New York Times Blunder Puts Sportsmen and Habitat at Risk

There are many reasons why The New York Times is arguably considered the finest news organization in the nation, but … Continued

There are many reasons why The New York Times is arguably considered the finest news organization in the nation, but few of those were on display last week when the paper’s editorial board decided to weigh in on The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, an important conservation initiative that would help fish, wildlife, and all Americans.

First the board opposed the bill for a list of erroneous reasons–then, when informed of the mistakes, it botched the corrections, leaving serious misconceptions floating about the bill as well as the sportsmen’s conservation movement.

I realize that surveys show most sportsmen say they’re politically conservative, and that they believe most liberals don’t understand them. I also know most conservatives love to hate the NYT the way most progressives and liberals love to despise The Wall Street Journal. But the story that unfolds here should be seen not just as an opportunity to confirm your worst suspicions, but also as a lesson on why sportsmen who care about the future of fish and wildlife habitat–and human health–should broaden their reading (and writing) horizons.

The NYT kicked things off Thursday morning with an editorial titled “Dangerous Sport in Lawmaking” that included these statements:

When it comes to Congress, the term “sportsmen” can mask a multitude of sins. Witness the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, a bipartisan collection of proposals to increase access to public lands for hunting, fishing and the nation’s “shooting heritage,” as the Obama administration put it in endorsing the measure despite several faulty provisions.
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The bill, now poised for Senate passage…would end the ban against using lead ammunition to hunt waterfowl. Nontoxic alternatives are available, but sponsors caved to the gun lobby and the hunting and fishing industry in exempting lead shot and fishing tackle from current laws.

The measure also included a House provision that will allow hunters to once again import polar bear trophies from Canada. This invites a big-game hunting spree for a threatened species off limits to hunting in the United States.

The main point of contention, ludicrously, is an increase in the $15 duck stamp that hunters must buy to shoot waterfowl._

Sportsmen’s conservation groups were not just stunned by the errors, they were terrified the mistakes could kill one of the few good environmental bills to survive this congress, and that was scheduled for a final Senate vote this week.

A Letter to the Editor from these groups list the NYT’s damaging mistakes:

_The New York Times ran an editorial in the Nov. 21 issue (“Dangerous Sport in Lawmaking”) that is misinformed and spreads false information about the Sportsmen’s Act, which is currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate. It would be most unfortunate if this misinformation affected the vote in Congress because this bill delivers multiple benefits for fish, wildlife, their habitats, and our citizens.

In the article, the author succinctly made three incorrect claims about bills included in the Sportsmen’s Act (S.3525). On behalf of the bill’s numerous supporters, we would like to take this opportunity to correct these errors.

1. The Sportsmen’s Act would not end the ban against using lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting. This important ban will remain in effect under regulations implementing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Rather, the bill would clarify existing language in the Toxic Substances Control Act, which already states that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate ammunition, by simply including component parts.

2. The Sportsmen’s Act would not open a hunting season on polar bears. A provision in the act would allow 41 polar bear parts that were legally hunted in Canada to be imported into the United States. These bears were legally harvested before they were listed under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. The Sportsmen’s Act simply legitimizes the importation of these 41 bear parts.

3. The editorial closes with statements about the federal duck stamp that are at best confusing and at worst downright misleading. A provision in the Sportsmen’s Act would raise the cost of a federal duck stamp, which generates funds to conserve and improve wetland habitats, and is a self-imposed user fee willingly shouldered by hunters. The price of the stamp hasn’t increased since 1991, when a gallon of gas cost about $1. The duck stamp program was requested of Congress by sportsmen and women during the Depression and Dust Bowl eras. Sportsmen once again are demonstrating a commitment to waterfowl and habitat conservation by supporting this increase.

The Sportsmen’s Act is a collection of bipartisan bills and it deserves the support not only of sportsmen but a wide range of Americans because it also includes many provisions to improve fish and wildlife habitat for multiple benefits. Congress should swiftly pass the Sportsmen’s Act into law.
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H. Dale Hall Whit Fosburgh
CEO President and CEO
Ducks Unlimited Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

After receiving that information, the NYT said it would make corrections, which it did over the course of the next few days. The latest version, still titled “Dangerous Sport in Lawmaking,” states this at the end:

_Correction: November 27, 2012

An editorial on Wednesday about the Senate version of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 incorrectly stated that it would end the ban on using lead ammunition in hunting waterfowl. It would not. The editorial also misstated a provision on imports of polar bear trophies. They would be allowed if the animals were killed before the species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but not after._

Case closed? No harm, no foul?

Hardly.

Let’s start with the headline: “Dangerous Sport in Lawmaking.”

Why keep that headline if all those “dangerous” parts were found to be in error, and removed?

Or, how about that first line: When it comes to Congress, the term “sportsmen” can mask a multitude of sins.

So where are those sins now that corrections were made? The editorial doesn’t note any specifics of the bill that should be changed. Yet it leaves this line in the editorial, telling readers the term “sportsman” can mask a multitude of sins when used by Congress–heaping suspicion on any person who cares to embrace that appellation.

Well, one could also argue terms like “businessmen,” “patriots,” “women”–and countless others–are used by Congress to get some onerous bills passed. Why damn all bills aimed at helping sportsmen as somehow potentially damaging to the common good?

That brings me to important lessons for sportsmen in this whole episode.

Most people working in newsrooms don’t know sportsmen very well because–like the vast majority of Americans–they don’t hunt and fish. My guess is if the editorial writers at the NYT were involved in these traditions, they would understand that sportsmen were not only the nation’s first environmentalists, but they remain the most dedicated and effective force in preserving these vital protections. And if that were the case, they would have carefully read The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, and instead of criticizing it, would have urged its passage. Read an exclusive interview of U.S. Senator John Tester (D-MT), the co-author of the Sportsmen’s Act, here.

Well, it’s our job to let them know who we are, what we do, and why we’re good for the nation’s environmental health. And it’s also our job to join the discussions the majority of the nation is having about these issues–and us–at places like The New York Times.

We’re right to expect better from the nation’s finest news organization. But we can also help them get it accurate next time.

Read an exclusive interview of U.S. Senator John Tester (D-MT), the co-author of the Sportsmen’s Act, here.