NPCA Worried That House Legislation Would Open National Park System To Hunting

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.

Comments

From the article, it's hard to judge whether the bill is a practical threat to current NPS no-hunting rules or instead something that the NPCA has seized on as a bogeyman for fundraising purposes. (The traditionalist organizations have a long and rich history of doing this, and their members seem to be endlessly gullible, so it would be an understandable tactic to do so here and help ensure that staff can continue to operate their Priuses and eat at nice restaurants.) Given that the NPCA is scaremongering about paintball games at Gettysburg, one has to wonder.

[In an edit of 12:18 MDT, I've deleted a paragraph that I wrote originally in response to Kurt's explanation below.]

imtnbke, we insert links in stories to pertinent docs with hopes folks would read them for further details;-) Here's the verbiage, with appropriate modifiers, you seek re ORVs:

Title I does not only require NPS to permit hunting, trapping, shooting and the other activities it supports; the bill requires NPS to “facilitate use of and access to” the parts of the National Park System where they would now be permitted for those purposes. § 104(a).

Hunters have long made clear that they need off-road vehicles (“ORVs”) to get to remote areas for hunting and to carry out their dead game. The language of Title I’s operative clause would appear to require NPS to permit use of all-terrain vehicles and other ORVs for that purpose.

That conclusion becomes clear when the exclusion of “motorized recreational access or use” in Congressionally designated wilderness areas, § 104(e)(3), is compared with the more generally applicable provisions, which contain no such exclusion. “Where Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion.”

Dean v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 1849, 1854 (2009)

Thanks, Kurt. I wish I had the time to read everything. My guess is that the bill isn't going to get past the Senate and/or President Obama in its current form, so I can't make reading the documents a priority. But I certainly appreciate your making them available.

This shows, incidentally, the long-term inadvisability of the purists' lumping bicycles in with motor vehicles in their various court, regulatory, and legislative endeavors regarding federal Wilderness and the National Park System. All they do is narrow their political base ever further: to a subset of hikers, a subset of backpackers, certain commercial packstock outfitters, and most orthodox environmentalists. Because that base is so narrow and probably is ever dwindling in absolute numbers of adherents, over time the inevitable political consequence is going to be that a bill like this will someday pass and be signed into law. The purists could at least try to get mountain bikers on their side now, while it's politically useful to do so.

What that would mean is agreeing in principle that bicycle riding should be allowed in designated Wilderness and the national parks (sometimes the two overlap), subject to reasonable regulation. The practical effect would be the occasional passage of a bicycle and its rider on a trail somewhere, probably miles from the next human being and thus essentially unobserved and not interfering with anyone else, even an irritable person who doesn't like wheels to mix with trails.

I don't understand the purpose behind this bill. Are hunting, fishing and recreational shooting are on the decline due to a lack of access? I don't think this is the case, so I don't see how opening more land to these activities will even address the stated problem.

I'm gonna mount a 22 rifle on me bicycle and get me some bear in Yosemite. :)

Attacks on parks began as soon as Yellowstone was proposed, way back when. They will never end.

We just have to continue to be diligent and ready to fight to protect them if needed. This comes as no surprise to anyone living in Utah where our legislators constantly attack the very places that bring more dollars into our state than any other source. The problem is, they don't think those dollars are going into the right cash registers.

Honestly, I don't see how this creates any change in National Parks. Isn't the allowance or prohibition of hunting, fishing and trapping already at the discretion of the Park Service on a park by park basis?

The Republican Party has turned into an extremist organization. The vast majority of federal land is already open to hunting and off-road motor vehicles. There is no reason to ruin that small percentage of our country that has been set aside as national parks and wilderness areas.

Zebulon, is you owt there ta-day? How's about ah picks ya up at your trailer and youse and me heads over ta Independence Hall in mah jacked-up pickup. We'll throw a couple ov our thrillcraft in the back, park on the laun, unlode 'em, and ride 'em threw the front door ov Independence Hall and have us a good ol' paintball fight while riding aroun' an' scatterin' people.

Overall, this is a poorly drafted piece of legislation that promises nothing but legal headaches if enacted. The other titles in the bill deserve examination, particularly Title VI, which requires the approval of state legislatures and governors before the a national monument can be established under the Antiquities Act.