This week, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to consider the "Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012," a package of bills intended to benefit hunters and anglers. The bill seeks to open additional federal land for hunting, allows polar bear trophies to be imported from Canada, and removes the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate lead in ammunition.
The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, a pro-hunting lobby, asked foundation supporters, "Help us overcome the obstacles facing sportsmen and women and further the sporting tradition so that it can be handed down for generations to come." The CSF is characterizing the omnibus bill as "essential to recognizing the importance of, and facilitating the expansion and enhancement of, hunting and recreational fishing and shooting."
A skeptical glance, however, reveals that America's sportsmen and women are not nearly as persecuted as some – particularly the more entitled and paranoid among them – would love to think they are. For one, there is the worry that nefarious enviros seek to increase the price of ammunition to the point that Second Amendment rights are imperiled. "Just as environmentalists seek to drive down the use of fossil fuels by making them too expensive, a similar strategy could render guns unaffordable," said The Washington Times, referring to efforts to get hunters to switch to non-lead-based ammunition.
(Granted, non-lead ammunition is generally more expensive. Hunters who always opt for the least expensive ammunition will especially notice a difference. Those, however, who routinely opt for high-end ammo find the difference negligible.)
The Center for Biological Diversity, representing a host of environmental organizations, recently re-petitioned the EPA to ban lead-based ammunitions. The agency has said it has no intention of taking on this issue, despite wide-spread scientific consensus among agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service that lead shot poisons wildlife. Lead fragments routinely appear in processed game meat as well, and recent studies have shown that hunters have higher lead concentrations in their blood than the rest of the population.
The EPA has rejected petitions to ban lead ammunitions before. However the "Heritage Act" would permanently take away their ability to lead ammo by removing hunting and fishing equipment from the agency's purview for this and all future administrations.
Lawrence G. Keane, the National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president put out an impassioned statement to supporters. "Hunters and their ammunition have done more for wildlife than the CBD ever will," said Keane, referring to an 11 percent federal excise tax paid by ammunition manufacturers to fund the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund, run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "These relentless and unfounded attacks against traditional ammunition by agenda-driven groups like the CBD," Keane said, "are exactly why Congress must take immediate action and pass the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012."
If the Act passes, hunters will be able to shoot those newly-protected lead bullets over a far wider range of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. The act directs an "open unless closed" policy for recreational shooting on USFS and BLM lands, removing restrictions from many areas. And, in a reversal of the BLM's former policy, target practice would now be allowed on BLM National Monument lands.
The final tweak would legalize imports of trophy polar bears from Canada shot prior to the species' listing as an endangered species in 2008 (currently, importation is forbidden under the Marine Mammal Protection Act). The "Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act" would allow U.S. hunters to bring home 41 trophy bears – still in Canada – that were shot while the Endangered Species Act listing was pending.
"These individuals knowingly assumed the risk that their trophies might not be approved for importation," wrote Elisabeth Torres in Global Animal, an animal-focused news organization. "Allowing them to import those trophies now would constitute an unfair bailout."
"Fairness" in the House today is a relative term. With the GOP leadership consistently pushing for goodies for their constituents, what is considered fair for one, is not considered fair by all.
Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News.
Photo of hunter and daughter waiting for a deer before sunset, near San Antonio, Texas, 1973; courtesy of EPA/Documerica/Flickr.