March 7, 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 2406, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE) Act of 2015.” Unfortunately, as we’ve repeatedly seen in other bills making their way through Congress lately, it’s rife with toxic provisions that threaten wildlife and public lands, erode bedrock environmental laws and undermine key conservation policies.

Here’s a breakdown of the worst attacks in this nightmare of a bill, and what they mean for our wildlife and public lands:

Wolf, © Mike Wheeler

Continuing the War on Wolves

H.R. 2406 undermines science-based decision making under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by removing federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes region. This overrides two federal court decisions that found the state management plans at issue weren’t good enough to justify the removal of ESA protections for wolves. It also bars citizens from going to court to further challenge these delistings. The appeals processes on the two federal court decisions are still underway, and while it’s damaging for Congress to micromanage ESA listings at any stage, now is a particularly poor time.

Jeopardizing African Elephants

An elephant is poached every 15 minutes for its ivory tusks, fueling black markets, funding organized criminal networks and pushing this majestic species to the brink of extinction. Nonetheless, the Sportsmen’s Bill blocks efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to crack down on ivory trafficking and the domestic sale of illegal ivory. The bill also amends the ESA to allow sport hunters to continue to bring their elephant trophies into the U.S., even as the dramatic decline in elephant populations could ultimately result in the listing of African elephants as an endangered species. Together, these provisions undercut the recent commitment between the United States and China to halt the illegal ivory trade in both countries, and would make the United States complicit in the African elephant poaching crisis.

Grizzly bear cub, © Mike Madel/MFWP

Barring Conservation Measures for Iconic Wildlife in Alaska

Right now, the FWS and National Park Service (NPS) are working to prevent the state of Alaska from allowing potentially harmful practices in non-subsistence hunting of wolves, grizzly bears and other large carnivores in national wildlife refuges and national preserves across Alaska. Extreme predator control activities can have serious impacts on wildlife, yet H.R. 2406 strips both FWS and NPS of their ability to stop these efforts from moving forward.

Attacks on our National Wildlife Refuges, Wilderness Areas and other Public Lands

H.R. 2406 rolls back important protections for our public lands. It recklessly waives environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act for all management activities on all 150 million acres of our National Wildlife Refuge System, putting massive amounts of crucial wildlife habitat at risk. It scales back the strength of congressional wilderness designations, opening pristine lands to road development, motorized vehicles and other activities that degrade wildlife habitat and contradict the very purpose of wilderness areas. It also expands the definition of “hunting” on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands to include commercial trapping, which could open up millions of acres of public lands to trapping where it may currently be prohibited.

Preventing Regulation of Toxic Lead

In the United States, an estimated 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment through hunting every year, another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and sinkers, leading to the death of millions of birds and other wildlife from lead poisoning. Yet the Sportsmen’s Bill weakens the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate lead in nearly all forms of ammunition and fishing tackle. It also bars the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture from controlling use of lead on BLM and Forest Service lands.

This bill is a complete disaster for wildlife at home and abroad, and a nightmare for our public lands. While its supposed goal is to expand sporting opportunities on public lands, judging by these provisions, it’s clear that the Sportsmen’s Bill has become a Trojan horse for special interests seeking to diminish environmental protections for our land, water and wildlife. And most disturbing of all – it passed the House of Representatives. Thankfully, this isn’t the end of the matter.

Our legislative team is working hard to ensure that H.R. 2406 and similar bills that attack wildlife do not pass the Senate and are never signed into law by the President. But how much time will Congress waste attempting to move toxic legislation that benefits special interests, instead of working to protect of our lands and wildlife for future generations?

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