Duck Stamps, Lead Shot, and the Fiscal Cliff: Politics of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012

Amid all the recent politicking around the so-called fiscal cliff, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has managed to find its way into the mix.  In a procedural vote on November 26, Senate Republicans temporarily killed bipartisan Senate Bill 3525 citing noncompliance with the 2011 Budget Control Act.  The 50-44 party line vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance after Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) complained that the bill violated spending caps on congressional panels including the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the Federal Duck Stamp program.

The Sportsmen’s Act, sponsored by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is a collection of 17 bills aiming to increase conservation and expand sportsmen and women’s access to federal lands, among many other provisions.  The bill received wide bipartisan support in the House, and is backed by at least 55 groups including the White House, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the National Rifle Association.

Key conservation measures include reauthorization of programs including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Multinational Species Conservation Fund and the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (a “land-for-land” exchange program).

2012 Federal Duck StampSource: http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/

2012 Federal Duck Stamp
Source: http://www.fws.gov/duckstamps/

While the bill would decrease the deficit by $5 million over the next decade, it would also increase spending by due to additional spending associated with a $10 price increase on the Federal Duck Stamp, taking it from $15 per stamp to $25.  The federal government uses proceeds from the stamps to conserve wetlands critical to waterfowl.  According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the price hike would translate to $132 million in new spending over the next ten years.

Sessions conceded, “The fundamentals of this bill are good,” but then asked, “At a time of unprecedented spending and unsustainable debt, low public confidence in Congress, should we not adhere to even the small spending limits that have been enacted?”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the vote a sign of the Senate’s dysfunction, noting that Republicans voted to halt a bill that “probably has more agreement on the other side than this side.”  42% of sportsmen surveyed are Republicans, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

LPmallard-JNR

Mallard on right with characteristic drooping wing, a symptom of lead poisoning
Photo by James Runningen

One controversial component of the package is a reaffirmation barring the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate lead ammunition and fishing tackle.  The bill would keep regulation of lead use with state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Another contentious provision would allow polar bear trophies shot in Canada before the species was placed on the endangered species list to be imported into the U.S.  Objecting to both of these components, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was the only Democrat to break from party ranks by voting against the bill.

“I believe this bill has many good provisions that will help preserve America’s treasured natural resources, protect fish and wildlife and provide recreational opportunities for our families,” said Senator Boxer. “Unfortunately, the bill also includes two provisions that threaten public health and could set back wildlife conservation efforts.”  Sen. Boxer has proposed an amendment that would require further study on the effects of lead on wildlife.

While increased regulation of lead is a good thing for fish and wildlife, America doesn’t need to spend money on a study to tell us that lead shot is harmful to fish and wildlife, as well as humans.  When a bird or a buck is wounded by lead shot, it will likely suffer from lead poisoning.  If an animal is shot and killed with lead and left in the field, scavengers, including bald eagles, that eat the downed game are also likely to contract lead poisoning.

As a result of the lead and polar bear provisions, a coalition of some 200 conservation, birding, and animal welfare groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, the Humane Society of the United States oppose the bill.

Among some of the more beneficial pieces of the legislation are a bill each from Colorado Senators  Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D).  Senator Benett’s bill would allow bowhunters with archery equipment to cross national park lands in order to access adjacent hunting lands. Currently, bowhunters do not enjoy the same rights as those with firearms to access prime hunting lands adjacent to national parks.  Senator Udall’s bill would give states greater flexibility to use the funds collected on shooting and archery equipment and ammunition to create more accessible ranges for safe target practice and recreational shooting.

constantine

Lake Constantine in Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness is already open to fishing. Photo: Carper Davis

According to an email from Sen. Benett, “hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching activities contribute approximately $3 billion to Colorado’s economy annually. Outdoor pastimes in Colorado support over 33,000 jobs.”  However, according to research conducted by Southwick and Associates as cited by The Denver Post, over half of sportsmen surveyed said they spent less time hunting as a result of having lost access to a hunting location last year.  11 percent of those surveyed said the lost access prevented them from hunting altogether.  If the lost land also prevented this 11 percent from spending money associated with their hunts, the lost access could translate into millions of dollars in lost economic activity in Colorado.

Hunt

A waterfowler collects decoys over icy wetlands.
Credit: Joel McWhorter via ducks.org

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 is a bill that needs to be passed.  It will benefit fish and wildlife through conservation, while increasing access to public lands necessary to provide ample opportunities for hunting and fishing.  In turn, this access will translate into economic activity in communities across the nation.  While some provisions are controversial, there’s more to support than oppose in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012.

Things appear to be moving in the right direction.  On November 30, Sen. Tester introduced a “sodsaver” amendment that would save about $175 million, more than enough to cover the increased spending associated with the duck stamp. The sodsaver provision was previously included in the Senate’s farm bill.  Hopefully, the Senate can move past the partisan politics to get this bill passed.

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