WASHINGTON – A wide-ranging bill to give hunters and fishermen more access to public lands stalled in the Senate Monday after Republicans said it spends too much money.
Republicans supported opening lands for outdoorsmen and many other provisions in the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, but GOP senators blocked the legislation on principle Monday evening in a mostly party-line procedural vote after Senate Budget Committee’s top Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, objected to spending on conservation programs included in the bill.
“Along with 90 million sportsmen and women, I’m disappointed that Republicans and Democrats couldn’t work together today to pass this bipartisan bill,” Tester said in a statement Monday night. “Protecting our outdoor traditions and strengthening our outdoor economy shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This bill will create jobs and strengthen our small businesses, and I will continue pressing to get it through the Senate on behalf of every sportsman and woman around the country.”
The Sportsmen’s Act would increase land access and allow hunters to bring home as trophies 41 polar bears killed in Canada before the government started protecting polar bears as a threatened species. The legislation would also exclude ammunition and tackle from federal environmental laws that regulate lead, allow bow hunters to cross federal land where hunting isn’t allowed, encourage federal land agencies to help states maintain shooting ranges, boost fish populations and protect animal habitat.
Sessions said he supported the overall bill but objected to spending on conservation programs that he said violated budget rules. Democrats argued that the bill also raised money for those provisions.
The bill also faced some objections from environmental groups over the polar bear imports and exclusions from lead standards.
The lead provision threatens public health and the measures “could set back wildlife conservation efforts,” said California Sen. Barbara Boxer, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, while acknowledging she supported other provisions in the bill. Boxer was the only Democrat to vote against moving the bill forward Monday.
Ammunition and tackle that contain lead are now unregulated under federal toxic substance laws, and the EPA has so far declined to regulate them. The bill would make it law that the Environmental Protection Agency could not regulate ammunition and tackle, leaving those decisions to states. Environmental groups opposing the exemption say that birds on land and water are killed by lead poisoning after eating the spent ammunition and fishing tackle.
The polar bear provision would allow the hunters – two from Tester’s home state of Montana who killed polar bears in Canada just before a 2008 ban on polar bear trophy imports took effect – to bring the bears’ bodies across the border. The hunters involved were not able to bring the trophies home before the Fish and Wildlife Service listed them as a threatened species.
Some animal welfare groups, including of the Humane Society of the United States, say that allowing the polar bears bodies across the border could set a bad precedent and embolden other hunters to try and circumvent threatened or endangered species laws.