House advances bill preserving hunting, fishing rights on federal land

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The House voted Tuesday to advance legislation aimed at ensuring hunting, fishing and recreational shooting can take place on federal lands.

Members voted 234-185 in favor of the rule for the bill, which is H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. Eight Democrats voted with Republicans to pass it; the vote sets up an hour of debate on the bill and consideration of 11 amendments — a final passage vote is expected Wednesday.

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"The bill before us today represents a year-long, bipartisan, bicameral legislative process to protect our public lands and to preserve traditional hunting, fishing and recreational shooting for American sportsmen and sportswomen," said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).

Sessions said the bill requires federal agencies to encourage these activities on federal land, and also gives sportsmen a voice on an advisory committee dealing with conservation.

It would also exclude lead shot and fishing equipment from the list of toxic substances to ensure this equipment cannot be banned from use on federal lands. And, it allows the import of polar bear trophies taken before May 2008, which are now blocked from entering the United States.

Democrats argued that the bill is a waste of time because people are already able to hunt and fish on most federal land.

"Seventy-five percent of all federal lands are open to recreational hunting, fishing and shooting," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "There are ample opportunities for hunters and fishermen to pursue these recreational activities."

Democrats used most of the debate to argue that Congress should be working to extend emergency unemployment benefits, or a bill to delay pending flood insurance rate hikes. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to force the House to take up the Senate-passed flood bill.

Sessions, however, did say he would work on bringing a flood bill to the floor.