By Lawrence G. Keane
Two anti-hunting groups are making a move to kill hunting. They’re looking to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Department of the Interior (DOI) to publish a rule that would eliminate transporting harvested wild animals and most birds across state lines.
It is the most serious threat to hunting in the United States since Dan Ashe, former USFWS director, attempted to ban the use of traditional ammunition on federal lands. That attempt was rolled back by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. This attempt must be turned back by every hunter in America.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council are co-opting COVID-19 fears to push their radical anti-hunting agenda in a petition to the USFWS and DOI. They are ignoring reports of China’s potential complicity on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they are faulting hunters as potential pathogen pathways and attempting to end hunting even in neighboring states.
The petition claims, “Pandemics caused by zoonoses – infectious diseases that jump from animals to people – are entirely preventable.” The mechanisms they would impose include a complete ban on interstate transport of not just live animals, but also the meat, hide, horns, antlers and skulls of harvested animals.
The petition doesn’t discriminate between a ban on species harvested internationally. It also targets hunters who take animals in other states and transport them home, even if they’ve been professionally prepared by a butcher or taxidermist to safeguard against the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
The groups’ petition would amend the Lacey Act regulations to prohibit the importation, transportation or acquisition of wild animals. Since the USFWS regulates interstate transportation and importation of wild animals, that’s a death knell to hunting in the United States.
That means the trophy Texas buck wouldn’t be able to be brought home to Virginia, or South Dakota pheasants to South Carolina. A lifetime dream hunt of a Rocky Mountain elk would never fill a Florida freezer and an Alaska bear rug would never be able to come home to Oklahoma.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
The two anti-hunting groups – Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council – are known extremist anti-hunting groups. Center for Biological Diversity has made suing the government a cottage industry. They host a page on their website boasting of suing the Trump administration 266 times. They attacked hunting by suing the Environmental Protection Agency for denying a previous petition to ban traditional ammunition. A federal judge dismissed that suit.
More recently, Center for Biological Diversity appealed a U.S. District Court’s decision to dismiss their allegation that the U.S. Forest Service allowing hunters to use traditional ammunition in Arizona’s Kaibob National Forest is a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The group alleges that hunters shooting traditional ammunition is the same as industrial dumping of lead waste. The case was dismissed three times but is being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for the third time.
Natural Resources Defense Council has been party to many of the same lawsuits as Center for Biological Diversity. They found a cash cow in suing the federal government and agreeing to settle, particularly with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They use tactics, including this one with the USFWS and DOI, to petition for a rule change and then sue the agencies when they believe the federal agency is taking too long.
Natural Resources Defense Council sued the USFWS when wolves were delisted from the Endangered and Threatened Species Lists. They were also party to the legal actions to end delisting the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The actions by these two groups to limit the ability for hunters to move legally harvested wildlife across state lines is a direct threat over 15 million people who buy hunting licenses in America each year. That’s particularly concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic saw an unexpected surge in hunting license sales and hunters enrolling in safety courses to obtain licenses.
One report showed hunting license sales were up by five percent overall, with a growth of 15 percent of women purchasing hunting licenses. New hunters showed a 26 percent increase in 2020. These new hunters would be frozen out from experiencing different hunting traditions in other regions of America. They would be shuttered from hunting wild animals that exist in states other than their home state.
Hunting is Conservation
What’s more is these two groups are attempting to impose legislation through regulation. By petitioning the USFWS and DOI to promulgate rules to end the ability for hunters to fill their coolers in another state and bring home the meat, hides, antlers and horns, they’re attempting to bypass the legislative process. They’re abusing a rule-making process to impose a radical anti-hunting agenda without lawmaker input. That’s concerning since 23 states enacted laws or have it written into their state constitution of an individual’s right to hunt and fish.
It’s not just hunting and hunters that would be harmed by this petition. The wildlife these groups claim to protect would be devastated by the potential harmful impacts. The North American Wildlife Model is predicated on hunting as a management tool and is responsible for the rebound and abundant wildlife all Americans enjoy. Further, wildlife belongs to the public, not special interest groups. This is what makes it possible for all Americans to enjoy the outdoors for recreation, including hunting. It’s not a benefit of wealth or privilege.
The firearm industry has played a pivotal role in this success. Excise taxes collected from firearm and ammunition manufacturers are responsible for the recovery of America’s wildlife through the Pittman-Robertson Act, which has contributed over $14.1 billion since its inception in 1937.
The petition to halt hunting in its tracks is beyond irresponsible. It is dangerous and potentially harmful to America’s wild scenes. This is a moment not just for USFWS and DOI to reject political special interests, but for every hunter, outdoorsman and woman to recognize how extremist organizations are weaponizing government bureaucracies against them.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.