Great News! The “Sportsmen’s” Act is Dead…for Now

Great news—the “Sportsmen’s” Act of 2012 did not get past the Senate. Ironically, it was the Republicans that killed the bill. Not because of any great concern for wilderness or wildlife—quite the opposite; they just didn’t like how much of the budget the bill allocated for conservation projects.

What really doesn’t make sense is why every Democrat (except for Senator Barbara Boxer) voted to approve a bill with a main goal of opening up even more public lands for hunters. Why, for instance, did my two Senators from Washington State approve of a bill that would have allowed for the importation of “trophy” polar bear carcasses from Canada, undermining the ESA? And what did they stand to gain by giving a de facto federal thumbs-up to lead buckshot and other ammunition that have already poisoned so many birds, including endangered condors?

We dodged the bullet this time, but in the years to come there are sure to be other “sportsmen’s” acts rearing their hideously ugly heads (I was just going to say “ugly heads,” until I saw that one of my regular readers used the fitting adverb “hideously” before “ugly head” in reference to these contemptible acts). We can count on more puff about allowing bowhunting in parklands where wildlife is currently protected, more trophy hunters whining against regulations and most nauseating of all, politicians of both parties waxing poetic about hunting.

Hell, some people won’t be satisfied until Ted Nugent’s (hideously ugly) head is carved into Mt. Rushmore alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s.

Hunting: the Primary Cause of Extinction

Contrary to the preposterous—yet increasingly popular—belief that gas-guzzling, beer-can-tossing hunters are concerned environmentalists, hunting has been and continues to be the primary cause of extinctions world-wide. Even the plight of non-“game” animals, like the California condor, the country’s largest and perhaps most critically endangered bird species, stems from the same root cause that has led to the decimation of so many other species: hunting.

By the end of the nineteenth century, that darkest of times for wildlife in North America, rampant hunting had led to the extinction of the great auk, the passenger pigeon, two subspecies of elk and the near-total extinction of bison, pronghorn, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep and a myriad of other coveted species. Meanwhile, scavengers like condors were collateral damage in the frenzied campaign to rid the continent of its native carnivores.

Together with ravens and vultures, condors were senselessly shot on sight by trigger-happy ranchers mistaking the huge birds for predators—an ignorance that continues to this day. Moreover, those scavengers, along with eagles, hawks and other raptors, perished from eating poisoned meat intended for wolves, coyotes, bears and cougars.

Incidental poisoning is an ongoing threat plaguing condors right up to this day. Like so many other egg-laying species, their population suffered another major setback from the widespread use of DDT during the mid-20th Century. That toxic chemical was finally banned, but the great birds continued to perish. By the time it was determined they were also dying from lead-poisoning as the result of scavenging the carcasses of animals killed with lead-based bullets and buckshot, the condor population was down to an all-time low of only 22 individuals.Thanks to concerted efforts, their numbers have increased nowadays and lead-based ammunition has been banned from the condor’s most critical habitat. But the 400 surviving birds are still threatened by the illegal use of lead shot and bullets, in addition to other anthropogenic pressures, like power lines and wind turbans.

California condors have a life span of up to 60 years (longer than most human carnivores, prior to the discovery of statin drugs). And though they may appear ungainly on land, once a condor has worked his or her way up to a proper elevation, they can glide for miles without ever flapping a wing and sometimes attain speeds of 55 miles per hour, at elevations of 15,000 feet.

More proof that hunters aren’t really environmentalists: condors are still shot as pests or for target practice, and many “sportsmen” continue to oppose a nationwide-ban on lead-based ammo.