Heritage Act Has Sportsmen's Groups Facing Off

It's called "The Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012," but this House-passed bill (H.R. 4089), has some of the nation's highest-profile sportsmen's groups facing off as the measure travels to the Senate.

At issue are sections of the bill which would open portions of roadless areas in the west to motorized traffic, such as ATVs, as well as other uses prohibited by the Roadless Rule. (Editor's note: See Hal Herring's blog post on roadless areas remaining in the U.S.)

Most sportsmen's groups, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and wildlife managers have long opposed such openings, pointing to these undeveloped areas as key reservoirs of fish and wildlife in some of the nation's last remaining pristine habitats. Hunting guide organizations as well as most western hunters also oppose openings, because roadless areas protect traditional wilderness hunting and fishing experiences accessed by only by hoof or foot.

But recently the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association have come out in support of opening roadless areas, claiming they increase access to all sportsmen.

That the bill passed the House wasn't surprising to many observers, since both the SCI and NRA have strong support in that GOP-controlled body, as do other on-the-record supporters of the measure, including the American Petroleum Institute.

But what surprised many sportsmen following the issue was a press release issued by the TRCP with the headline: "Sportsmen Laud Passage of Conservation Legislation." Yet, a check of the group's website shows it hasn't taken down any of its long-held positions supporting the Roadless Area Rule.

What gives?

Part of the answer can be found in that press release, which states the bill "would require federal land managers to consider impacts to hunting and angling when developing land management plans, among other measures."

A TRCP official explained 4089 was an amalgamation of three different bills, which had varying degrees of support from the organization. Specifically they were interested in one bill that would require federal agencies to include hunting and hunting access when considering management plans for national lands, as well as preventing the banning of lead in fishing tackle and access to polar bear hunting.

But the combined bill also included opening most roadless areas.

The official said the group was upset at the new language. However, he said the politic move, was to let the measure go to the Senate, where it feels confident some of the bad parts can be taken out, while the good sections remain.

It should be a slugfest, with a lot of pristine backcountry riding in the balance.