Shelby bill would turn National Wildlife Refuges into hunting preserves

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1997:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Alabama Senator Richard
Shelby, a Tuskaloosa Republican, on May 15 introduced legislation
to declare all federal land open to hunting and fishing,
except if used for national security or other purposes which
cannot accommodate hunting and fishing. The bill would also
state that Congress intends for federal agencies to support, promote,
and enhance fishing and hunting opportunities when
making decisions regarding federal land use; require that all
excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment be spent for
wildlife management to benefit hunting and fishing; and give
hunters and fishers the right to intervene in any civil lawsuit
that might impose limits on hunting or fishing on federal land.

Based on the premise that taxes on hunting and fishing
gear have purchased parts of the National Wildlife Refuge
system, which comes to under 5% of total federal landholdings,
the Shelby bill would have a parallel if a bill were introduced
to open all federal buildings to smoking, including hospitals
and schools, because there are special taxes on tobacco.
Nonetheless, the Shelby bill has momentum.
Alabama voters approved a comparable measure of state-level
application by referendum last November, with only token
opposition, and a similar measure by House Resource
Committee chair Don Young (R-Alaska) actually cleared the
House in the 104th Congress, with bipartisan support rallied by
John Dingell (D-Michigan). The Young bill died in the Senate,
but only after President Bill Clinton issued executive orders
recognizing hunting and fishing as official functions of the
National Wildlife Refuges, opening new hunting seasons on 23
refuges, and opening new fishing seasons on 18 refuges.
When former U.S. president Ronald Reagan left the White
House, barely a third of the 509 National Wildlife Refuges permitted
hunting; now more than half do.
“The real goal,” said former assistant secretary of the
Interior and Wildnerness Society excecutive George Frampton,
“was to make hunting, fishing, and certain economic activities
such as military use, oil and gas development, and
grazing––on a par with wildlife protection. This is not what
Theodore Roosevelt had in mind when he founded the refuge
system in 1903,” Frampton added.
Of last year’s battle, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
recently told James Gerstenzang of the Los Angeles Times,
“The sportsmen wanted legislative recognition of their role in
the refuge system,” which ANIMAL PEOPLE would liken to
the role of tobacco in a cancer ward: the taxes perhaps paid for
the beds, but the practice itself put the occupants in them.
“They’ve never had a formal legislative acknowledgement,”
Babbitt said, “and they’ve been getting uneasy as
they hear environmentalists say refuges are not a place for hunting
and fishing. They were looking for some security.”
Babbitt in the 105th Congress is seeking a compromise
bill that would make wildlife conservation the paramount
purpose of the refuges, but would also reaffirm the status of
environmental education, birdwatching, photography, hunting
and fishing.
Either way, Wildlife Legislative Fund of America
national director Bill Horn figures to get what he wants. “The
next time the animal rights crazies come after us,” Horn told
Gerstenzang, “the new language” offered either by Babbitt or
by Shelby, provides “a statutory shield against future litigation
to terminate hunting and fishing in the refuges.”
Legislation to guarantee “hunters’ rights” is also
under consideration in Minnesota, where such a measure was
defeated last year.

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