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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Rep. Mat Erpelding and Sen. Lee Heider: Support sportsmen’s access on National Hunting and Fishing Day

By By: Rep. Mat Erpelding and Sen. Lee Heider

Many of you have probably not heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It’s not a subject that gets a lot of press even though it’s been around for more than 50 years. While you may not have heard about it, the fruits of the LWCF are all around us.

The local parks you take your children to may be the product of LWCF funding.

That boat slip at your state park may be the product of LWCF funding.

And, the continued access to Idaho’s beautiful public lands may be the product of LWCF funding.

The impact of the fund is all around us, even if you’ve never heard of it.

Saturday, Sept. 22, is our nation’s 46th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. As co-chairs of the Idaho State Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and as members of the 48-state National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, we are proud to celebrate the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling. This is also the perfect time to talk about the LWCF.

Since 1964, Idaho has received nearly $300 million from the fund. Every single county in Idaho has benefited. Unfortunately, we find ourselves up against a deadline to renew this program. Unless our federal legislators act now, the LWCF will expire on Sept. 30. That’s why we are using this occasion to urge our state’s congressional leaders to ensure that critical sportsmen’s access provisions in the LWCF are reauthorized before it expires. The LWCF, broadly, is a program created by Congress with bipartisan support that utilizes revenues collected from offshore energy leases to fund the acquisition of lands and waters to enhance outdoor recreational access for the general public.

Recent estimates suggest that approximately 9.5 million acres of public lands in the West are landlocked. That means they are not accessible due to land ownership patterns and topography that prevents hunters, anglers and others from gaining access to areas that could support fish and wildlife-dependent recreation. In Idaho, approximately 208,000 acres are landlocked, 194,000 of which are Bureau of Land Management lands.

We have an excellent opportunity to fix some of these access issues with the inclusion of Making Public Lands Public provisions in congressional LWCF reauthorization legislation. For example, bipartisan members of the House Natural Resource Committee recently agreed to include a provision that would direct 3 percent or $20 million – whichever is greater – of the funds annually appropriated to LWCF to efforts that allow public land managers to work with willing landowners to increase access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation. This type of bipartisan leadership is critical.

Idaho’s hunters and anglers are the primary source of conservation funding for the Gem State. They generated $57.3 million in license and tag fees and excise taxes paid on hunting and fishing equipment last year to help fund state-based fish and wildlife conservation. Hunting and angling are also a significant economic driver for our state. Idaho’s sportsmen and women spend over $1 billion per year on their outdoor pursuits. That supports over 15,200 jobs and generates approximately $97 million in state and local taxes. Given the immense conservation and economic impact provided by our state’s hunters and anglers, it is absolutely crucial that Idahoans continue to have robust access to our lands and waters for our sportsmen’s pastimes. We can help ensure this with the inclusion of the sportsmen’s access provisions in the current LWCF legislative package.

While National Hunting and Fishing Day happens only once a year, Idahoans celebrate our pristine public lands every day. Remember that the next time you visit a local park, put your boat into a lake or river, hunt chukars along rimrock BLM lands, or hike through a wilderness area somewhere in our state. Idaho’s values are etched into every mountain, every waterway, and every open space throughout the state. Take this time to urge your federal delegation to turn the celebration of Idaho’s public lands into an everyday event by including these key Making Public Lands Public provisions in the LWCF package currently moving through Congress.

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, and Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, are co-chairs of the Idaho Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

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