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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Unsporting Bill Shot Down

The Senate today shot down a motion to move forward on S. 2363, the dangerous if innocuous sounding “Sportsmen’s Act,” which has been portrayed as feel-good legislation but could have serious and far-reaching consequences for wildlife, public spaces, and human health and safety. The bill needed 60 votes to advance, but only received 41 in favor, and 56 opposed—a result of some Democrats opposing the bill because of its extreme provisions and Republicans uniting in opposition because they could not offer amendments on gun rights and other topics.

BALDEAGLEMYSTICLAKES
A bald eagle at Mystic Lake in Massachusetts. Photo by John Harrison

Sportsmen, of course, are already allowed to pursue their activities on the vast majority of federal public lands, including national forests, BLM lands, and most national wildlife refuges, with only national parks and some national monuments generally closed to hunting. That’s not to mention the millions of acres of state and private lands also available. But as things now stand, resource managers have the flexibility to look at the big picture and determine when it makes sense to allow hunting and fur trapping—and when it doesn’t. They consider local concerns such as whether endangered or threatened species are present, and balance the interests of hunters and trappers with other public land users and recreationalists.

S. 2363 would flip the burden and turn the current process on its head. Public lands would be “open unless closed” to hunting and fur trapping, regardless of whether they’re compatible with other land uses or threatened or endangered species, and closing lands would require a burdensome bureaucratic process. On top of that, the bill would force land managers to prioritize hunting and trapping above other outdoor activities, effectively excluding a large proportion of the American public from enjoying our national spaces, including in designated “wilderness areas.” Rather than local control, it would be a federal fiat from Washington that the default is to allow sport hunting and the use of painful and indiscriminate steel-jawed leghold traps.

The harmful legislation would also stop scientists at the EPA from restricting the use of lead ammunition, which is a known toxin that kills millions of wild animals from more than 130 species each year, including bald eagles, California condors, and other threatened and endangered species. These bullets keep on killing long after they’ve left the chamber, with animals poisoned by eating the lead fragments directly, preying on contaminated animals, or feeding on gut piles left behind by hunters.

President George H.W. Bush’s administration banned the use of lead for all waterfowl hunting in 1991, and non-lead ammunition such as copper, steel, and bismuth are readily available and affordable. That sensible policy has prevented the poisoning deaths of millions of birds, and it’s been part of the march of progress toward getting toxic lead out of the environment. There’s no compelling reason for Congress to thumb its nose at science and innovation, and forbid EPA or any other responsible agency, with appropriate authority and expertise, from even examining this issue.

POLAR_BEAR
a polar bear in the wild

Finally, this bill is a sweetheart deal for millionaire big-game hunters. Far from benefiting our nation’s rank-and-file sportsmen, this is a special order delivery for only 41 wealthy big game hunters who dropped up to $50,000 each for guided polar bear hunts in the Arctic. These trophy hunters, who compete to see their names in the Safari Club record books for killing the rarest species around the world, have been lobbying Congress to allow them to bring the heads and hides of threatened polar bears into this country from Canada in defiance of current law. 

This would be the latest in a series of import allowances that Congress has approved—each time making the argument that it’s only a few animals and the polar bears are already dead and have no conservation value—but the cumulative impacts of these waivers time and time again lead to more reckless trophy killing. Do we want Congress to set this kind of precedent, encouraging trophy hunters to kill rare animals as they are about to be listed as endangered or threatened species and then to get relief from Congress to make a special dispensation for them?

Thank you to all the animal advocates who contacted your Senators and asked them to oppose this extreme and reckless “Sportsmen’s Act.” Those calls made a difference—a game-changing difference for millions of animals. Wild animals and the environment have dodged a bullet now that this terrible package of anti-conservation policies has stalled in the Senate.

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