by Stephen Capra
Bold Visions Conservation
Since our country’s inception, we have waged a war on wildlife. From the blood-soaked Great Plains that laid waste to bison and passenger pigeons, to the slaughter of bears, wolves, prairie dogs and coyotes. Killing it seems, is part of America’s DNA.
Despite stories of conservation and heritage, much of the bloodletting and ignorance in our nation related to wildlife has been at the hands of these groups and industries: hunters, the livestock industry, State Game and Fish Departments, with the solid support of groups that incessantly lobby Congress; the Safari Club, Wildlife Federation, (a long list of sportsmen’s groups), the livestock industry, outfitters and most importantly the NRA. Some simply want to hunt; others are dedicated to undermining federal control of public lands.
Despite all we have learned about wildlife and their value to a healthy, sustainable environment and that fact that they can feel pain, suffer loss, and have an emotional connection to their young, we continue to allow common sense protection and wildlife measures to be tossed aside by bullying tactics and mindless political giveaways. Ones that ignore how pressing conservation of our natural resources are today. By legislators, many of whom still deny climate change and have strong negative feelings towards true conservation.
Understanding that, Congress has just passed perhaps the most destructive wildlife legislation in generations and the losers are the very wildlife that we are morally entrusted with protecting.
The so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015 passed the House last week and is poised to move to the Senate. This bill in its current form resembles legislation that many would have thought logical in the 1850’s, but is completely out of step with modern conservation.
The bill includes provisions to delist protections for wolves in the Great lakes region and Wyoming. It allows, despite recent international outcries, blockage to US Fish and Wildlife’s ability to crack down on the illegal ivory trade which has had devastating impacts on African Elephants. Further, once passed in the Senate, it will allow more ivory smuggling into the US. It condones the shooting of grizzly bears and wolves from airplanes, and the hunting of bears, cubs, wolves and coyotes while they are denning. It supports known poacher practices like baiting. The question remains: why?
As though this is not enough, it will open more public lands to trapping, decimate management of our National Wildlife Refuge System, and blocks federal agencies like the EPA from regulating toxic lead from ammunition and fishing tackle. The bill threatens the sanctity of the Wilderness Act by making hunting, fishing and recreational shooting the primary management mandate on public lands and replaces the Act’s main provision that lands be managed “for wilderness character.” It undermines the Marine Mammal Act and the Endangered Species Act by allowing the imports of Polar bears shot in Canada, so hunters will have access to their trophies. It sets up the creation of an array of gun ranges on our public lands and in all National Monuments across the West, to destroy the safety and solitude that so many seek when hiking or camping.
Perhaps more disturbing are the creation of special councils that speak directly to the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture, all to promote more hunting, trapping and access to guns and shooting…to kill more wildlife. They are to be comprised of Big Game hunting organizations, hunting and shooting manufacturers groups, firearms and ammunition manufacturers, agriculture, ranching, outfitter and guide industries, with a nod to minority sportsman, woman and wildlife conservation groups. This is nothing more an insider lobbying committee that taxpayers will be on the hook for.
Sportsmen’s groups from across the country are demanding passage of this arcane and dangerous legislation which will in time kill more wildlife and sadly people. It’s worth remembering that as a nation, the numbers of people who choose to go hunting are tiny and diminishing, despite massive investments in television and lobbying zeal.
Sportsmen represent a tiny fraction of Public Land users. This legislative push is designed to give just 6% of our people control of all of America’s outdoors and the chance to kill even more. Sportsmen, as it has been pointed out by recent studies, contribute far less to conservation than do environmental groups or that all Americans contribute through their taxes; this very small special interest group, that defies the desires of the vast majority of Americans, who prefer to hike, camp, go birding, take pictures…but not kill. We go there for the beauty and magic that wildlife that public lands represent.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where sponsors Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska and Martin Heinrich (D) of New Mexico will push for its passage.
In 2016, we should be doing all we can to respect, not kill, predator species. We should be looking for methods to strengthen the Wilderness Act, not gut it. Our federal agencies need to be doing all they can to stop ivory imports and preventing toxic lead in our waterways. Polar bears are in real trouble, but we just made senseless killing more likely.
This bill is not about wildlife or protection of our lands, it is about perpetuating ignorance, suffering and granting select power over our federal lands.
Legislation created for wildlife, water or lands should reflect our new realities: climate change, habitat loss and endangered species. Our policies, now more than ever, should be based on modern science, decreeing more protection not less, while working toward the goal of true biodiversity. This legislation is designed to keep hunters in charge of wildlife, which alone is reason enough to block it.
Aldo Leopold could well have spoken about this legislation when he said “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

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