The House on Tuesday passed legislation giving hunters and fishing enthusiasts access to certain public lands to pursue their sport and also blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from banning lead for use in ammunition and fishing tackle.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage Act passed on a mostly party line vote of 274 yeas and 146 nays.
Republicans argued that the ability of sportsmen and women to fish and shoot on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service is being threatened by the Obama administration and environmentalists through bureaucratic regulations.
Republicans also said that banning lead bullets and tackle would cause economic harm to the recreation industry and kill jobs.
“It would be a massive power grab by the EPA without a clear lack of legal authority, but has that ever stopped the EPA under this administration? Sadly, it hasn’t,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R–Wash.) chairman of the House Resources Committee.
The bill recognizes hunting and fishing as historic and traditional recreational activities on public land and requires the federal bureaucracy to support those rights, said Rep. Rob Bishop (R–Utah), chairman of the Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.
“It’s simple language: if agencies in the bureaucracy of Washington want some areas of land closed to the public for recreation, they have to have a darned good reason to do it,” Bishop said.
Hastings and Bishop cited an article in U.S. News and World Report stating the proposal to ban hunting on BLM land was in response to urbanites that “freak out” when they hear gunfire, and that the decision was an effort to reduce “social conflict.”
“I suggest that is not a logical reason why these rights should be prohibited,” Bishop said.
Federal managers are treating the public lands as their “personal fiefdoms” rather than managing the vast properties for public use, Hastings said.
The public outcry following the BLM threat forced Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to abandon the plan. “However, nothing prevents a future bureaucratic maneuver to limit access,” Hastings said.
Democrats opposed the bill and called it a tool of the gun lobby.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D–Ariz.) argued that the greatest threats to hunting and fishing do not come from federal land managers, but from development, pollution and destruction of wildlife habitat.
“The problem this bill claims to solve actually does not exist,” Grijalva said. “This bill is intended to wrap (land managers) in red tape and intimidate them… and to score political points with outside groups.”
Federal law already bans the EPA from regulating lead ammunition, however, more than 100 environmental groups petitioned the agency last month to ban it claiming the lead can poison those who eat wild game shot with the ammunition, or other animals that accidentally ingest the metal in dead carcasses.
“There is no scientific evidence for their position,” Hastings said. “So this (bill) makes it crystal clear Congress has primacy on this issue and it should be respected.”