‘Sportsmen’s Heritage Act’ Threatens Wolves, Elephants, Polar Bears, Birds, People
WASHINGTON— In a partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act” that would end federal protection for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes. The bill includes a grab bag of additional special-interest provisions that primarily benefit the livestock industry, National Rifle Association and those who peddle elephant ivory. More than 60 conservation organizations signed an open letter opposing the Sportsmen’s Act.
“There’s nothing sporting about wolf slaughter, elephant poaching or lead poisoning,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In the Sportsmen’s Bill, House Republicans have once again ignored science and protected special interests instead of wildlife.”
One of the many bad provisions of the bill not only strips protection from wolves but forbids court challenges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally stripped federal protections from gray wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012. Federal judges overturned both decisions for failing to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, failing to follow the best available science and for prematurely turning management over to state fish and game agencies that are openly hostile to wolves. A provision in today’s bill would preempt those court decisions, stop the current appeal process, and permanently end federal protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes.
A separate provision of the Sportsmen’s Act would stop a proposed regulation from the Fish and Wildlife Service designed to curtail the ivory trade inside the United States, which is the second-largest market in the world for ivory, after China. Elephant populations across Africa have plummeted due to the ongoing poaching epidemic, with forest elephants declining by 60 percent over the last decade. The illegal trade in elephant ivory funnels millions of dollars to the black market, fueling corruption and funding conflict in African nations.
“If this misguided legislation is enacted into law, elephants are likely to go extinct in our lifetime,” said Hartl. “Republicans are sacrificing one of the most magnificent animals ever to walk the Earth to protect the ability of a few rich collectors to keep their ivory trinkets.”
Similarly, the bill creates a dangerous loophole that allows trophy-hunted polar bears to be imported. Two-thirds of polar bears are expected to be wiped out by 2050 due to climate change, and the species is predicted to near extinction by the end of the century.
Another provision of the Sportsmen’s Bill would permanently exempt lead fishing tackle from any regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife at almost all levels. Animals are poisoned when they eat lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit; some die a painful, rapid death from lead poisoning, while others suffer for years from its slowly debilitating effects.
“There is no safe level of lead in the environment. This provision will result in more poisoned wildlife — hardly what any real sportsmen would want,” said Hartl. “We phased lead out of waterfowl ammunition, paint, gasoline and toys. It’s time for Congress to stop catering to industry and start looking out for the health of the American people and our wildlife.”
Since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011 there have been hundreds of legislative attacks on the environment, including more than 177 on endangered species and the Endangered Species Act. In 2015 more than 70 bills targeted endangered species. Republicans also introduced legislation designed to limit the ability of citizens to go to court in defense of species. Earlier this year the Center released a report documenting a 600 percent increase in these legislative attacks since the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling allowing special interests to make virtually unlimited campaign contributions.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.