Last Minute Action to Amend HB 4684 Before VoteMarch 20th, 2012
You may recall from last year our efforts to fight HB 4684 right in the middle of the fall hunting seasons. MUCC, its members, and conservation partners successfully delayed a vote on the bill at that time due to the concerns with the language as introduced, which would have put roughly $25 million dollars in Pittman-Robertson (PR) and Dingell-Johnson (DJ) funds in jeopardy (federal funding derived from taxes on hunting and sport fishing equipment and matched with hunting and fishing license fees).
This bill was again brought back for a vote this morning (Tuesday 3/20) by the House Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Committee. MUCC and its partners again worked after hours with bill sponsor Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-Kewadin) and Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey), and committee members Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), Rep. Peter Pettalia (R–Alpena), and Rep. Harold Haugh (D–Roseville) to develop amendments that will hopefully protect sportsmens’ dollars (a link to the amended bill is forthcoming).
The origination of this bill, and all the bills before it, is the desire of some horseback riders to see more access to the Pigeon River Country State Forest and a few State Game Areas, though this bill would apply to all state lands. The concern from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been whether state lands purchased or managed by federal PR-DJ or state Game and Fish dollars will continue to be used for their primary purpose, which is hunting, fishing, and habitat, and whether the DNR will continue to have authority to address any use conflicts.
The amendments have changed the bill to remove a reference to the USFWS Services Manual stating that use of trails and trail ways was an acceptable use for PR-DJ purchased land. The USFWS has continually stated that this section, which has been a part of previous drafts of the bill, was inappropriate and inaccurate.
Another amendment ensured that only “designated” trails and trail ways could be used for equestrian riders. This change hopes to clear up the issue that any trail out there on public land is open for use by anyone. The department maintains the authority to designate or not designate trails to manage for user conflicts and protect the natural resources.
The most significant amendment in terms of protecting PR-DJ funds struck out a requirement that the department base any trail closures on public land on a “biological assessment” that met the standards of USFWS. MUCC believes this language was misapplied from federal law and rules for allowing secondary uses (i.e. – trails) on PR-DJ land that required the DNR to conduct a biological assessment to ensure that the proposed secondary use would not impede on the primary purpose – hunting and fishing. According to USFWS, requiring the DNR to go through a process to regulate a secondary use was problematic because it would restrict the department’s ability to manage for the primary purpose. In other words, the goal of PR-DJ lands must be to provide for hunting and fishing with the ability to allow other limited recreational uses; not to allow all other uses along with hunting and fishing.
Outside of the legislative process, considerable progress has been made in the past six months to expand horseback use in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in areas where a use-conflict does not occur. These proposals have been well received by most equestrian groups and are only found to be inadequate for a few who are willing to put these federal funds at risk.
MUCC is now neutral on this amended bill as it moves to the House Floor for consideration, but will continue to follow this legislation very closely. We do think that continued action will be needed to ensure these amendments remain in the bill once it moves over to the Senate.
MUCC has and will continue to seek verification from the USFWS on any and all language associated with this and any legislation affecting land and activities governed by Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson, and Game and Fish funds.