Just when you thought that everyone knew that grey wolves were endangered, a new bill places their fate again at risk. As if being able to hunt an endangered species were high on the list of our nation's priorities, the House passed a bill called the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE) last month. This bill, proposed by Representative Robert Wittman, a Republican from Virginia, would take federally protected lands out of government control and put them back on the market for hunters and fishermen.
One of the purposes of protecting these lands is to preserve endangered species such as the gray wolf. According to the Chicago Tribune there were once about two million grey wolves roaming North America; today, heartbreakingly, only a few thousand remain. If Representative Wittman succeeds in passing this bill, it will expose this last sad fragment of the wolf population in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming to being tracked down by hunters and caught in deadly traps. This bill would also prohibit the government from banning lead ammunition and fishing tackle, which are known to be harmful to wildlife and the environment.
This bill raises so many questions, and is part of a larger push nationwide at the state and federal level, to weaken protections of federal lands and to open up resources of those lands to special interests. Many of the efforts in this direction are better known and more overt: for instance, as the Natural Resources Defense Council reports:
Just last year, the bureau [of Land Management] announced a management plan that would result in the extraction of 10 billion tons of coal from western lands--that's 11 years' worth of U.S. coal consumption.
In every state in which situations such as these take place alarmed citizens have been scrambling to figure out how to push back against these often stealthy efforts, to document and expose what are often deals made behind closed doors, and find a way to protect lands that they had reasonably assumed had been protected forever. But it is very difficult for citizen groups to effectively expose and halt laws being sought by major lobbies that have sweetheart deals with legislators. That is where sunlight really makes a difference.
While efforts such as those by the mining companies are better known, this latest bill of Representative Wittman's really represents a new low. One could make at least an argument that natural resources such as aluminum, or coal, might benefit America as a whole if companies are permitted to exploit these protected lands, but what possible justification could there ever be, even for passionate hunters, most of whom care deeply about the environment, to drop protections on such a vulnerable animal population? It is not as if there aren't millions of other, abundant animals to hunt in the wild. Deer populations, for instance, in many areas, are exploding, leading to new measures to permit hunters to cull deer in previously protected areas.
The goal of hunting, after all, is not to wipe out the entirety of a species. As David Peterson, the author of Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America, states in an interview for The Sun:
Ethical hunting is predicated on dignity and respect... respect, not only for the animals we hunt, their habitats, and the greater natural world, but also for ourselves as hunters and human animals.
In fact, hunters spend a lot of money on conservation out of respect for the environment. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, or NSSF, hunters contribute $1.6 billion dollars to conservation efforts each year; while a lot of that money comes from license sales, permit sales, and taxes on ammunition and firearms, $440 million of those dollars come from donations to sportsmen's and conservation groups. After all, recreational hunting would be forced to discontinue if wildlife populations were to retrogress.
So why is this bill being introduced now? Perhaps this bill is about more than just hunter's rights, and the vulnerable grey wolf; the purpose of this bill, perhaps, is to push us as a society into an ideology where we are able to accept that nothing is sacred on public lands. Wittman's bill, if passed, would become yet another public statement which affirms that we, as a society, are more concerned with prioritizing recreation and profit over the wellbeing of our fragile planet. That is why it is so important to oppose this movement; we cannot let the injurious hand of human greed damage our home, or the creatures with whom we share our home.