Another bad bill for animals in Congress: This time on our public lands

Should the rights of a few well-connected individuals automatically trump sound science?  Should two narrow special interest groups—hunters and fishers—be able to demand that our public lands—paid for with everyone’s tax dollars—be used for their use above all others like wildlife photographers, animal lovers, hikers, and people who just like being outdoors?  A few hunting extremists and their Congressional representatives believe the answer to these questions is yes, and they are trying to turn their desires into reality.

Currently, both hunting and fishing are permitted on the vast majority of public federal lands.  That said, local land managers have the discretion to close certain areas temporarily when necessary – usually to protect public health and safety or for conservation purposes of endangered and threatened species.  Although this appears to be a reasonable approach to sharing federal lands between exploitative and non-consumptive public uses, as well as allowing for the conservation of species that are part of our nation’s heritage, recent Congressional activity suggests that reason is no longer a priority. 

A bill has recently passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee that seeks to ensure that hunting and fishing rights are always the top priority on federal public lands, regardless of circumstance. 

This is being pushed despite federal-level officials saying that not only is it not necessary, it could actually prove harmful.

The goal of this bill, HR 2834, is to require Federal public land management officials to ensure all public federal lands can always be used for fishing and hunting.  HR 2834, titled The Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, would require land management officials to prove hunting and fishing is incompatible with that specific public land rather than proving it is compatible, thus throwing the precautionary principle to the wind, and putting the burden on the professional land managers to justify any decision that might inconvenience hunters or fishers. 

The bill will take power away from local land managers who have the most knowledge about how to properly manage the land and instead give decision making authority to the Federal Agencies, located far from the lands in questions.  It would also create a cumbersome and ineffective system, increasing the amount of already scarce resources and manpower necessary to manage public lands.  Additionally, the bill would exempt decisions made or actions taken with regards to hunting and fishing from current National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations; this would greatly impair the agency’s ability to determine what impacts hunting and fishing are having on wildlife populations and habitat.  

HR 2834 also does not allow agencies to consider how adjacent private land owners are managing their land. Not being allowed to consider the cumulative effects for the species that utilize both public and private land is dangerous.  Cumulative effects analyses help managers avoid duplication of activities and therefore also avoid increased and detrimental impacts on wildlife.

As I mentioned above, agency officials can currently instigate closures of distinct areas under special circumstances. Under this bill, however, officials would be required to send advanced notice prior to the closure, making emergency closures next to impossible and non-emergency closures more arduous.

H.R. 2834 is simply an all-around unnecessary and bad bill.

Public lands do not exist for the sole use of hunters and fisherman.  They are tax-payer funded lands set aside for multiple purposes—including the preservation of natural habitat, and a variety of recreational uses.  And the majority of Americans would rather enjoy wildlife in non-consumptive ways (photography, feeding, observing, etc) than hunting and fishing – in fact more than two times as many Americans engage in these non-consumptive activities than in hunting and fishing, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. I’d like to point out that this does not include outdoor enthusiasts who use public lands for hiking and other non-wildlife related activities, nor does it account for the millions of Americans who want their tax dollars used for wildlife conservation on public lands, but may not personally be visiting these places. 

Since this is the case, why is Congress insisting on prioritizing these narrow special interest groups above all others?  To be honest, I have no idea.  But it certainly does not seem to be the best thing for wildlife.  Nor does it represent what the majority of Americans want.  And perhaps most telling, it is not what the experts are calling for.  So maybe these members of Congress should start looking to support meaningful conservation laws instead of wasting everyone’s time trying to pass bills like this.

The full US House of Representatives still needs to pass, this bill in order for it to progress to the Senate.  When the bill comes up for a vote, IFAW will let our supporters know what they can do to help block it.

-- JF  

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