by Christy Goldfuss
With gas prices rising and many Americans concerned about getting jobs, it may come as a surprise that members of Congress are starting a new work session by focusing on hunting and fishing.
However, you don’t have to look far to explain why H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), is at the top of the to-do list.
There are key Senate races in New Mexico and Montana that will determine whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge of the upper chamber of Congress. In these states, sportsmen make up significant portions of the population. A Colorado College State of the Rockies Project poll published earlier this year shows that in New Mexico 26% of respondents identify as hunters and anglers. In Montana, the number is even more significant, with 44% of respondents saying they are hunters and anglers.
Rep. Miller says the bill would open up hunting opportunities. In fact, it would open up protected lands to commercial activities such as road building and off road vehicle use — lands that are open to hunting, but not mechanized activities.
A Congressional Research Services report found that H.R. 4089 would essentially gut the Wilderness Act, which has protected more than 100 million acres in the U.S., much of it prime hunting and fishing lands.
That is why some sportsmen actually oppose this package of bills designed to court their political support. The Nevada state coordinator of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers recently said, “sportsmen and women who enjoy the challenge and opportunity of backcountry hunting will lose those experiences if this bill becomes law.”
The balance between environmental protection and hunters rights can be tenuous, sometimes creating unexpected political alliances. For example, you can find many sportsmen willing to talk about climate change, when most Republican candidates avoid it.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 is supported by the National Rifle Association and many off road vehicle groups. It is even rumored that the NRA will track member’s votes on this bill so they can use it as a political messaging opportunity this election season. This seemingly puts any member of Congress who supports conservation in a difficult spot.
However, some numbers from the State of the Rockies Project poll, show that conservation is extremely important to the hunting and fishing community. In Montana and New Mexico, approximately 70% of sportsmen identify as conservationists.
Christy Goldfuss is the Public Lands Project Director at American Progress.