Just a few days ago, it was the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act. The act was the goal of the 1963 March on Washington and a year later it was muscled through Congress by President Lyndon Johnson and several key Democrats and Republicans. That was Congress at its best, doing something in the national interest and honoring the moral standards of our country.
That same year, Johnson signed into law another piece of landmark legislation -- the Wilderness Act, which sought to preserve wild areas "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
The Wilderness Act is about to be weakened by Congress, and there's nary a howl, screech, or a primal scream about it. Today, the Senate is scheduled to take up S. 2363, the so-called "Sportsmen's Act," which has three particularly odious elements to it and represents a giveaway to the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and others who represent the extreme wing of the Washington trophy hunting lobby. This is Congress at its worst, with Democratic leaders teeing up the bill to give a couple of southern Democrats -- lead sponsor Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- a political talking point as they campaign in the rural areas of their states. The fact is, though, hardly one of the hunters whom Hagan or Pryor may run across will benefit much at all from any of these provisions of this bill.
One provision would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. It's one thing to shoot a deer and eat the meat, and it's another to fly up to the Arctic Circle, drop $40,000 on a guided hunt, and shoot a threatened species -- all for the head and the hide and the bragging rights that go along with it. I don't think too many guys in small town North Carolina or Arkansas will be the least interested in that kind of hunting. It's just the latest in a series of these import allowances for polar bear hunters, and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and just wait for a congressional waiver to bring in their trophies.
A second provision of the bill would allow sport hunters and trappers priority use in wilderness areas, even though these lands were never designed specifically for this use. This is the provision that weakens the landmark Wilderness Act that Congress established a half century ago. We're talking here about more than 100 million acres with this change in management priorities -- subordinating wilderness values and prioritizing wildlife trapping, and all the misery that comes along with it for animals.
And finally, the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead ammunition, which is a known toxin that threatens hunters who consume wild animals and also threatens wild animals who incidentally consume prey with lead. Lead poisoning is known to be the leading cause of death for endangered California condors, and it poisons and kills as many as 130 other species, including other threatened and endangered animals. Given that hunters can use non-toxic shot -- which ultimately makes their wild game meals at home much safer for their families -- there's just no reason to stifle the judgment of scientists at the EPA. President George H.W. Bush required non-lead ammunition for all waterfowl hunting in 1991, and for more than two decades hunters have used it for duck and goose hunting. Why not for other forms of hunting, too -- especially now that we have so much more information to warrant this transition to a safer form of hunting?
The Senate has appropriations bills to consider, and it's got a raft of strong animal protection bills it can take up. It is a shame that it's filling its docket as a purely political act for vulnerable Democrats, to throw a bone to the extremist segment of the trophy hunting lobby. Rank-and-file hunters won't know the difference, but millionaire trophy hunters will be the ones who benefit from this shameful legislation.
More than 100 humane and environmental organizations co-signed a letter sent today to the Senate opposing the bill. Let's hope lawmakers pay attention. You can take action by contacting your two U.S. Senators, and urging them to shoot down S. 2363.
This article originally appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.