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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

House Votes to Shoot Down Conservation Laws

The U.S Congress has a lower approval rating than polygamy and pornography, and sometimes it’s easy to understand why.  When it comes to creating jobs, passing a budget, and meeting other important challenges for the American people, there is little more than gridlock and partisan bickering. But when it comes to bilking the American taxpayers to benefit special interests such as the trophy hunting lobby, there’s just no stopping them.

PolarbearThis was on full display yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives—the very day millions of Americans were paying their taxes—when a majority of lawmakers exhibited utter fealty to the NRA and the sport hunting lobby by passing a $12 million package to shoot holes in multiple landmark conservation laws. It was shameless pandering to the NRA, a piece of political theatre staged on the House floor right on the heels of the NRA’s convention in St. Louis.

H.R. 4089, the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012, is an omnibus package that combines several bad ideas into one bill—reopening the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, encouraging more reckless killing of threatened species; opening millions of acres of federal lands and wilderness areas to sport hunting, regardless of the impacts to the environment and other park users; and halting efforts to switch from toxic lead ammunition to non-toxic alternatives that do not poison wildlife and the environment.

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., led the effort to protect polar bears by offering an amendment to strike the trophy import language from the bill. The imports have been forbidden since 2008 when the Bush Administration listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, but it hasn’t stopped wealthy trophy hunters and their allies in Congress from putting polar bears in their sights time and again. As Rep. Peters told his colleagues:

The trophy hunting community was aware that the ESA listing would take place for well over a year prior to its effective date, and trophy hunters were warned by federal agencies and hunting associations that the final listing would cut off imports immediately. These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation, and decided to hunt and kill these beautiful creatures anyway. They have also had their day in court; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal court have already rejected hunters’ requests to import trophies after the effective date of the listing.

H.R. 4089 will essentially treat these 41 trophy hunters who killed their bears before the ESA listing occurred as though the listing had never taken effect. While it is too late to save these bears, enacting this legislation creates a perverse incentive for trophy hunters to take any species soon to be protected under the ESA because Congress will just bail them out after the fact. 

Unfortunately, the House rejected the Peters amendment by a vote of 155 to 262, with 145 Democrats and 10 Republicans siding with polar bear protection, and the rest siding with wealthy trophy hunters. We are grateful to Rep. Peters for leading the charge to protect polar bears on the House floor, and also to Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Jim Moran, D-Va., who spoke in favor of the amendment. Please be sure to check how your Representative voted, and express your thanks to those voting yes and disappointment to those who voted no.

The final bill passed by a vote of 274 to 146, including the harmful language on sport-hunted polar bear trophy imports, toxic lead ammo, and forcing decisions on hunting to be handed down by Washington bureaucrats rather than local public lands managers. Now the bill goes to the U.S. Senate, and it must be stopped. Please call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose H.R. 4089. It will cost American taxpayers $12 million, it only benefits special interests, and it’s an expensive power grab that guts our wildlife conservation laws.


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