For the first time in years, Congress has an opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation that encompasses several priority bills to benefit our nation’s hunters, recreational anglers and shooters as well as wildlife. This is a tremendous positive step in the advancement of America’s sporting heritage.
Last month, the House passed H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, championed by the members of the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. As president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, I can say with certainty the members of the caucus were elated by the strong bipartisan vote of 274-176 that passed H.R. 4089.
This week, hunters have come to Washington, D.C., with their sights set on the Senate, asking Senators to move quickly and take up this important compendium of legislation. Safari Club International, a top partner of the caucus and foundation, is flying in hundreds of members of its volunteer leadership team for this advocacy effort on Capitol Hill.
The bill is necessary because hunters, anglers and shooters are already locked out of far too much of America’s public lands, and they continue to lose access to millions of acres each year as urban sprawl expands into our rural lands. The bill aims to remedy this loss of access through several provisions, including requiring hunting, fishing and recreational shooting to be recognized activities on all Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. The measure also aims to protect recreational shooting on national monument land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management.
There are other elements within the bill to clarify or remedy regulatory anomalies, and these provisions also deserve bipartisan support. H.R. 4089 aims to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to allow hunters who legally harvested polar bears in Canada prior to its listing under the Endangered Species Act to buy permits in order to transport their trophies into the United States. H.R. 4089 also aims to clarify that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the jurisdiction to regulate lead components found in either traditional ammunition or fishing tackle.
Of course, anti-hunting groups are infuriated by House passage of the bill, and in an effort to stall its progress, they are claiming it will open some National Park Service properties to hunting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Currently, the National Park Service can amend existing regulations to allow hunting on a variety of its properties, but it has not taken this action in decades. H.R. 4089 will not change this authority and does not mandate agency action.
While pushback from anti-hunting groups is always expected, what our opposition doesn’t seem to know or acknowledge is that 75 years ago, the conservation community consisted largely of hunters, anglers, recreational shooters and related industries and their efforts paved the way for how we protect wildlife and maintain stewardship of the land today.
Those hunters supported the use of funds from an excise tax on firearms and ammunition — along with the dedicated revenue from hunting and fishing licenses — to be used exclusively by state fish and wildlife agencies. The funds were used to professionally manage fish and wildlife populations and provide access for sportsmen and the larger public to enjoy the benefits of this management. This funding mechanism was eventually expanded to include the fishing and boating communities as well as the archery community.
Accordingly, these groups produced the American System of Conservation Funding, a unique “user pays, public benefits” approach. This funding strategy has produced numerous public benefits, including abundant fish and wildlife populations, access to public lands and clean waters, improved fish and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, wetland protection and its associated water filtration and flood retention functions, improved soil and water conservation, shooting ranges, and boating access facilities that are available for the enjoyment of the entirety of the American public — hunters and non-hunters alike.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is proud to stand with Safari Club International members coming to Congress this week to protect hunting and recreational fishing and shooting as a national heritage and look forward to the Senate taking up H.R. 4089 and passing a robust “pro-sportsmen’s package.” We will continue to be a voice and an advocate on Capitol Hill for hunters, anglers and recreational shooters across our great nation.
Jeff Crane is president of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.