Friday, April 20, 2012

The Sportsmen's Heritage Act, Laws with Cool Names, and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Grownups are supposed to know that some things sound cooler
than they really are.
I recently read a complaint that too few hunters and anglers have celebrated from the rooftops about the House passage of the Sportsmen's (not Sportsman's) Heritage Act of 2012.  Like many sportsmen, I read the legislation and had questions, excitement, and concern about it. There's a major problem with this bill - an aggregate of four separate bills: it leaves wide berths for unintended consequences, and where it doesn't, it's creating redundant legislation.  Maybe that's why so few people are celebrating.  Or perhaps it's because pundits are universally predicting that the Act will not pass the Senate.

The law has four parts:

I. USFS and BLM lands, including Wilderness Areas, shall remain "open until closed" for human use in general.  USFS has themselves to thank for this portion of the law, after failing to mount a competent defense of their basic "open hunting" policy in federal court.  Brilliant.  The great thing about "open until closed" is that it circumvents numerous bureaucratic planning processes that are normally required for every piece of federal land in the country, and in doing so, makes it unlikely that large sections of public land will realistically see hunting and fishing bans.

That is also the worst thing about "open until closed."  The law doesn't specify "for hunting and fishing only."  So it makes it unlikely that large sections of public land will realistically see bans on other human activities, like, say..........drilling and mining.  Oops.    Not exactly something to cheer about.

Another fundamental problem with this portion of the bill is that it sets a precedent that local wildlife management decisions should be made in the halls of Congress and not by local foresters and wildlife biologists.   Hopefully, you conservatives understand the poor example that sets for other agency decisions.

II.   A replication of Part I for National Monuments in eight western states.   Good for hunters and anglers (yay!).  Also good for miners, timber harvest operators, and gas well drillers (errr....yay?).

III.  A part of the Act explicitly prohibits the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition.  I'll be honest, every time these left wing groups try to ban lead in ammunition, it's clear that they are not genuinely concerned about lead in soil or water.  They are interested in disrupting the economics of the firearms trade in this country. And yes, honestly, it makes me a tiny bit nervous each time we have to go through that little bit of kabuki theater for no reason.   Hey, lead ban people - do you think that convicted felons would stop buying lead ammunition for their already illegally purchased and possessed handguns?  Probably not.  

Anyhoo, the EPA is already prevented (by a 1976 Act of Congress) from regulating ammunition.  And to bolster that fact, the EPA has three times (including once under President Obama) flatly rejected demands/request to enact a ban of lead in ammunition and lead in fishing tackle.   In short, I don't see the Sportsmen's Heritage Act as being an amazing victory - I see it as a comfortable insurance policy against errant findings by an as-yet-unknown EPA Director from a future era.  Solid legislative work.  But not worth a fireworks display.

IV.  A part of the Act makes it legal for hunters to import the "parts" of legally killed polar bears from other countries.   I honestly didn't know you could not import a legally killed polar bear.  Glad Congress is interested in fixing it.  Not because I hate polar bears or want to see hunting pressure on them increase, but because it's pretty obvious that opening up the border to a few dozen polar bear rugs is not going to cause a huge wave of polar bear poaching.  However, the USFWS policy of "no endangered species shall be imported" would now have exceptions if this law passes.  That means that serious poachers, when caught, will state in court that it's legal to bring "some" endangered species into the country, and that the singling out of polar bears is arbitrary and capricious (it certainly seems so).  Again - cause for celebrating? I.......guess?

"My Congressman said this is
the prototype new deer stand
for public hunting
on USFS properties."
Pandering plays heavy here.  This legislation, to me, is a big chunk of pandering.  Do I appreciate it? Sure!  I appreciate that someone (notably, not the Democratic Party) is interested in discussing these types of issues.  But is this law truly necessary?  Are we back to depending on Congress to pass a law to save us? Are we legislating wildlife management from Congress?  Those last three questions, if applicable to legislation proposed by the opponents of hunting and fishing, would be unilaterally opposed by sportsmens' organizations and perhaps most conservatives.  But when the laws "suit us" (or so we think), then it's okay to have Washington D.C. tell everyone what to do.  That's hypocrisy.

So by by all means, stand up and cheer.  An oil lobbyist has just told the waiter that the man standing across the room and cheering (i.e. you) will pay the bill - estimated at $2.5 million per year for the passage of this law.


T. Brook Smith said...

Love it. Love it. Love it.

If you lose readers over this one, good riddance.

Too many people are bound and determined to sell our natural heritage for a mess of short term economic porridge.

Kirk Mantay said...

A few hundred have already clicked in to read it, TB....but no comments. It's just pandering. I'm not saying I'm against pandering, especially if it's being done with my interests at heart. But it's pandering, and represents some pretty short term thinking.

I'm not ideologically opposed to extraction on public lands either, I just believe it needs to be done extremely purposefully. This law would not help the current "haphazard" pattern in which extraction moves forward on public land....

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