A Genuine Conservationist Fights for Transparency in Government
By Glen Wunderlich
When I telephoned the Boone and Crockett Club with headquarters in Montana for information on the status of pending national wildlife legislation, my contact person, Keith Balfourd, was unavailable. Little did I know how fortuitous my call would be, when none other than its President Emeritus, Lowell E. Baier, returned my call. Mr. Baier is an attorney from Washington DC, who just happens to be the preeminent authority on an unresolved issue of great importance I’ve followed for many years: the Equal Access to Justice Act.
For decades, environmental settlement awards have been intentionally clouded in secrecy and Mr. Baier’s attempts to blow the lid off have been thwarted. It’s understandable that certain animal rights groups would want to hide their revenue sources – especially when they come at the expense of American sportsmen and women, who thought their hard-earned tax dollars would fund wildlife conservation.
I was all ears when Lowell Baier called to explain that he was the person I should talk to. After all, he wrote the award-winning book on the subject: Inside the Equal Access to Justice Act several years ago. The book delves into the crippling effects of current legislation relative to endangered species and their critical habitats. And, when a man spends years investigating, reporting, and proposing resolutions, there’s no doubt about the seriousness of his intent on behalf of wildlife and genuine conservation.
To date, the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the matter, but recent developments indicate some traction is afoot. What once was a stand-alone bill to regain transparency, is now part of a package of bills having been introduced.
While a formal bill has yet to be filed, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), with support from the House Natural Resources Committee, is assembling a package expected to be the latest version of the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE Act. Similar packages passed with bipartisan support in the 112th, 113th, and 114th Congresses. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), introduced the SHARE Act last Congress, which included many of the same provisions as the current proposed law. That bill passed the House in February 2016 by a bipartisan vote of 242 to 161 but did not receive Senate action.
A committee hearing to discuss the emerging legislation was cancelled on June 14, the morning of the tragic shooting attack on Majority Whip, Steve Scalise, and three others of the GOP baseball team as they practiced.
This new SHARE Act draft includes 18 provisions, including most items from the previous bill. Titles of specific relevance would codify the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council Advisory Committee; enhance opportunities and access to hunting on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands; authorize the transportation of bows across National Park Service lands; provide more public access to information about awards and settlements under the Equal Access to Justice Act; authorize importation of polar bears legally hunted in Canada prior to the listing of the species; delist gray wolf populations; and authorize hearing protection and suppressors on firearms.
So, there among myriad related issues lies five years of a dedicated man’s life in a single phrase – a phrase worthy of consideration for the future of wildlife we all cherish. Will this be the long-awaited lifting of the political smoke screen? We’ll have to wait and see.