Expanded Gun Rights on Federal Land Approved by House Panel

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By Brian Dabbs

Hunters and gun enthusiasts would face fewer restrictions on using their weapons on federal land under a broad legislative package the House Natural Resources Committee approved Sept. 13, despite unanimous Democratic opposition.

The hunting and fishing bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) would indefinitely bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead metal shots and tackle, which environmental groups argued contaminate fish.

In a 22–13 vote, the panel approved the package to expand gun rights on federal land and ease fishing restrictions, while rejecting measures to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to study the environmental effects of a Mexico border wall.

Duncan’s bill also would broadly expand protections for firearm use on federal land and decreases the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s authority to regulate rifle ammunition and silencers.

Republicans touted the bill as a boost to lawful recreation activities, but that position isn’t shared across the aisle.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member on the committee, blasted the bill as a service to the National Rifle Association, and other Democrats followed suit. “This is the worst legislation I’ve come across in my time in Congress,” Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said.

Gray Wolf Protections Dropped

Committee members rejected 13–22 an attempt to block the legislation’s instruction to delist the western Great Lakes gray wolf population from Interior Department protections.

The Democratic amendment intended to counteract a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month that said the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the Interior Department, failed to follow legal requirements in assessing the consequences of listing the species.

The Interior Department removed protections for the western Great Lakes gray wolf in 2011, claiming the population had recovered adequately. But a district court decision in 2014 restored the protective status ( Humane Soc’y v. Zinke, 2017 BL 266440, D.C. Cir., No. 15-5061, 8/1/17 ).

The legislation also would remove the gray wolves in Wyoming population from protective status. The D.C. Circuit appeals court earlier this year gave the Interior Department the option to remove protections for that population ( Defen. of Wildlife v. Zinke, D.C. Cir., No. 14-5300, 3/13/17 ).

The Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent reauthorization amendment failed 12–22, while the border wall amendment failed 12–22. Grijalva sponsored both amendments. The committee postponed consideration of several other Endangered Species Act bills originally planned for votes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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