As regular U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance readers know, on April 17th, the House of Representatives passed the most important fishing and hunting bill in 15 years – HR 4089, The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act – by a lopsided 274 to 146 vote. A bipartisan majority of 235 Republicans and 39 Democrats voted yes. The bill has two fundamental features: (1) establishing that 700 million acres of federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are open to fishing, hunting, and recreational, as a matter of law, until or unless closed for good specific reasons and (2) confirming recent EPA decisions that the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act does not allow the agency to regulate lead in fishing gear or ammunition. The overwhelming support from America’s real conservationists, the angling and hunting community, demonstrates this is good public policy and ought to be non-controversial.
But nothing in Washington, D.C. ever is. So it’s little surprise that the usual suspects are screaming about the bill and peddling disinformation about what it does. We’re told that this fishing and hunting bill is really about opening lands to oil and gas development or forcing the National Park Service to allow hunting on the National Mall. Aside from the fact that these specious claims are utter nonsense, what prompts this over-the-top reaction to a fishing and hunting bill?
We know the answer for the animal rights radicals like HSUS, Peta and the Animal Legal Defense League etc. They simply oppose any and all hunting. We’re frankly thrilled to see them foaming at the mouth in opposition – it confirms the bill does indeed protect fishing and hunting on our federal public lands.
Look, But Don’t Touch
For others like The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and National Parks Conservation Association, the answer is more subtle and fundamental. Their goals are to manage public lands as “biospheres under glass.” Lands where public access is barred or heavily restricted; where the public stands outside with its nose pressed against the glass looking in. And if you’re allowed onto the lands, you have to be part of a controlled group and have your hand held by a special guide or ranger to ensure that you are acting in an “environmentally correct” manner; where the public is reduced to voyeurism – look but don’t touch. We see it year after year in repeated efforts – legal and political – to limit public access and use of public lands. Unfortunately for many of our urban brethren who don’t fish and hunt, and get most of their “nature” via a HDTV program; being herded into a group or told to stand outside and merely peer in is ok.
Sportsmen Interact With the Environment
This attitude is a stark contrast to anglers and hunters. We interact with the natural environment. We are predators acting within an ecosystem. And heaven forbid, we’re usually on our own! This prized interaction creates connections to the wild world. It spurs passion and an abiding commitment to conservation. It’s not mere happenstance that the American conservation movement was founded by connected and committed anglers and hunters. And it’s not happenstance that we commit well over a billion $$ every year for fish and wildlife conservation via our license fees, duck stamps, trout stamps, excise taxes and contributions of time and millions more to myriad fish and wildlife conservation organizations.
Interaction = Conservation
Interaction creates connections creating commitment leading to conservation. We’re not about to roll over and buy into putting our public lands under a glass dome. We want to “touch”, we like getting cold and dirty or hot and wet in pursuit of our favorite game or fish. It makes us passionate and keeps us paying the tab for fish and wildlife conservation – for everyone’s benefit (even those who don’t pay a dime and fight us every step).
A bipartisan majority in the House figured this out. Let’s hope the U.S. Senate – with very different leadership – gets the message too.