Conservation Bill is a Win for Anglers

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act is poised to increase fishing access around the country.

prm-Flickr- credit Jon Tester

On Tuesday, the President signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, a sweeping conservation bill that has received widespread bipartisan support. The bill includes more than 100 provisions, including several that will benefit freshwater and saltwater anglers.

This is the fourth year that Congress has tried to pass a conservation package. “The direct benefit to anglers is going to be more public access to fishing spots, and more public access to public lands where there’s fishing and fewer invasive species,” says Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation.

The bill permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses fees from offshore oil and gas revenues to fund the acquisition of fishing access points. State and federal governments will purchase tracts of land or conservation easements on stretches of river or coastline that are privately owned, giving anglers access to previously restricted waters. Seventy percent of Montana’s fishing access areas were funded by the LWCF, but funding had lapsed until the passage of this bill.

02-Flickr- Umpqua River- credit BLM

The LWCF isn’t a done deal. The funds need to be appropriated annually, a process that is often riddled with hurdles. But angling organizations are optimistic.

The bill contains provisions to reduce populations of invasive fish species, as well as adding 250 miles to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a series of rivers protected from development that would inhibit their flows. It makes explicit that all Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land is open to hunting and fishing unless otherwise specified. And it requires an annual assessment of public areas where fishing is restricted, to look for ways to provide access.

Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited, is celebrating the creation of the Frank and Jeanne Moore Wild Steelhead Special Management Area, a nearly 100,000-acre tract along the North Umpqua River in Oregon. Frank Moore, who is 98, is a noted fly fisherman. “Those kind of things usually happen posthumously,” Wood says. “It’s great to be able to honor heroes while they’re still here.”

The bill is an anomaly in today’s political climate: It passed the Senate 92 to 8, and the House 363 to 62. Lawmakers who usually clash publicly over other types of legislation joined forces to promote the bill. Leahy says conservation remains one of the country’s bipartisan issues. Wood agrees. “I think a lot of [lawmakers] who might have been [riding] the divest-public-lands bus said, ‘Screw that. People who vote for me want these places protected. They live in these places. They love these places. They love to fish and hunt in them,’” he says.

03-Flickr- Yakima River- credit BLM

There might be consensus about the need for conservation measures, but lawmakers have different ideas about how to implement them. The bill contains independent measures for most states, satisfying local organizations and constituents around the country.

Wood says this is indicative of a trend to localize conservation. He says when antagonists sit down face-to-face for conversations about how to achieve their shared goals for a parcel of land or a waterway, the result is often productive. He wrote in a recent blog post, “The bill is a nod to the common-sense idea that the more local we can make conservation, the more durable it becomes.” 

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