Hunters and anglers are viewing with apprehension and concern President Obama’s nomination of Sally Jewell to be the new Secretary of the Interior. As the steward of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands – held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – the Secretary plays a critical role in managing these lands including policies impacting access, hunting opportunities, and wildlife management. Jewell’s close association with interests hostile to hunters, hunting access, and traditional wildlife management has USSA watching her confirmation closely.
It’s common this time of year for political pundits to speculate how the new 113th Congress will impact the lives of everyday Americans. Sportsmen are no different. We also wonder how a newly constituted government made up of a confidently re-elected, lame duck President Obama, a Senate where Democrats increased their majority, and a House where Republicans held fast to their strong majority will make a difference to the future of hunting, fishing, trapping, recreational shooting and more.
The most important thing that the government can do for American sportsmen and women is nothing. Much like the Hippocratic Oath physicians takes upon becoming licensed to practice medicine – “Do No Harm” should be our first wish from the new Congress. However, an increasingly urban country – and urban-based politicians – demands that hunters and anglers emerge from our defensive bunkers, and try to put in place laws that will protect our precious heritage for generations to come.
In March and April, bi-partisan majorities in the House Natural Resources Committee and the full U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012. The most significant fishing, hunting, and shooting legislation passed in the last 15 years, the bill included two primary features: (1) confirmation of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulings that the agency does not have authority to ban lead in ammunition or fishing gear and (2) game changing new law establishing that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service lands (totaling more than 700 million acres of public lands) are open to fishing, hunting, and shooting unless and until the agencies take specific action to impose closures or restrictions. And closures and restrictions must be necessary and based on sound science and evidence.
Over the past few months, the sportsmen’s community has been abuzz over the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012. Since being passed by the U.S. House in April, the U.S. Senate has been working on its own version of this pro-sportsman legislation.
Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD) have complied a Senate version of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act which includes a host of pro-sportsmen bills as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill. The amendment is packed full of great things for sportsmen including critical legislation clarifying that the U.S. EPA doesn’t have that authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Despite the fact the EPA has stated twice that it doesn’t have this authority, the Center for Biological Diversity and other anti-hunting groups recently filed another lawsuit seeking to force an EPA ban on traditional ammunition.
The House passed version of the bill included one landmark provision that so far isn’t included in the Senate package. This provision stated that lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are deemed open for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless closed.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will be offering a separate amendment to include this language with the rest of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act in the Senate. If the Murkowski amendment is added to this already great bill it would be the icing on the cake for sportsmen.
The Murkowski amendment would be a real game-changer for protecting hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands, here’s why:
History teaches that the guys who hold the high ground are in the best position to win the battle. Hunters and anglers hold the moral high ground – our legacy of bona fide fish and wildlife conservation stands unmatched. But that won’t win the battles against our opponents in the anti-hunting lobby. To win we need to hold the political and legal high ground too.
We’re all too aware of the strategy by HSUS, PETA, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and others to bar hunters and anglers from federal public lands. They peddle a mix of disinformation, junk science, and outright lies about hunting and fishing to convince lawmakers, and the public, that our traditions are out of date and have no place on the public domain.