Friday, February 7, 2014

U.S. House passes bill to protect hunting access

Bill also preserves use of lead shot and fishing weights

Express Staff Writer

A hunter carries an elk trophy out of the woods near Sun Valley last fall. A bill passed by the U.S. House would guarantee that federal lands be open to recreational fishing and hunting unless the managing agency acts to close them. Photo by Roland Lane

     The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that protects access to public lands by hunters and anglers, and prohibits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead shot and fishing weights.

     H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, was passed Tuesday by a vote of 268-154. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was a co-sponsor. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate on the same day.

     The bill states that federal lands shall be open to recreational fishing and hunting unless the managing agency acts to close them.

     Bill Horn, director of federal affairs with the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, which provided input on the bill to congressional drafters, said the language is necessary because in the absence of any federal law guaranteeing rights to hunt and fish on public land, animal-rights groups have filed lawsuits demanding that federal agencies take such an action, which triggers review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Horn said H.R. 3590 reverses the process, making lands open to hunting and fishing except where the management agencies order them closed.

     “It’s going to basically eliminate the ability of the anti-interests to file lawsuits and muck up the works,” he said.

     The bill also states that federal public land-planning documents shall include a specific evaluation of the effects of such plans on hunting and fishing. In addition, it exempts all national wildlife refuge management decisions from review and public disclosure under the National Environmental Policy Act.

     “This legislation will help ensure Idahoans continue to enjoy access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities,” Simpson stated in a news release.

     But Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer with the Humane Society of the United States, contended that the public is entitled to be involved in management policy changes on wildlife refuges and other federal lands.

     In another section, the bill exempts lead in ammunition and fishing equipment from regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA is currently allowed to regulate or ban any chemical substance for a particular use, including the lead used in shot and bullets.

     Lead shot was banned for hunting waterfowl in 1991. However, opponents claim that spent lead shotgun pellets from other hunting uses continue to be frequently ingested by waterfowl. They also say birds consume lead-based fishing tackle lost in lakes and rivers, and that birds and animals are poisoned when scavenging on carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments. According to the San Francisco, Calif.,-based Center for Biological Diversity, more than 500 scientific papers have documented the dangers to wildlife from lead exposure.

     “Spent lead from hunting is a widespread killer of more than 75 species of birds such as bald eagles, endangered condors, loons and swans, and nearly 50 mammals,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.

     The organization stated in a news release that studies have shown non-lead bullets and shot made of steel, copper and alloys of other metals to have ballistics as good or better than lead bullets, and that they are no more expensive for popular calibers.

     But Wayne Clayton, co-owner of High Desert Sports in Hailey, said non-lead shotgun shells are about five times the price of shells with lead pellets, and they are not as effective, resulting in more wounded birds.

     Clayton said lead production plants have steadily been closing due to the phasing out of other lead products.

     “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next 10 years,” he said. “We may end up producing lead-free bullets anyway.”

     On Tuesday, a version of H.R. 3590 was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., as the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014.

     In 2012, a similar bill was passed by the House but defeated in the Senate. Horn said he was more optimistic about the bill’s chance for success this year. He said supporters are counting on votes from some Democratic senators up for re-election in 2016 in states with strong hunting constituencies.

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