U.S. Senator Thune offers amendments to sportsmen’s bill | TSLN.com

U.S. Senator Thune offers amendments to sportsmen’s bill

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) last week introduced several amendments to the bipartisan Sportsmen's Act (S. 2363) on the Senate floor. Thune's amendments would improve the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to save farmers and taxpayers money, redirect Forest Service funds to fight pine beetles and wildfires, and encourage elk hunting in large national parks to keep elk numbers at recommended levels.

1) An amendment to improve CRP to save farmers and taxpayers money: Thune's amendment follows the June 16 letter he sent U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Thune's amendment would modify the CRP program allowing CRP participants to use the hay removed by mid-contract management and receive a 25 percent reduction in their annual rental payment, or allow participants to donate the hay to a third party and receive the full annual payment. Making this change could save taxpayers nearly $12 million in South Dakota alone.

"CRP holds a significant role in the success of South Dakota's agriculture and rural economies, and I am concerned that South Dakota has already lost one-third of its peak 1.5 million acres," said Thune. "This common-sense policy modification would make CRP more attractive to participants and save taxpayers money. Not only does CRP provide an economic alternative to farming marginal land, CRP's hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat in South Dakota enhance the economies of small towns and rural areas by supporting our pheasant and wildlife populations."

2) An amendment to redirect Forest Service land acquisition funds to fight pine beetles and wildfires: Thune's amendment follows the June 23 letter he sent the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on the committee to prioritize forest management, including efforts to address the pine beetle outbreak in the Black Hills National Forest, over land acquisition in the Fiscal Year 2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. Thune's amendment would place a moratorium on Forest Service land acquisition for five years, redirecting the money to pine beetle forest management practices and firefighting.

"The health of our federal forestland is deteriorating at an alarming rate," said Thune. "Current federal lands management policies are not keeping up with damage to our forests caused by beetle infestations, wildfires, and other catastrophes. Rather than spending millions of dollars acquiring additional land each year, the Forest Service should use acquisition funds to improve management on the land it currently owns. Adequate timber harvests and responsible thinning are the keys to healthier forests, fewer wildfires, and better management of insect infestations."

3) An amendment to encourage hunting to control elk populations on large landscape national parks: Thune's amendment would encourage the use of hunting to control elk populations in large landscape national parks, such as South Dakota's Wind Cave National Park. The underlying sportsmen's bill includes a provision that designates all Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land open to hunting unless closed by the agency. Thune's amendment would expand that provision to certain national parks larger than 2,000 acres and have an existing elk management plan in place. After a public comment period, the National Park Service director could decide to keep a park closed to hunting, similar to the Forest Service and BLM provisions of the sportsmen's bill.

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"Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are woven into the fabric of South Dakota and represent a significant part of our national heritage," said Thune. "Rather than spending thousands of dollars each year to help control the elk population on large landscape national parks, we should amend the law to allow the National Parks Service to consider hunting as a wildlife management tool, similar to the limited hunting seasons in the Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park."

The bipartisan Sportsmen's Act includes Thune's Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act, which was introduced in September of 2013. This legislation would exempt lead fishing tackle and ammunition from being regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving regulation up to state agencies. The EPA's potential federal regulation of certain ammunition and tackle represents yet another overreach that would increase the cost of hunting and fishing. Thune's bill would prevent unnecessary federal regulation of lead in ammo and fishing tackle, ensuring that future generations of South Dakotans are not unnecessarily economically restricted from hunting, fishing, and enjoying the great outdoors.

–Senator John Thune