Hunting, Fishing and 2nd Amendment Rights
My mother, a native Coloradan, was an avid outdoorswoman who instilled in me a great sense of adventure, love for nature and a deep appreciation for Colorado's outdoor heritage. After college, my passion for Colorado's wilderness and high peaks led me to return as an instructor and eventually executive director of the Colorado Outward Bound School. Today, that perspective is reflected in the decisions I make in the U.S. Senate, especially in my role as chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee.
We need to respect and protect the land while also ensuring that the public can enjoy the resources and recreational opportunities it provides. Interacting with the land is a way of life in the West, whether it's through hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, skiing or any other kind of outdoor recreation. That's why it's important to support these activities as we consider issues involving wildlife management or conservation of our natural environment.
Colorado's outdoor heritage is also critical to our economy. Hunting and fishing represent the second-largest tourism industry in Colorado, contributing billions to our economy, sustaining thousands of jobs, and providing a significant boon to our rural communities. Outdoor recreation as a whole contributes over $13.2 billion annually to Colorado's economy and generates 125,000 jobs statewide. Therefore, responsible land and water management combined with access to recreational opportunities translates directly to support for Colorado jobs and our state's economy.
Responsible gun-ownership is also an integral part of our Western heritage. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is an individual right, and I'm committed to protecting the rights of citizens to own firearms for personal protection, hunting, collecting and for other legal purposes.
However, the tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and other places where terrible crimes have been committed with guns are national tragedies that should concern us all. After enduring these tragedies, we should all be able to come together and discuss concrete steps we can take to help prevent gun violence. Of course, no single policy is going to be adequate in preventing all gun tragedies in the future. We need comprehensive solutions that examine our culture's glorification of violence, the effectiveness of our laws, our ability to enforce those laws and access to firearms, especially those designed for the battlefield. We must do everything we can — consistent with the Second Amendment — to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and those who would turn them against their community.
Hunting and sport shooting support thousands of small businesses across Colorado and are an important part of our Western heritage. Unfortunately, the number of places where Coloradans can safely engage in recreational shooting and target practice have steadily dwindled. In an effort to reverse this troubling trend, I introduced the bipartisan, deficit-neutral Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act which would allow states to create and improve public shooting ranges by using fees that are already being collected from the sale of firearms and ammunition. This common-sense solution requires no additional federal spending and will promote responsible gun use and hunting for generations to come.
I co-chair the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus with Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. The caucus educates Members of Congress and their staffs about issues important to the outdoor recreation and sportsmen communities by bringing some of the nation’s leading experts to Capitol Hill. Recent events hosted by the caucus focused on the economic impact of outdoor recreation and the administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
Colorado's mountain communities won a small but important victory on Nov. 7, 2011, when the president signed into law my Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act. After five years of work, I was thrilled that we were able to move it through the U.S. House of Representatives and a gridlocked U.S. Senate and get it to the president's desk. The act revises the 1986 law governing the permitting of ski areas on National Forests, clarifying that the U.S. Forest Service is authorized to permit year-round recreational activities where appropriate. It will boost year-round activity in ski communities, provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation in Colorado, create jobs and aid local economies.
High-quality, safe places where hunters and marksmen can practice shooting are becoming rare. I introduced the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act to help states construct and maintain safe public shooting ranges. I first introduced my bipartisan bill in 2008. It would increase the flexibility states have over the use of federal wildlife funds at public shooting ranges, ultimately giving Colorado hunters and shooters better access to ranges without costing the taxpayer a dime.
On February 16, 2011, I joined President Obama at the White House for an important milestone in his effort to develop a 21st century conservation agenda - the America's Great Outdoors initiative. America's Great Outdoors is a plan to promote community-level stewardship of public lands and reconnect all Americans to the outdoors. As Chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee in the Senate and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus, I am particularly interested in connecting Americans with outdoor spaces and improving conservation of our public lands and waters. At the event, President Obama unveiled a report that will guide the initiative, focusing goals and actions around three main ideas: connecting all Americans to the outdoors, conserving and restoring our natural landscapes, and working with local stakeholders to protect our lands and waters. I am particularly proud that the President's plan builds off of successful conservation programs in Colorado.
I introduced legislation (S.3387) to authorize the release of water from Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River near Aspen, for the purposes of recovering four endangered fish species in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The water releases authorized in my bill will keep approximately 1,800 water projects on the Colorado River, including the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and Colorado-Big Thompson Project, in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. These releases represent the West Slope's contribution of water for endangered fish recovery, but the bill does not take effect until East Slope water users have committed their corresponding share. This bill has the consensus support of Colorado River water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.
In 2009, I launched the bipartisan Senate Outdoor Recreation Caucus with Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho. Through the caucus I will promote healthy, active lifestyles, which foster an appreciation of America's lands and waters through participation in outdoor activities such as camping, climbing, fishing, rafting, hunting, and many others. Strong ties to the land and water are part of our American legacy, and this caucus will honor and help preserve that heritage.