by Stephen Capra
For more than thirty years, I have worked in Conservation. In fights as ranging as efforts to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to our more recent battles to create two new National Monuments in New Mexico, sportsmen were on the front lines in defense of wilderness and wildlife. So what has happened and why are they now so determined to pass legislation that will kill so much wildlife and wilderness?
The answer is not entirely clear, but there seems to be some ominous clues: it began with the brutal years of the Bush Presidency, a time when conservation legislation was automatically dead on arrival. It was a time when pressure to drill in wild places was heavy in the air, and common sense was a memory. During this difficult time, Foundations that supported conservation decided that Sportsmen were the key to protection and the money flowed to their organizations. The results produced during this time were small; Bush was not much of a hunter, and their voice did little to protect wild places, but they garnered respect and lots of media attention.
The result has been that funding to sportsmen has continued, at the expense of many small conservation-focused organizations. At the same time, the NRA has mushroomed into a super-power in Washington, using the second amendment to threaten and cajole elected officials into permitting weapons in grocery stores and churches.
Shortly after his election to congress, then-congressman Martin Heinrich set about to solve a problem that bothered him and other hunters, locked gates on roads that led to wilderness and other public lands; thus began the road to what we now know as SB-2406.
So how did opening gates for sportsmen lead to a bill so destructive? The answer has a lot to do with Washington, and even more about the zealous nature of sportsmen and their desire to rule our public lands.
Since the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Act, (legislation that taxed the sales of guns and ammo and earmarked its revenue for state’s wildlife management programs,) sportsmen have found ways to use their power to influence policy. During the sixties, the rise of environmental awareness pushed sportsmen out of the mainstream, allowing the growth of mainstream conservation groups that focused on wildlife- without killing, which supported wilderness, clean air and water. Sportsmen were relegated more to state issues and maintained complete control over Game and Fish Departments. The NRA at this point was not on the radar.
With the Reagan and Bush years the NRA was allowed in the front door and became an important component of the Republican Party as they began a strategy of reclaiming the South and the West. The second amendment was the bullet they used to counter common sense.
With more concern about wildlife and Endangered Species programs becoming effective, Republicans and some rural blue dog Democrats began complaining about restrictions on private property. In many tight races in the West and with the rise of the Sage Brush Rebellion, such programs became a target for those who wanted access to kill all wildlife and hated government intervention.
With the election of our first African-American President, all of this came to maturation. By now sportsmen had regained momentum; the NRA would find their zenith of power attacking the President and those rural counties in the south and west, would be the soldiers of a new sagebrush blow-back. The President for his part seemed to use wildlife as a currency that he would yield on for critical votes, or reelection support for failing blue dogs and the US Fish and Wildlife Service of his administration has made clear that their efforts have been focused on removing species from endangered status.
This brings us to today. Legislation designed to open a few remote roads for access, has evolved into a plan that will permit aerial killing of bears, wolves and coyotes. The import of ivory is now acceptable, despite worldwide efforts to stop the killing of elephants; the National Wildlife Refuge System would now be redesigned to make killing of species, not protection, a priority. Gun ranges will become the mandate of National Forests and Monuments and all public land, with funds that should go to wildlife management reallocated to build them. The Wilderness Act would be undermined to allow construction of building, roads, and access by ATV’s. Bears their cubs and wolves could be killed in their dens and polar bears killed in Canada could be brought into America for the trophy-needy slobs that killed them.
This is not legislation; it’s madness.
It reflects the manner in which common sense and sound science are being destroyed in a power grab by sportsmen who frankly should be ashamed of supporting legislation that reflects not sportsmanship, but 19th century ignorance. The NRA wants to take complete control of our public lands as they have our places of worship, bars, schools and grocery stores. They want our world to be fear based and now the place we go to for solace and to restore our spirit, could become a place filled with the sounds of guns.
This legislation changed the day Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski became a co-sponsor of SB-405 the original bill, of H.R. 2406’s latest House derivative. Her record on the environment is a disgrace, her motives are to kill, conquer and destroy all that is wild.
If passed, this legislation will also set up a “Sportsman’s Committee,” which will directly advise the Interior Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture, who manages our National Forests. They will be there representing the NRA, Gun manufacturer’s, outfitters and ammo dealers, ranchers and the usual groups designed to undermine our public land, with power to dictate policy and kill precious species, such as wolves and grizzly bears.
Sportsmen are feeling their power and showing no restraint: From the slaughter that is occurring with bison in Yellowstone, to plans to start killing grizzlies around the borders of the park, to now this legislation, common sense is not being reflected in their push for power.
This legislation has been a generation or more in the making; it started with a simply concept that has exploded into a very dangerous piece of legislation that we cannot allow to pass.
Sportsmen must also begin to question their motivations? When you blur the lines between sport and destroying a sacred trust, you lose your credibility. Sportsmen should ask for this legislation to be tabled. They should join the fight to defeat legislation that went from simple access, to transforming our most sacred trust.
Bold Visions Conservation stands with wildlife, against turning our wildlands into gun ranges, and we’ll fight every day until this legislation is killed. We understand how it happened; if this legislation does not die, and then it will be the weapon that destroys the animals and lands we all so dearly love. Such bloodletting has no place in modern America.
Such deception should not be tolerated.