“The US Senate Should Shoot Down the Sportman’s Heritage Act” by Char Miller

David Brower at the Grand Canyon | Photo: Courtesy the film “A Fierce Green Fire”/The Film Collaborative

Here’s a snippet of Char Miller’s piece on the
Read all of it here.

“One of the purposes of the Sierra Club,” David Brower, its one-time Executive Director wrote in 1964, is to “gather together people who know how important it is that there should always be some land wild and free.”

These activists’ central mission was clear: to “counter the rationalizations of the highway builders, and dam and logging road builders, who would slice through and dismember the Sierra Wilderness, all for a variety of reasons that may apply someplace else but that ought not be allied here.”

After all, Brower concluded, neither “California nor the rest of America is rich enough to lose any more of the Gentle Wilderness, nor poor enough to need to.”

His maxim still holds true, and I can only imagine how riled up Brower, who died in November 2000, would be by the latest attacks on wilderness — as place and idea — emanating out of Congress.

In mid-April, the GOP-dominated House of Representatives passed, largely along party lines, the cynically titled Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (HR 4089). It has kicked up a storm of protest with the broad environmental movement, who see it as an ill-disguised assault on the wildlands and the Wilderness Act that Brower and early generations fought so hard to protect and secure.

What has led them to conclude with Wilderness Watch that the “Sportsmen’s Heritage Act Will Essentially Repeal the 1964 Wilderness Act”?

The legislation’s language initially seems banal; one of its provisions, the Congressional Research Service summarizes in this way:

Requires that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands, excluding lands on the Outer Continental Shelf, be open to recreational fishing, hunting, and shooting unless the managing agency acts to close lands to such activity for specified purposes, including resource conservation, public safety, energy production, water supply facilities, or national security.

Note the word “require”: it appears that its compulsory meaning is offset by subsequent terminology indicating that these federal land-management agencies can “close lands to such activity for specified purposes….” Yet the list of the acceptable purposes is striking for what it says and does not say.

It makes sense that the BLM should be empowered to limit hunting if rifle fire would interfere with oil-and-gas production or wind farms or solar facilities. It cannot stop hunting, however, if it chose to do so because it judged that this form of recreation to be inconsistent with (and inimical to the purposes of) wilderness, as defined in the 1964 Act that banned hunting within designated wildlands.

Moreover, HR 4089 tightly constrains the capacity of these federal agencies to act on behalf of wilderness. As the Congressional Research Service notes, the bill “sets forth requirements for a withdrawal, change of classification, or change of management status that effectively closes or significantly restricts 640 or more contiguous acres of federal public lands or waters for fishing or hunting or related activities.

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