands.” He went on to say that the state also works hard to respect and work with private landowners when it comes to conservation, which is true.
Sen. John Thune said, “As both a policymaker and someone who greatly enjoys the outdoors, I strongly support policies that preserve and protect our natural resources, especially those in South Dakota, for future generations to enjoy.”
This focus on public lands is important because public lands and Americans’ access to them are the biggest reason so many Americans are able to be hunters. Public lands allow people from cities and towns, most of whom don’t own land, to enjoy time outside and, on occasion, put meat on the table. Without public lands and the hunters they support, American wildlife would be in dire straights. As it is, things are pretty good. There are now far more ducks, whitetail deer, elk and bears on our continent than there were even 40 years ago. Again, this is largely due to the efforts of hunters.
Unfortunately, the number of hunters in America is shrinking. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is hunters’ collective failure to recruit new hunters. The Natural Resources Management Act could provide hunters with an additional set of opportunities to bring new hunters out to the field.
All of this, of course, depends on what the U.S. House of Representatives does with the bill. South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson told me on Feb. 13, that he’s cautiously optimistic the act will get through the House. It’s actually racing at lightning speed — by congressional standards — for a vote on the chamber’s floor. Johnson said he expects the bill to come up for a vote the week of Feb. 25. That’s less than two weeks a way.
“If you look at this bill on the facts, on its potential to positively impact people’s lives, this is a good bill,” Johnson said. Though, he noted it’s not perfect. No bill is.