Is hunting about to spread across the National Park System? Worries that that could be the fallout of legislation that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives prompted the National Parks Conservation Association to seek a legal interpretation of the measure.
The nine-page interpretation, by the firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, opines that, if the legislation becomes law, much of the park system would be opened to hunting, fishing, and trapping, and that off-road vehicle use could expand greatly in backcounty areas, including officially designated wilderness.
The legislation, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, has been portrayed as a means to get more Americans outdoors hunting and fishing. But NPCA officials are concerned it would try to achive that goal at the expense of the National Park System, from Acadia National Park to Zion National Park and everything in between, regardless of whether the unit is described as a "national park," "historic site," "battlefield," or "monument."
“This bill is a Trojan horse that, contrary to the claims of its boosters, would fundamentally alter the most basic protections in our National Park System and is a litigator’s dream,” maintains Craig Obey, NPCA's senior vice president for government affairs. “Every national park site is at risk, from Yellowstone to Gettysburg to the Frederick Douglass house.”
While the measure does not specifically open more areas of the National Park System to hunting -- many national preserves already allow hunting, as do some national seashores -- it also does not specifically prevent that from happening. Rather, the legislation states that "(N)othing in this title requires the opening of national park or national monuments under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service to hunting or recreational shooting."
The National Shooting Sports Foundation applauded Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who introduced the legislation in the House, for his support of recreational shooting.
"Rep. Miller’s leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives reflects his commitment to protecting the shooting sports, hunting and our firearms freedoms,” NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane said last month when the group honored Mr. Miller and Sen. Jon Testor, D-Montana, as their 2011 Legislator(s) of the Year.”
"Outdoor activities like hunting and fishing are an important part of our heritage and way of life. I feel it is important to preserve these traditions and promote them to the next generation of outdoorsmen at every opportunity, especially in our nation’s capital,” said Mr. Miller after receiving the honor. “I am humbled to be able to do a small part to help preserve the traditions of the great outdoors, and I am honored by this recognition from the sportsmen’s community.”
In their analysis of the House measure, the staff at Arnold & Porter reached the conclusion that the way the legislation is worded would require the National Park Service to specifically ban hunting in each and every unit where it thought hunting, fishing, or trapping were either impractical or a threat to the unit.
The legislation "would permit NPS to allow hunting, fishing and recreational shooting, as defined in the Bill, not only where Congress has required or permitted it in the law establishing a particular unit, but everywhere in the National Park System," the analysis reads. "Section 104(h) only says Title I does not 'require' such activities in national parks or monuments. In addition, because § 104(h) only applies to national parks and national monuments and does not mention fishing, NPS would be required to allow all the activities promoted by Title I in all the 264 units that are not national parks or monuments and, as to fishing, in all 397 units, unless an exception could be found...
"NPS’s regulations recognize the importance that wildlife play in fulfilling the mission of the National Park System. Wildlife is to be observed from afar, and NPS takes seriously any attempt to harass or injure park wildlife. Under Title I, however, instead of managing the National Park System as a collection of inspirational and educational places recognizing their 'high public value and integrity' (16 U.S.C. § 1a), and permitting only appropriate uses (Management Policies § 1.5), NPS would be called upon to permit the killing, trapping and collecting of wildlife and hand gun practice and paint ball game areas," the analysis adds.
“National parks were set aside to protect the wildlife that roam and historic sites that preserve our nation’s history—not for using some of America’s most valued treasures as target practice," said Mr. Obey.
NPCA officials added that "the legal analysis conducted by the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP, also finds that the bill would force national park managers to undertake lengthy and potentially costly analyses in order to justify closing park units, yet would open those units without any such analysis. For example, park managers would need to use the 'best science' to justify prohibiting paintball games on the hallowed ground at Gettysburg."
And the "legislation would also require the Park Service to permit the use of off-road vehicles anywhere they are needed to provide access for hunters to engage in trapping, shooting, hunting or fishing activities," the parks advocacy group said.
“There are plenty of public lands where recreational shooting and sport hunting are a reasonable and appropriate use[s], but those lands do not include national parks, historical sites, or any unit of the park system where they’re not already permitted by law. There is no reasonable justification for including the National Park System in this legislation,” said Mr. Obey in a press release. “Those who think this bill is just about hunting opportunities haven’t read it. And if they’ve read it, they ought to re-read it.”
The legislation has cleared the House and now is before the Senate. NPCA is encouraging the public to contact their Senators to prevent this threatening legislation from damaging our National Park System. Take action here: https://secure.npca.org/site/Advocacy?page=UserAction&id=807.