Montana’s Democratic U. S. Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday he is pleased the Senate approved debating one of his bill’s on the floor in its last action before recessing before the Nov. 6 election, and commented on criticism of the bill and that the action was intended to highlight the senator in his closely watched race for re-election.
The Senate voted 84-7 in the wee hours Saturday morning — which Tester pointed out was National Hunting and Fishing Day — to debate Tester’s Sportsmen’s Act before going into recess.
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“This is a good bill, ” Tester said. “It focuses on access, focuses on habitat; (it includes) 19 bills, bipartisan in nature. We got an unbelievable vote of 84 people for it Saturday morning, and so I think this bill has a bright future to get through the process and to the president’s desk. ”
Some have criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for calling for a vote on debating the bill, saying he used it for election-year politicking with Tester in a close race against Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Others focused on a provision of the bill allowing 41 hunters, including two from Montana, to bring polar bears that were harvested in Canada, shortly before the animal was declared an endangered species, into the United States.
“Yeah, they’re fussed up about the polar bears, ” Tester said Wednesday.
He said the bears were dead and have been in cold storage since before the 2008 ban on polar bear imports went into effect.
“We know exactly who has the bears; there’s 41 of them, ” Tester said. “There’s not the opportunity for any kind of mischief here. It’s really kind of a good-government thing, setting the record straight so they can get them back in. ”
He said his bill combines 19 bills — sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats, from the Senate and the House — with a focus on access and creating or preserving wildlife habitat.
He said the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill also would reduce the federal deficit by $7 million, through the creation of new jobs and revenue.
“What this does, is it allows for more hunting and fishing and hiking and access to the great outdoors, ” Tester said. “That translates into fishing rods and flies and hiking boots and all sorts of stuff being sold. That translates into real money. ”
A key part of the bill is creating access, setting a fund to acquire rights of way and land from willing sellers so people can get to federal land, Tester said.
“(It’s just) making sure that folks, hunters and fishers, hikers, whatever it may be, have access to federal lands, ” he said. “Right now there’s about 35 million acres in the United States that there’s no access to, and millions of acres in Montana that are in that boat, so it’s a big deal. ”
The bill also reauthorizes a number of programs to help preserve, restore or create wildlife and fish habitat, he said, such as the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
“Both of these programs have been successful in the past and will be successful in the future, ” Tester said. “There’s a lot of others too. ”
The bill had broad-based support, endorsed by 56 organizations ranging from the National Rifle Association to The Nature Conservancy,
“Some have called it the biggest advance in sportsmen’s issues in a generation, once we get this passed, ” he said, adding that it will be one of the first — if not the first — bill the Senate will discuss once it comes back after the election and resumes in the lame-duck session.
Tester dismissed the claim that the vote Saturday was electioneering.
“This is a good act, like I said; it’s something that I think is important for not only Montana but outdoorsmen and women and sportsmen and women all over the country, ” he said. “I was willing to keep the Senate there until they passed it because I knew if we got off the politics and got on the policy it would pass quite handily and it did.
“For those folks out there that are saying we shouldn’t have done this because it was the last bill, who cares. If it’s good policy it should be passed, period, and this is good policy, ” Tester said.