The Sportsman’s Heritage Act: Transcending the Jargon

It’s hard to keep track of everything that goes on in our nation’s capital these days. And with all the political drama surrounding every issue, it’s nearly impossible for the average Joe to get the straight facts in order to formulate a valid opinion.

When we came across the controversial Sportsmen’s Heritage act, there were a lot of questions to be answered; are we going to get to kill polar bears? Are we going to poison and log our Wilderness? Is this bill real? Will the world end if The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passes? Well, we’d like to say that we’re experts, but our political savvy friends are better suited to answer such big questions. That’s why we brought in Tom Flynn from Outdoor Alliance to sweep away all the political jargon and decode the bill for us in plain, non-partisan English. First, we’ll give you a bit of background as to what the Sportsman’s Heritage act really is.

People tend to get mad about things that happen (or don’t) in congress. When The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (HR 4089) passed in the House of Representatives this past April, there was a wide range of literature published on the web that could have had any conservationist paralyzed with fear. The bill failed in Senate, but will potentially resurface in the next congressional session.

The bill, initially geared toward providing more access to outdoor areas for recreation, seems to also have some disconcerting aspects. The most controversial being the overturning of the National Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which led many to believe that All Terrain Vehicles would be buzzing through our nations wilderness areas as soon as this Bill Went through Senate. There was also the provision that would potentially allow for the use of poisonous lead ammunition and fishing hooks to be used by sportsmen.

In Title 3, the act amends the Marine Mammal Protection act in order to allow Polar Bear Trophies to be taken across the Canadian Border and into the US.  The bill has its good parts and bad parts, but what worried conservationists most was the idea that the bill would elevate wildlife management over wilderness protection, leading some to believe that this would allow for endless manipulations of wildlife and habitat.

In order to keep from putting unnecessary fear into the hearts of our nature-loving readers, we asked Tom Flynn to bust some of the myths surrounding this bill.

Wenger Blog: What are the pros and cons of this bill? How will it affect the wilderness as we know it?
Tom Flynn: We [Outdoor Alliance] went on record in support of this bill. There are a lot of good things in this bill as far as human-powered recreation goes. As well as keeping public lands public. It would add to the land and water conservation fund, and also allow for the buying of land for public access that never had access [before]. The crooked river in Oregon currently has no access point for boaters. The Act would also keep the FLTFA going.

[The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) allows for the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to use money from sales of BLM lands for inholdings in national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and BLM and designated areas. It provides federal agencies with a funding source to complement the Land and Water Conservation Fund.]

On the con side, this bill would Take away lead regulation from EPA and direct it toward fish and wildlife… There is some discussion as to whether it should be regulated by the EPA or not.

WB: What changes would have to be made for the bill to resurface if any?
TF:  If it were to come around again, we would have an even more important conversation given the lead provision.

WB: It seems as though this bill went underreported. Why did we not know about it?
TF:  It’s hard to say because I hear about it through my line of work. It didn’t seem to make much news to me; I found a lot of stuff that didn’t look reputable. It was hard for me to get a good story on it. It probably wasn’t reported well.

WB:  The NRA and Safari Club are big supporters of this bill. Are they known for pushing similar legislation?
TF:  Conservation minded sportsman’s groups and conservation minded recreation groups. They tend not to agree. There are good parts and… Not so good parts.

WBWould this bill eviscerate the National Roadless Conservation Rule?
TF:  The National Roadless Conservation Rule doesn’t affect wilderness areas or national parks. It would be different areas or sorts of land.

WB:  There is a lot of literature on the web about how this bill would allow for ATVs to be used in wilderness areas…
TF:  For this bill to allow ATVs… I haven’t heard anything like that. We would have never supported it. It would contradict the 1964 Wilderness Act.

WB:  What about Title 3 which would 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 purchase permits in order to transport their trophies into the US?
The way I understand it, is that there are polar bears, frozen in Canada. The bill would simply allow for sportsman to collect their already dead trophies, bringing them from Canada to the US.

WB:  Based on the language within this bill, the media had gotten us worried about what might be done in the name of wildlife management. Is there a potential for logging, developing wilderness and poisoning lakes to be re-stocked with different fish?
TF:  Collectively, Outdoor Alliance looked at it and supported it, based on that, we wouldn’t support it.

Although this bill may be less of a threat to our wilderness that it was made out to be, it reminds us that, as lovers of the outdoors, we need to pay attention to what our capital is doing with some of our most beloved tracts of land.  Luckily the Fiscal Cliff was averted but debt ceiling talks in a few months will undoubtedly hit our National Parks and Wildlife Refuges with ill effects.

It is estimated that the National Parks Service will likely have to close some national parks, campgrounds, and lay off park rangers. The Natural Resource Defense Council estimates that the monitoring of endangered species and other scientific work will likely be dropped unless Obama and Congress can agree on a Plan B. As lovers of the outdoors, let’s make 2013 a year to not only enjoy, but to keep informed on the status of our natural treasures.