Who could argue with anything called the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act?
Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador couldn’t. They were among the 273 House members who gave this bill bipartisan blessing earlier this month. They say the bill will preserve hunters’ and anglers’ access to federal lands — including wilderness.
Who’s to argue? Some environmental groups. They believe the permissive language about hunting and fishing will open the door to motorized vehicle use — or dam-building, or road construction, or oil and gas exploration — in wilderness areas.
To hear the critics, the foundation of the 1964 Wilderness Act is under attack.
So, who’s right here? Depends on who you ask — and whose compelling supporting evidence you believe.
• “The very reason that (wilderness) areas are treasured by sportsmen for decades is because they are protected from the very uses this bill would allow,” says Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League. And Oppenheimer cites an April 13 analysis of the bill written by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which laments the bill’s “imprecise wording” and suggests that its impacts could go beyond protecting hunting and fishing in wilderness areas.
• “Despite the protestations of certain organizations to the contrary, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act will not open up wilderness areas to motorized use nor will it open them up for oil and gas exploration or other similar purposes,” said Simpson. Simpson cites an amendment, attached to the bill on the House floor on April 17. The amendment explicitly bans motorized recreation and extractive uses in wilderness — and, as such, would reinforce the Wilderness Act.
Given that amendment — and the fact it was affixed to the bill four days after the Congressional Research Service issued its analysis — I’m giving Simpson (and the other House supporters) the benefit of the doubt.
Simpson also deserves some benefit of the doubt because of his track record, and his willingness to work with groups such as ICL on a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill. There are wilderness opponents in Congress, but Simpson isn’t one of them.
And then there is the matter of the Senate. Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have co-sponsored a competing bill that specifically precludes motorized recreation and extractive use in wilderness areas.
I’m just not seeing this bill as an assault on the Wilderness Act. But by the same token, though, I’m not sure I see a wholesale assault on hunting and fishing access.
What we have here is legislation our country could probably survive without. But the legislation provides a rallying point for the groups supporting it, such as the National Rifle Association, and for the environmental groups opposing it. A Special-Interest Group Full Employment Act, if you will.
Making election-year hay
Let’s turn to another time-honored institution under alleged siege: the family farm.
If you read the news releases from Idaho politicos, you’d assume Uncle Sam has a vendetta against teen-agers working on the family farm.
On Wednesday, Labrador decried a proposed federal rule that, he said, would ban minors from working on family farms.
Said Labrador: “I wish I could say I was surprised by yet another regulatory overreach by the Obama administration, but I sadly am not. It is absolutely outrageous that an agency of unelected bureaucrats wants to tell America’s farming families that they cannot instill in their children the virtues of hard work and responsibility taught by performing agricultural chores.”
Labrador and Simpson are co-sponsors of the (also) laudably titled “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.” Crapo and Risch are co-sponsors of an identically titled bill in the Senate.
Are family farms in the above-described peril?
The farm labor “crackdown” is no done deal. In February, the Labor Department said the proposed rule was on hold, at least until early summer. While the feds go back to the drawing board, and rework the rule for public comment, minors can continue working on family farms.
Said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis: “The Department of Labor appreciates and respects the role of parents in raising their children and assigning tasks and chores to their children on farms and of relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles in keeping grandchildren, nieces and nephews out of harm’s way.”
Sounds like this agency is in no hurry to fight this fight.