By Larry Rudolph, Safari Club International
Hunters are taking to the Hill this week. Hundreds of Members of Safari Club International leadership will be meeting with our lawmakers, asking Congress to protect our hunting heritage. We’ll be dressed in suits and ties instead of camo and blaze orange, and we’ll be walking through marble hallways instead of on deer trails. But we’re pursuing the same goals as we do afield – helping conserve wildlife and habitat.
Hunters are the original conservationists. Since the 1930s, we have willingly paid excise taxes to the fund conservation of both wildlife and habitat. Our license fees and permits fund the vast majority of state game agencies and their programs. All Americans – and all species of wildlife, not just game species — reap the benefit.
It’s a story worth telling in greater detail. In the 1930s, at the urging of organized sportsmen, State wildlife agencies, and the firearms and ammunition industries, Congress extended the life of an existing 10 percent tax on ammunition and firearms used for sport hunting, and earmarked the proceeds to be distributed to the States for wildlife restoration. The result was called the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration act, better known as the Pittman-Robertson Act after its principal sponsors, Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, and Representative A. Willis Robertson of Virginia. The measure was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 2, 1937. This year is the 75th anniversary of this landmark accomplishment.
In the more than 50 years since Pittman-Robertson took effect, over $2 billion in Federal excise taxes has been matched by more than $500 million in State funds, which come primarily from hunting license fees, for wildlife conservation. Benefits to the economy have been equally impressive. National surveys show that hunters now spend some $10 billion every year on equipment and trips. Areas famous for their wildlife have directly benefited from this spending, but so have sporting goods and outdoor equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers. Thousands of jobs have been created.
Hunters willingly fuel this economic powerhouse. But there’s one thing you need for hunting that can’t be made in any factory – habitat. With development and sprawl pushing our exurban areas further and further into rural lands, hunters are losing access to millions of acres every year. And hunters are already locked out of millions of acres of America’s public lands.
That’s why hunters need help from Congress. We appreciate the bipartisan majority of 274 Members of the U.S. House who voted to pass H.R. 4089. We ask the Senate to move quickly to take up this important compendium of legislation.
One of the most critical provisions in this bill requires hunting, fishing and recreational shooting to be recognized activities on all Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. It’s common sense that public lands should be open to access for hunting and fishing, but there are many obstacles in the way that this legislation can help to remove.
Anti-hunting groups, of course, are apoplectic. They claim the bill will force the National Park Service (NPS) to open parks like Gettysburg and the National Mall to hunting. These claims are specious and absurd – look at the language.
H.R. 4089 provides as a general matter that on “federal public lands” – which include NPS units – the federal land managers “shall exercise their authority under existing law” to facilitate hunting “except as limited by statutory authority that authorizes action or withholding action for reasons of national security, public safety, or resource conservation … or discretionary limitations on recreational fishing, hunting, and shooting determined to be necessary and reasonable….” In the case of NPS units, a court decision from the 1980s (and the subsequent regulation) determined that NPS had “statutory authority” to withhold action for reasons of public safety or resource conservation. The bottom line is that NPS could amend existing policy and regulations to allow hunting on a variety of its units. The agency has authority under existing law to do just that but has not taken such action for nearly four decades. H.R. 4089 does not change this law and emphatically does not mandate agency action. These charges are just one more red herring being peddled by H.R. 4089’s opponents.
Hunting is ingrained in our national heritage and has remained an economic pillar even in these difficult times. To protect our tradition of conservation, and its economic benefits to communities all over America, we ask the Senate to join the House in passing H.R. 4089 to protect equal access to the backcountry.