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Access to public lands bill opposed by administration

Legislation that would require federal land managers to report on lack of public access to recreational land goes too far, the administration told Congress. The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests & Mining took testimony on Wednesday, July 30, 1014 on the Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures (HUNT) Act (S. 1554). The bill would require the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to report every year on their websites a list of all land available to the public for hunting, fishing and other recreational uses larger than 640 acres with limited or no public access. The agencies would get six months to do so.

The bill would require the agencies to come up with plans to improve or allow public access to these areas if they determine they contain significant possibilities for these recreational activities. The websites would have to list all roads and trails the public can use to get to them. And it would earmark a minimum of 1.5 percent of the Land & Water Conservation Fund to acquire land to provide such access. The government could buy land from willing sellers but not use eminent domain.

Gregory C. Smith, acting associate deputy chief of the National Forest System, testified that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture supports the goals of increased access, the reporting and recordkeeping required under the act would be “extensive and unnecessary.” Smith says that USFS lacks the data the bill would require it to provide. It simply could not collect it within the timeframes required by the bill, he added. Given USFS' limited budget and staffing, time and energy spent writing the reports would mean time and energy not spent on protecting the land and enhancing the very opportunities the bill aims for people to enjoy.

Nor would the bill help much; local folks already know about the access problems so who needs a national database?, Smith suggested.

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