Exclusive Report: HUNT Act Could Unlock Public Hunting and Fishing Areas Across the Country

There’s nothing worse than a beautiful piece of public wilderness getting landlocked by private property and made inaccessible. In hopes of making sure that more of those areas are busted open to the public, Congressman Martin Heinrich (D-NM) stepped up today and introduced the HUNT Act.

The Hunt Unrestricted on our National Treasures Act is the kind of legislation we love to see. It’s simple and to the point. It directs the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to do what many outdoorsmen have been asking those agencies to do for years: Inventory public lands, figure out which areas are inaccessible, and decide what resources are needed to change that.

The difference between the HUNT act and some of the other efforts like HR 1581 (the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011) is that there’s no overreach here. It’s simple: Find out how to get to landlocked public land, provide a solid funding source to help implement it, and don’t reduce habitat functionality while doing it.

My lord, what a concept.

The bill contains three key provisions:

1.) The bill directs the heads of all federal land management agencies to prepare a report within 6 months detailing lands over 640 acres that have no public access, or where the egress to those public lands is severely limited. Then, they must define which lands could be reasonably accessed as well as which lands are highly valuable for hunting and fishing.

2.) The bill directs the federal land managers to list the routes leading to public lands on their websites. Far too often, the roads leading to public lands are the first ones closed, legally or illegally. Having a comprehensive database that shows sportsmen which roads are the ones they want (and have the right to travel on) makes it more difficult to shut down access in the future.

3.) 1.5 percent of Land and Water Conservation Fund monies will be used to help secure this new access. The bill specifies what kind of access folks are looking for. Primarily it will be used to purchase easements to allow for public traffic, as well as to help purchase small tracts of land that will let people reach those public land islands that were previously surrounded by private property. The 1.5 percent for access idea couldn’t have come soon enough. Over the last few years, several key members of Congress have tried to get a permanent fund for access through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This is a wholly appropriate use of off-shore oil and gas leasing revenue, and a fantastic way to help increase our access to public lands and support the local economies that rely on that access.

Easements, small land acquisitions and inventorying public land shouldn’t be controversial issues, but it is an election year. Who knows how this will shake out. On the upside, there are no gimmicks or ulterior motives that I can see here. Likewise, there is no good reason to oppose this legislation, unless you want to keep the public off the land its tax dollars support. Time after time, we hear that folks are hanging up their rods and rifles because they can’t find a spot to hunt or fish anymore. If we want the outdoor life to continue, we’re going to have to make some investments in our future. The HUNT Act is a good investment in that legacy.

If any bill deserves passage in this Congress, the HUNT Act certainly does.