Each of us in western Wisconsin is keenly aware of how important the environment is to our daily lives. I am proud that I have made conserving our natural heritage one of the hallmarks of my work in Congress. Since arriving in Congress in 1996, I have served on the House Natural Resources Committee and have established leadership in many areas, particularly on sportsmen's issues, protecting the Mississippi River, and advocating for our National Wildlife Refuge System.
The Third Congressional District borders more miles of the Mississippi River than any other in the country. As such, the river is vital to our economy through tourism, recreation, and commercial transport; to the health of our natural environment; and to our very way of life. That is why I founded and co-chair the Upper Mississippi River Basin Congressional Task Force. I also authored the Upper Mississippi River Basin Protection Act, legislation calling for the development of a coordinated, public-private approach to studying and reducing nutrient and sediment runoff in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The bill passed the House of Representatives on March 19, 2010 and is currently being advanced in the Senate with the help of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Additionally, I have championed funding for conservation programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the organic industry to reduce agriculture's impact on the river and the Gulf of Mexico.
National Wildlife Refuge System
Home to three national wildlife refuges, western Wisconsin benefits from billions of dollars these federal lands generate in economic activity. The Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is visited by 4 million people each year -- more than Yellowstone National Park. Yet the National Wildlife Refuge System has been critically underfunded for years, causing debilitating maintenance backlogs and loss of visitor access and services.
Seeing this unmet need, I founded the Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus in 2006 to bring these issues to light and advocate for increased funding for the system. Due in part to the caucus's efforts and with new leadership in Congress, the Refuge System has recently seen the largest ever increase in funding. I also plan to reintroduce the Refuge Ecology Protection, Assistance, & Immediate Response (REPAIR) Act, which would combat the growing and costly problem of invasive species in the nation's wildlife refuges. This legislation has previously passed the House unanimously but has never seen floor action in the Senate.
National Fish Habitat Conservation Act
An avid fishermen, I recently reintroduced the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, H.R. 2565, to ensure that our nation's fish and aquatic communities are conserved for everyone to enjoy. This legislation addresses the problems of the nation's most important fisheries by building partnerships that protect and enhance fish habitat.
Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act
A life-long resident of La Crosse, I have always appreciated the beauty of these birds and understand the importance of preserving their natural habitat. This year, I reintroduced legislation, H.R. 2213, that would reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act through fiscal year 2015. This legislation will ensure the preservation of the natural habitat of migratory birds in countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.
In the wake of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I have been focused on ensuring that those responsible for the devastation are held accountable as well as enacting comprehensive legislation that will increase oversight of the oil industry, protect our environment and prevent future catastrophes. That is why I am a proud supporter of the Consolidated, Land, Energy, Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, H.R. 3534, which passed by the House of Representatives on July 30, 2010.
The CLEAR Act would make several important changes to current law in an effort to create greater efficiencies, transparency, and accountability in the development of energy resources on federal lands and in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The bill would abolish the scandal-ridden Minerals Management Service (MMS) and divide it into three separate entities and require third party oversight of safety mechanisms such as blow out preventers. The bill also provides mandatory full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has long stood as the sole conservation program intended to reinvest OCS revenue into conservation for the benefit of all Americans.
In order to increase access for hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists, I authored an amendment to the CLEAR Act that would dedicate 1.5 percent of LWCF funding annually to ensure increased access for outdoor enthusiasts on public lands. In Wisconsin, outdoor recreation contributes over $9.7 billion annually, supports 129,000 jobs, generates $570 million in annual state tax revenue, and produces $7.5 billion annually in retail sales and services. This amendment was passed and successfully added to the CLEAR Act.