House of Representatives leaves a distasteful legacy with the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012

On Tuesday April 17, 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4089, the highly controversial “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012,” which combines several extreme anti-wildlife proposals into one package.  Although there are a multitude of negative aspects to the bill, three are particularly alarming.

First, H.R. 4089 undermines many of our long-standing Federal environmental laws that protect America’s public lands and wildlife.  The bill exempts decisions regarding hunting and fishing from the National Environmental Policy Act and allows motorized access, logging, mining and fossil fuel extraction in wilderness areas—putting the interests of private industries like big oil ahead of conservation. 

Second, the bill takes the responsibility of protecting the public and environment from lead poisoning away from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Lead is extremely harmful to both humans and wildlife, and government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Park Service have already made the choice to prohibit use of lead ammo – decisions based on sound science.  This provision allows these common-sense policies to be subverted for political purposes, and because of pressure from special interests to over-ride the best interest of people and wildlife.

Third—and arguably the most troubling aspect—H.R. 4089 would create new exceptions to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), allowing the importation of two classes of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada, despite the fact that the species was listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2008.

Polar bear populations are declining at an alarming rate.  The species is severely threatened from habitat loss due to climate change, and the added threat of unnecessary trophy hunting flies in the face of a precautionary approach to conservation.  H.R. 4089 allows imports of polar bear trophies taken in Canada before February 18, 1997, regardless of whether the polar bear was taken from a healthy or declining population.  Even worse, it rewards hunters for knowingly killing an imperiled species in another country, storing the carcasses in warehouses, and then later using their connections in Congress to create legal waivers allowing them to defy the ban on importing this endangered species.  Polar bears are an imperiled and iconic animal and need to be protected in the wild, not reduced to a mounted.trophy for wealthy Americans to hang in their studies.

One good thing that came out of the vote in Congress yesterday is that several Members of Congress stood up against the bill.  Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) tried to mitigate a few of the worst aspects of the bill by offering amendments to retain some basic conservation tenants on public lands.  And Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) showed himself to be a true champion for wildlife by introducing an amendment to remove altogether the polar bear section of H.R. 4089.  Unfortunately, all three of these amendments were defeated, and the bad bill passed the house by a vote of 274 to 146 – mostly along party lines with all but two Republicans supporting the bill and most Democrats opposing it.

IFAW is appreciative of Congressman Peters and the others who voted against the bill and offered amendments to try and improve it.  These Members of Congress saw the faults and dangers in this piece of legislation: H.R. 4089 is bad for the public, for fish and wildlife, and for land and water.  With this bill the majority of the current House of Representatives has shown it is more concerned with appeasing the oil industry, the National Rifle Association, and greenhouse gas polluters than it is with representing the American people who are overwhelmingly in favor conservation and a clean, healthy environment. 

Thankfully, the road to becoming a law for H.R. 4089 does not end in the House.  It still needs to pass the Senate.  And hopefully our U.S. Senators – both Democratic and Republican – care more about our public lands and wildlife conservation than their counterparts in the House of Representatives that passed this awful bill.

—JF 

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