The U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing recently on legislation (H.R. 1505) sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah) and 39 others that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive a wide variety of conservation and environmental laws on federal lands located within 100 miles of the U.S. coastline and national borders. The intention of the bill is to prevent illegal immigration and drug smuggling. While the goal of the bill is to strengthen national security, experts testified it could have much broader implications on the ability to manage federal lands for wildlife and for water quality due to legislative provisions that would affect the ability of the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to carry out environmental laws and policies.
During recent congressional testimony, Professor John D. Leshy from U.C. Hastings College of Law recognized the importance and challenges of keeping our borders secure, but expressed concern that H.R. 1505 "would put a cloud over every action every federal land manager might think proper to carry out his or her responsibilities under federal law to protect the lands and fish and wildlife and other resources."
Under the bill, DHS could specifically allow the exemption of these lands from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (and a host of other laws) making it unclear how that could affect management activities, including hunting on federal lands in the designated areas. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements the 1916 Migratory Bird Treaty between Canada and the United States, which outlines the process for setting waterfowl hunting seasons and managing the waterfowl resource. Typically, hunting seasons are closed unless specifically opened. Exempting significant areas of the United States from the MBTA could prevent certain lands from being opened for the hunting of waterfowl. The lands of seven states, including Florida, could be impacted along with significant portions of other areas including California, southern Louisiana, Texas, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes region.
"Keeping our nation secure is an important issue," DU Director of Governmental Affairs Scott Sutherland said. "However, it seems unlikely we should have to choose between protecting the country's border and conserving and hunting waterfowl. DU will monitor progress of the legislation and, if the bill progresses, work to ensure important conservation efforts and hunting are not negatively impacted."