Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, with votes coming only from Republican members of the committee.
Democrats recognized that this bill has little to do with rank-and-file sportsmen’s issues, and saw it for what it is: a grab bag of shameful provisions aimed at opening National Park Service lands to grizzly bear killing (of all places, they should be protected on our “national preserves”), poisoning wildlife with the use of lead tackle and ammunition (even though there are practical and affordable alternatives), and promoting the killing of threatened species (e.g., wolves and polar bears).
The bill has gained extensive media attention not for these provisions but for one to allow the use of suppressors, often referred to by the media as silencers — a perfect tool for poachers in the field (hunters and other shooters already have a range of ear protection gear, from foam to custom ear plugs, so this provision to preserve hearing is an overreach).
The committee’s action in supporting this radical bill is not only at odds with common sense, but also with the unmistakable demographic patterns in the United States. Just last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its periodic report on wildlife recreation. Among other things, the report revealed that the number of wildlife watchers is soaring (a 20 percent increase in the last five years to 86 million in 2016), while hunter numbers have declined by two million since 2011, when the agency last examined the question, to just 11.5 million. Wildlife watchers outnumber sport hunters by a ratio of seven to one and spend $75.9 billion on their pursuits, as compared to $25.6 billion spent by hunters.
The Natural Resources Committee’s vote is really more about the wishes of the NRA and the Safari Club, and not about helping hunters and fishermen, who get almost nothing from this boondoggle of a bill and who would be shocked by its anti-conservation provisions. The vast majority of sport hunters are shooting deer or birds and consuming the meat. They are not the kind of sportsmen who wish to shoot threatened species such as grizzly bears or wolves, who are inedible and killed mainly for trophies only.
The bill includes an amendment from Alaska Congressman Don Young to strip protections for wolves and bears on National Park Service (NPS) lands in Alaska. This is his latest attempt to unwind an NPS rule that forbids extreme hunting methods on lands that never were meant to be set aside for these purposes. Last week, the full House narrowly passed an amendment on an annual spending bill to block implementation of the rule. What sport is there in killing wolves and their pups in their dens and luring grizzly bears with bait in order to shoot them at point-blank range? This disgraceful behavior shouldn’t happen anywhere, least of all on America’s national preserves.
The SHARE legislation includes a raft of other odious provisions, like loosening restrictions on the baiting of migratory waterfowl and barring EPA restrictions on the use of lead-based fishing equipment. SHARE also handcuffs the departments of Interior and Agriculture by prohibiting either agency from regulating the use of lead-based ammunition, ammunition cartridges, or fishing tackle where such uses are allowed by the state where the hunting and fishing occurs. One other provision would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. It’s the latest in a series of these import allowances for trophy hunters, and it effectively encourages them to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies.
The most sweeping provision of the SHARE Act would give trophy hunters and commercial trappers priority access to the more than 100 million acres of congressionally designated “wilderness areas” across the nation. This provision weakens the core purpose of the Wilderness Act, which Congress enacted to preserve wild areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Let’s hope the U.S. House and Senate won’t give any meaningful attention to a package with these provisions. No representative or senator should be duped by a bill that masquerades as a measure to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen, but in reality is an all-out attack on wild native carnivores and threatened species, and an opening of our most cherished public lands to these unacceptable and gratuitous practices.
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