Public Lands & Waters photo

What does the Department of Defense have to do with public access to prime hunting and fishing areas?

Apparently a lot more than I thought.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act last week which, if approved by the Senate, would renew funding for the DOD.

It’s a package of bills that gives a modest 1 percent pay increase to troops, extends the administration’s authority to continue to arm rebels in Syria, and funds a new counter-terrorism program.

And, it also includes 70 public lands projects ranging from the creation of a national monument in Nevada to protect fossils to the designation of 245,000 acres of new wilderness areas. At the same time more than 100,000 acres of existing wilderness areas and public lands will transfer out of public ownership in favor of mining, timber, and mineral production.

Seem like an odd coupling?

Indeed it does. But here’s something even more confusing: The groups we rely on to keep us informed of issues of importance to hunting and fishing, can’t seem to agree on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Trout Unlimited, for example, issued a release that calls the package a “major bipartisan breakthrough” that will protect critical public areas and ensure hunting and fishing for future generations.

The National Wild Turkey Federation, on the other hand, says the bill “poses a threat to hunters nationwide” in its release. In the text of that release, the NWTF asserts: “If passed, this legislation will give the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture extremely broad discretion on the closure of hunting, fishing, and trapping on newly created Wilderness areas. In excess of 100,000 acres could be closed to hunting if the Secretary unilaterally concludes that there are concerns regarding public safety or administration. The Wilderness Act itself does not afford the Secretary such broad discretion.”

I don’t pretend to know all of the pros and cons of the land issues involved here, nor have I been able to fully digest all of the lands-related elements. But I trust both TU and NWTF. They’ve always had “my” interests at heart.

So why the conflicting views? And why, oh why, are public land and conservation tenets like this folded into a Department of Defense funding authorization package?

I know part of the answer: The public land tenets of the bill are there because Congress must pass a bill that approves defense funding. Putting these provisions in that package assures their passage. Politics? Yes. Disgusting? I think so. But that’s not the point here.

The remainder of the questions I have can likely be answered by the policy folks at TU, NWTF, and a number of other pro-sportsmen organizations.

But here’s my beef: I have the contacts and the reach to get those answers because it’s my job to do so. But what about the average Joe Hunter? How is he supposed to keep track of these things? Sure, they can rely on sources like Outdoor Life to provide the information, and we are proud to play that role. But as an Outdoor Life contributor, I’m struggling to know what, exactly, I should be telling you all about this package.

It’s my job to know this stuff and I find myself thoroughly confused here.

This package of bills illustrates just how difficult it is to navigate the political landscape and understand what things we, as hunters and anglers, should or shouldn’t support.

It also illustrates just how difficult the job of conservation groups has become. Nothing is black and white. No package of bills can be accepted at face value. And political gamesmanship will play a role in every single issue on the table.

We’re not looking at a package of bills of minor importance. This is about a bill that authorizes Congress to fund our military—to pay our soldiers, to bankroll the programs that keep our nation safe.

I’ve been around this political stuff for some time. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve found that I’ve developed some sort of desensitized outlook on all of it. But, for whatever reason, this one truly bothers me.

I understand that politics must have their place. But, shouldn’t there be some issues where politics aren’t allowed in?

Adding on public lands issues of such importance to a bill that is more than important enough to stand on its own is beyond silly. Making these packages so convoluted and hard to digest makes it nearly impossible for everyday hunters and anglers to follow along and it’s a conversation that has no place sharing time with the decision to fund the Department of Defense.

With November not yet a distant memory, I’m sure we can all recall the countless phone calls from candidates and lobby groups asking us to “vote your sport.” As hunters and anglers, we’ve been labeled apathetic. It’s claimed that we don’t vote, that we don’t do enough to support the lifestyle we cherish.

Well perhaps it’s not apathy. Perhaps it’s something much more simple that. Maybe we don’t get more involved because we don’t know what it is that we’re supposed to get involved with.

TU wants anglers to support the pending Senate vote on the defense authorization bill.

NWTF wants hunters and anglers to oppose some parts of it.


I just want to hunt. To fish. And to lend my support to those issues wherever I can. Problem is, I’m not sure how to do that anymore.