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Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, I rise today to urge support on the motion to proceed to my bipartisan Sportsmen's Act. Outdoor traditions are a deep and important part of our heritage in Montana and across our Nation.
Two years ago, when I became chair of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, I made it my goal to do something significant, something historic, something responsible that will help this country's hunters and anglers.
Mr. President, this week we have that opportunity. This Sportsmen's Act is the biggest package of sportsmen's bills in a generation. It combines nearly 20 different bills, all important to those who know we must never take our outdoors for granted.
These bills increase access for recreational hunting and fishing. They support land and species conservation, and they protect our hunting and fishing rights. Most importantly, they take ideas from both sides of the political aisle. This bill isn't about Democrats and it isn't about Republicans or Independents. This bill is about Americans and the great outdoors we all share as a nation. This bipartisan bill is supported by nearly 50 different conservation wildlife groups ranging from the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, to the NRA. It earned their endorsement because it includes responsible provisions that are important to sportsmen and women across America.
In my role as the chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, outdoorsmen and women constantly tell me about the importance of access to public lands. What good does it do to protect land for hunting, fishing, and hiking if folks are unable to get to it? Right now there are some 35 million acres of public land that sportsmen can't access. That is why this bill requires 1.5 percent of annual funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that is set aside to increase public access to public lands, ensuring sportsmen access to some of the best places to hunt and fish in the country.
Right now, the Congress delegates all power to determine land and water conservation priorities to the executive branch. We can add or subtract money from the President's budget request, but Congress cannot determine how that money gets spent. This provision ensures that this administration and the next one must authorize, must prioritize access to public lands.
My bill also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. This voluntary initiative provides matching grants to landowners who set aside critical habitat for migratory birds such as ducks. Over the past 20 years, volunteers across America have completed more than 2,000 conservation projects. They protected more than 26 million acres of habitat under this successful initiative. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act is a smart investment in both our lands and our wildlife, and it needs to be reauthorized.
This widely supported bill also reauthorizes the Secretary of the Interior to reevaluate the price of duck stamps to keep up with inflation. Revenue from duck stamps has been used to purchase and release more than 6 million acres of wetlands, preserving a viable waterfowl population. It funds new shooting ranges while encouraging Federal land agencies to cooperate with State and local authorities to maintain existing ranges. This is a responsible bill. It takes into account the needs of the entire sportsmen's community.
Why is this important? It is important because hunting and fishing and hiking is a way of life in places such as Montana.
One in three Montanans hunt big game and more than half of us fish. An outdoor recreation economy across this country contributes some $646 billion in direct spending to this U.S. economy. Fishing and hunting is not just recreation, it is a critical part of our economy. In Montana, hunting and fishing alone brings $1 billion a year to our economy, nearly as much as the State's cattle industry. It drives and sustains jobs. With hunting season in full swing and thousands of Montanans headed out to hunt in Montana's back country over Thanksgiving weekend, this bill is as timely as ever.
The Sportsmen's Act of 2012 is balanced, it is bipartisan, and it is widely supported. It is also fiscally responsible. The bill has no cost. Before the Senate went out of session, we voted to move forward with this bill by a vote of 84 to 7--84 to 7. It was a resounding approval to conserve some of our most productive habitat to pass on our hunting and fishing tradition to future generations and to entrust them with the land and water we share.
Now it is time to get this bill across the finish line, to approve a bill with widespread support that preserves our outdoor economy and secures our outdoor heritage for our kids and our grandkids.
We need to take some good Democratic ideas and some good Republican ideas and pass them. We need to do something for the more than 90 million sportsmen and sportswomen in this country and for our economy.
The time is now. I urge all Members to support this bill.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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