NM: Hunting Bill Stirs Up Senate Race

By , Seattle Post-Intelligencer - July 17, 2012

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) "” An environmental group that is part of a coalition behind a $2 million dollar advertising blitz supporting U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich's campaign for U.S. Senate has joined sportsmen groups in pushing his legislation to improve access to millions of acres of public land.

The measure introduced by Heinrich, D-N.M., calls for an inventory of all public parcels larger than a square mile where hunting, fishing and other recreation are allowed but where access is blocked. It also asks agencies to acquire easements and rights of way for improving access.

The National Wildlife Federation last week joined a number of sportsmen's groups from around the West in backing the bill, which is just the latest in a decade-long effort to overcome access issues created by a combination of population growth, changing demographics and the landownership checkerboard that defines the American West.

Heinrich is in a tight race against Republican Heather Wilson for the seat currently held by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring.

Wilson's campaign said the endorsement was a political ploy by environmentalists cloaked as sportsmen to further their liberal agenda.

"This group is part of the same environmental extremists that are spending a million dollars to falsely attack Heather because she doesn't share their job-killing agenda," said Wilson campaign spokesman Chris Sanchez.

John Gale, a regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation, denied the assertions, saying the public lands bill "strips out any pet projects and any personal interests" and is geared solely to securing access for hunters, anglers and other recreationists. He said access is the No. 1 issue for sportsmen.

"There are a lot of places with gates up on roads and things like that. We're looking to secure access to places for people to go and enjoy," he said. "We have this wonderful resource in public lands and it's there for all of us to enjoy, not the privileged few."

Other groups that have endorsed the legislation include the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited, the Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The access issue is of particular interest across the West, where New Mexico and many other states have large tracts of public land and where sportsmen and other outdoor recreationists represent large voting blocks.

Heinrich's bill is circulating just as election season ramps up. The political action committee of the National Wildlife Federation has joined the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and others in footing the bill for an advertising effort aimed at promoting Heinrich and criticizing Wilson.

Heinrich's office maintains that the congressman has been working on the access issue long before campaign season.

Heinrich said his bill would open up rural areas to sportsmen and support the economy in the process.

Wilson's campaign said she supports a multiple-use policy for public lands and that reasonable access must be part of that policy.


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