Congress Gives NRMA Green Light

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Back on February 14, I hailed the U.S. Senate’s overwhelming approval of the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) as a win for public land. Just 12 days later, I’m happy to report that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the same version of the NRMA the Senate approved.

The bill passed by a 363-62 margin. It now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature – which I think we can safely say he’ll sign. President Trump is always in need of a political win. Signing overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) is the kind of win the Trump administration needs.

What I’m most impressed with, however, is the sheer number of disparate factions that came together to make this happen. I’m not privy to what happened in other states, but I know the work done by folks here in Utah, and it may have restored my faith in the American legislative process.

Rep. John Curtis (R, UT) represents one of the most staunchly conservative areas of the country. In meetings with Curtis, he revealed how much behind-the-scenes work he’s performed to get energy developers and county commissioners together in Emery County – a rural area of Utah heavily dependent on the coal industry – to form new land usage agreements.

According to KSL.com, the NRMA establishes more than 600,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell as a national conservation area. This is a huge step forward in properly managing recreation and energy extraction in one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful places in Utah.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a longtime left-leaning group seemingly always at odds with Utah’s conservative stage legislature, praised the NRMA.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Rob Bishop (R, UT) has spent years working on what turned into the NRMA. “This is a good piece of legislation,” Bishop said, as reported by KSL.com.

Bear in mind, this is the same Rep. Bishop who was slammed by Hatch Magazine on multiple occasions for his stance on public lands. Ty Hansen called Bishop the,”Grand Poobah of the Utah federal delegation and a brazen industry mouthpiece who despises anything federal.”

The New York Times had similarly harsh words, with writer Timothy Egan writing that, “Bishop is the villain … a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks.

The fact that Bishop calls the NRMA a good piece of legislation and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is quoted by KSL.com as saying, “This bill is a tribute to the power of collaborative stewardship where communities of place and interest come together to protect and preserve the places they live and the rivers they love to fish” is nothing short of miraculous.

Seriously, who could have ever predicted this? Even in the age of Trump, this bipartisanship came so far out of left field it may as well have come from a different galaxy.

Oh, and the NRMA addresses one of the long-standing complaints Utah’s congressional delegation has levied against federal land management practices – that they’re too overbearing and ignore the needs and input of locals. Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) cited that as the reason he couldn’t vote for the NRMA.

Well, someone in D.C. listened, because KSL.com reports that federally controlled public land in Utah actually decreases by 6,302 acres.

While we’re waiting on the largest unknown political quantity in American history to sign this legislation, I think we all need to sit back and celebrate what’s been accomplished here. Republicans, Democrats, oil and gas lobbyists, conservation groups, and regular citizens alike contributed to the success of the NRMA. If signed by Trump, it assures the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) exists in perpetuity. It also expands how money from the Pittman-Robertson fund can be used; namely, using those funds to build more public shooting ranges, since recreational shooters pay more into that fund than any other group in America.

While we wait for Trump to sign the NRMA, I’d like to personally thank Lisa Murkowski for sponsoring this bill. John Curtis for his work in bringing disparate factions in Utah together to add their two cents to this bill. Mitt Romney for being the lone senator from Utah to vote for it, and Rob Bishop for laying the initial groundwork for parts of the NRMA years ago. And I can’t say how happy I am that the leaders of Trout Unlimited and SUWA were willing to come to the table and make a compromise.

Ladies and gentlemen, you did well. And the sporting public of America thanks you.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Trout Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

A Win For Public Land

Author Spencer Durrant with an arctic grayling in the Delta Clearwater River east of North Pole, Alaska. Photo by Benji Hadfield/@alaskankayak.

Why the Natural Resources Management Act is a huge win for sportsmen and women across the country.

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Sportsmen and women in America got an early Valentine’s Day gift when the U.S. Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) on February 13, 2019. It’s likely to sail through the Democrat-controlled House since it passed 92-8 in the Senate. The biggest wins include permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), protections for steelhead habitat in Oregon, and improved access to current federally-managed public land for hunters and anglers.

All eight senators who voted no are Republicans – Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Inhofe (OK), James Lankford (OK), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Johnson (WI).

Lee opposed the bill because it “Moves federal lands policy in the wrong direction by failing to reform federal land acquisition programs and adding new restrictions to how Americans are allowed to use land already under federal control,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Deseret News.

Personally, I’m surprised Lee views the NRMA that way. It’s far from a perfect solution for public land management in the American West, but it’s an important step in the right direction. This bill brought disparate groups to the table where they actually made a compromise. Isn’t that what Americans of any political persuasion have been begging of Congress for decades?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Congressman John Curtis (R, UT) to talk public lands. During that conversation, Curtis told me something that’ll shock anyone with a passing knowledge of public land management issues in the West.

Both the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and members of the energy industry in Emery County (a rural slice of Utah with an economy based largely on coal) sat down to discuss which lands needed protection, and which could be used for further development. And, the bill requires public input – a big sticking point Lee had with this legislation in the first place.

This is what the bill actually states:

Sec. 1222. MANAGEMENT OF RECREATION AREA.


(1) IN GENERAL – Not than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall develop a comprehensive management plan for the long-term protection and management of the Recreation Area.

(2) REQUIREMENTS – The Management Plan shall –

(A) describe the appropriate uses and management of the Recreation area;
(B) be developed with extensive public input*;
(C) take into consideration any information developed in studies of the land within the Recreation Area.
*Emphasis Added. View the full bill here.

Here’s the thing about public input – I absolutely believe we need more of it at the state level, especially when forming legislation as federally overwhelming as the NRMA. But that’s exactly what happened here with the provisions in the NRMA specifically regarding Emery County in Utah. I can’t speak for the provisions made for other wilderness designations in Utah, or the other states this bill benefits, but I’d imagine similar processes occurred across the country.

Wes Siler put together a great piece on all the benefits from the NRMA for Outside Online, which I highly encourage everyone to go and read.

Now, the other big win here is something Siler only briefly mentions in his article, but one that Steve Rinella and the Meat Eater crew dived deep into on the latest episode of the Meat Eater Podcast.

The bulk of wildlife conservation funding in America comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax on most hunting and fishing gear sold in the U.S. That includes ammunition, and for years it’s been suspected that recreational shooters were paying the lion’s share of the Pittman-Robertson tax, simply because recreational shooting uses high amounts of ammunition, and more people target shoot than hunt.

So the NRMA gives states flexibility to create new shooting ranges, and improve on existing ones, as a way of saying thanks to the recreational shooters who help support wildlife conservation, many of whom never step foot on public land to hunt.

The NRMA isn’t law yet – it still has to pass the House and get President Trump’s signature – but this is the closest we’ve come to major steps in the right direction for public land management in years. I’ve lived my entire life in rural Utah and made my career thanks to public lands in the West. This is a part of the country known for its disdain of the federal government – or any government, for that matter – and I give almost no credence to anything uttered by politicians.

If Trump signs the NRMA, assuming the House passes it, political lip service won’t matter because we’ll have new laws on the books to help preserve wildlife in America.

But more importantly, if this bill passes, it shows that conservationists and the energy industry can sit down together to wrestle a solution that works well for everyone.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.