(Gary Kramer, AP)
The U.S. House on Feb. 26, 2016, approved a bill to expand access to hunting and fishing areas on public lands. The bill also contains a provision to remove gray wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming off the federal endangered list.
If you think the problem with modern America is that there are too many wolves, a bill passed in February by the U.S. House of Representatives probably made your day. If you think there has been more than enough killing of them over our history, however, the measure is cause for alarm.
The legislation, titled the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE), has the enthusiastic support of the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and conservative House members. It stems from resentment of the very idea that the federal government should control millions of acres of land and manage it for broad national purposes.
One of those purposes is restoring and preserving endangered species, such as the gray wolf. Some 2 million of them once lived on this continent, but only a few thousand remain. The bill would expose this iconic beast to hunting and trapping in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming — with predictable consequences.
The Obama administration de-listed the species, only to be later overruled by federal courts. During the time the wolves lacked their former protection in the Great Lakes region, reports the Humane Society, 1,500 of them died at the hands of humans.
The SHARE Act would not only deprive wolves of federal protection but also bar court challenges to this policy. The only reason to bar court challenges, of course, is to avoid having the legal weakness of your case exposed.
The measure shows a distressing indifference to some basic environmental concerns. It would waive federal environmental reviews for management decisions on 150 million acres of public land. It would prevent the government from banning the use of lead fishing tackle, bullets and shotgun pellets — what the NRA refers to, charmingly, as "traditional ammunition."
But lead pollution is harmful to wildlife, which is why this type of ammo has been banned for hunting waterfowl since 1991 — and why most states have added restrictions of their own.
California has entirely outlawed its use for hunting. Nonlead options are widely available and widely used. Even the U.S. military has chosen to make the switch.
The House legislation also would open up wilderness lands to road construction and mechanized vehicles, which raises the question: What part of "wilderness" do the supporters not understand?
There are plenty of federal lands that are open to these activities, because the vast majority of what the feds own is not designated as wilderness. But the goal of the Wilderness Act of 1964 was to preserve areas "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Roads and dirt bikes have their place — elsewhere.
The fate of the SHARE Act now rests with the U.S. Senate, which ought to reject it. Wolves, wilderness and the environment deserve better.