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Guest Column: Election Day And The Dangers Of H.R. 4089, The Sportsmen’s Heritage Bill


In the not-so-distant past, Republicans as well as Democrats were strong proponents of America’s public lands. And both parties usually supported the national parks—most beloved of all public lands. But now, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan reflect the contempt of the Republican Party’s far right for all public lands—even the national parks, long renowned as “America’s Best Idea.”

No matter how much Romney might claim he loves the national parks, he can’t escape the fact that he chose a running mate who voted for the “Sportsmen’s Heritage” bill (H.R. 4089). In classic Tea Party fashion, proponents tell the public this is only a pro-hunting measure. But in reality it permits such impacts as extensive hunting, trapping and off-road vehicle use in the national park system. Even Civil War battlefields parks are at risk.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has held up the bill so far; but a Republican-dominated Senate in 2013 could be supportive. Thus, tragically, a Romney-Ryan election could reverse nearly 140 years of Republican Party support for the national parks, beginning with President Grant signing the 1872 law establishing Yellowstone—the world’s first national park.

Republicans And The National Parks

By the close of the 19th century, Republican presidents had ushered in three more giants of the system: Sequoia, Yosemite, and Mount Rainier national parks. They soon added Crater Lake, Mesa Verde and Glacier, among others.

Moreover, in 1906 Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law. Roosevelt then used his newly minted Antiquities Act executive authority to proclaim 18 “national monuments” on the public lands, including Grand Canyon and Olympic—later “elevated” to national park status, as happened with many national monuments. Approximately one-quarter of the nearly 400 units in today’s National Park System were created by authority of the Antiquities Act. Republican presidents helped mightily to build the bedrock foundation for this world-renowned park system.

Since Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president who benefited the National Park System most was none other than Richard Nixon, with 26 parks to his credit. More recently, President George W. Bush used his Antiquities Act authority to establish the 139,797 square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Not part of the National Park System, this monument encompasses the northwestern Hawaiian Archipelago, and is one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The national parks are the pride of the American Republic. In addition, many of them are cash cows. They boost the national economy, creating jobs and economic opportunity in the parks and surrounding areas. The annual national park system visitor-count now totals just below 300 million.

How H.R. 4089 Harms The System

Yet despite the Republican Party legacy, Tea Party Republicans intend to subject the national park idea to the crippling mandates of the Sportsmen’s Heritage bill—such as:

* Permitting hunting and trapping in extensive areas of the National Park System where they are now prohibited, including designated wilderness areas; and defining these activities so as to include the option for recreational and even commercial hunting and trapping. This also includes historical parks, such as Civil War battlefields.

* Training hunting dogs in national parks, including field trials.

* Permitting off-road vehicles in national parks to enable hunters to ride noisy, ground-disturbing machines into these long-established wildlife sanctuaries to find and kill (or spook) animals—thereby sharply decreasing wildlife viewing, a major attraction for park visitors.

* Emasculating the Antiquities Act to diminish the president’s ability to quickly protect threatened nationally significant public lands by proclaiming national monuments.

* Making null and void the all-important National Environmental Policy Act as it relates to Sportsmen’s Heritage. With a few exceptions, the bill intentionally obstructs scientific studies, and thus public information, on the impacts of Sportsmen’s Heritage.

Deeply concerned, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (including many of the Service’s senior leaders from recent decades) views this bill as “perhaps the greatest threat to the National Park System throughout its history.” And there must be millions of hunters and non-hunting Americans who object to such damaging, disruptive intrusions into the national parks. The parks are, after all, national icons.

Mitt Romney has stated that he does “not know why the government owns so much” of America’s public lands (even though public lands have been around since George Washington’s time). If Republicans control the White House and Senate in 2013, Sportsmen’s Heritage may indeed become law. The voters must decide. But it is clear that very few people know about this bill before Congress, so even after the election it’s important to get the word out.

Richard West Sellars is a retired National Park Service historian and author of Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History (Yale University Press, 1997, 2009). This book inspired the Natural Resource Challenge, a multi-year initiative by Congress to revitalize the Park Service’s natural resource and science programs. The Challenge made possible what Stewart Udall, former secretary of the interior, called “the greatest advances in scientific natural resource preservation in the history of the national parks.”

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It's too bad this article was not printed in the main stream news. Many people will never understand the damage this bill will create. I am 62, an avid outdoorsman (have been all my life) and wonder everday what legacy will we leave for our children and grand children. Our past presidents had the foresight to preserve these lands for all to come and in one fell swoop it may all come to an end. If Romney/Ryan have their way, all we will see in our national parks will be fracking, mining and logging, a sad day for all of us.

Yes, this should be published far and wide. How can we go about obtaining permission to send it to some of our local newspapers in hopes they will help share it?

Email the link, Lee. I know Dick wants it to get as much exposure as possible.

The problem with so much of what comes out of environmental groups is that every potential harm to the environment gets the DEFCON1 response - and not everything deserves that. In the process, the truth sometimes gets put on the backburner. I don't even like this bill, and I'm not a hunter or a fisherman, but we should at least be honest about what this bill actually proposes to do.

First, and most importantly, Sec 104(h) states:

(h) Areas Not Affected- Nothing in this title requires the opening of national park or national monuments under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service to hunting or recreational shooting.

In other words - HR 4089 is not going to open Yosemite or Yellowstone to hunting or shooting or off-road vehicles. The line about hunting dogs in "national parks", unless that means "national park system", is clearly erroneous, as the word "hunting" in the act includes training of hunting dogs. Nor does anything in the act permit the use of off-road vehicles to facilitate hunting - the law doesn't contain the word "road" or "vehicle."

Moreover, the law provides that "

(3) discretionary limitations on recreational fishing, hunting, and shooting determined to be necessary and reasonable as supported by the best scientific evidence and advanced through a transparent public process.


are still permissible. In other words, the act does not automatically open up every piece of public land - it's hard to imagine that preventing hunting on a civil war battlefield isn't a reasonable discretionary limitation, if the implementing law for that park doesn't already prohibit hunting

Fundamentally, what HR 4089 (outside of the Antiquities Act restrictions) does is changes the presumption among land managers that hunting is an activity that should have to be specifically permitted, to hunting that is an activity that has to be specifically prohibited. Greatest threat ever to the national park system? That's truly difficult to imagine.

As for the Antiquities Act - it has had a long and distinguished history, but just because something has been beneficial for over a hundred years doesn't mean that it necessarily has to stay that way. The United States is pretty well catalouged, and our environmentally sensitive federal lands are far better protected than they were in the early 1900s. It's hard to imagine there are vast areas of national park quality federal lands that are so totally unprotected as to need the extraordinary national monument power. Nearly all the national monuments created since Staircase-Escalanate would either be completely unaffected (as not in the continental US) or have been already reasonably protected lands just being "upgraded" and not controversial. I can live with having to get the approval of governors/legislatures for that.

Anonymous, rather than go point by point, here's a legal analysis of the act prepared for the National Parks Conservation Association that addresses your doubts:

The NPCA has their interpretation, but the NPCA is a group that has a very vested interest in making this bill appear as bad as possible. At numerous points, one could disagree with their work - for instance, they give no weight to the phrase "Areas Not Affected" in the title of 104(h). They say that "resource conservation" means natural resources as opposed to generally preserving the resource, which is questionable. The "facilitation" analysis is very questionable - the law has a "no priority" clause, and it could just as easily be read to refer to regulatory facilitation vice building roads/permitting ORV use.

As I've said - I'm not a fan of the bill, I'm just not sure that it's truly as bad as the NPCA says it is.

Kurt, the pdf article you provide does not alleviate annon 10:28's points. This article was prepared FOR the NPCA BY someone against the bill. So the interpretation provided is null and void. The person(s) who submitted the bill should provide exactly what was meant in all aspects. Then, good or bad, I will believe what is assumed by the pdf writer.

I have thought for many many months that this site is nothing more than a political forum. Gone are the days in the 70's thru early 90's when we all worked togther in the parks, and certainly many decades before that. Thank goodness (I am sure saying thank God is politcally incorrect here) the bulk of the NPS parks were well established before the last two decades.

I am surprised annon 10:28 hasn't been fully pounced upon yet by the Stalwart Six, the guardians of this website. But then its early in the day: give them time, give them time.

Dottie el al, could you provide an alternative legal interpretation that runs contrary to the one provided the NPCA?

Congress -- both sides -- manages to insert loopholes into many pieces of legislation by being open-ended rather than definitive. The devil's advocate would say, 'Why wouldn't the sponsors come right out and say this act does not apply to the National Park System," instead of saying that it doesn't "require" opening the parks to hunting if they didn't want to leave that possibility open? Just as it doesn't require the parks to be open to hunting, it doesn't prevent them from being opened, either.

And re your belief that this site is nothing more than a political forum, Dottie, I don't see how you can reach that interpretation by looking through the vast library of articles: hiking stories, lodging stories, trip stories, wildlife stories, birding stories, park guides, gear reviews, book reviews, videos, puzzles, and on and on.

Sadly, politics do enter into the present-day management and future of the parks, and we'd be remiss if we didn't approach those issues. We have reached out to some on the GOP side, most notably Rep. Rob Bishop, for their views on the issues, but they've declined. We're certainly open to hearing diverse opinions, and if you know of anyone from any political view who'd take up our offer we'd appreciate hearing from them.

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