By Glen Wunderlich
Americans deserve, have asked for, and were promised transparency in government. Yet, over the past decade our government has purposely thwarted any legitimate attempts to uncover the whereabouts of millions of excise-tax dollars cleverly extracted from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by extremist groups under the guise of environmentalism. At long last, however, the U.S. Senate’s reintroduction of S. 733, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2017, would shed light on the issue, while providing access to federal lands by being “open unless closed” for fishing, hunting, recreational shooting, and other outdoor experiences.
The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) was enacted in 1980 and required an annual report of the number of cases processed and total attorney fees reimbursed. EAJA allows plaintiffs to recover attorney fees and other expenses from the federal government when they prevail–average citizens who need help finding and paying for a lawyer to correct errors in earned benefits or to remedy mistaken penalties imposed by federal agencies. That reporting ended in 1995.
Studies released independently by Notre Dame Law School and the Government Accountability Office show that environmental groups pad their claims for reimbursed legal fees using the EAJA.
A Notre Dame law review article shows that the law intended for seniors, veterans, and small businesses is utilized by environmental groups to get pay-backs for their lawsuits, as well. A GAO study shows that no one really knows how much money has been spent. However, what we do know is that the original intent of the EAJA has been perverted to the extent that it threatens the financial foundation of genuine wildlife conservation as we’ve known it.
Adding agency reporting requirements to the Equal Access for Justice Act for monies spent in litigation settlements and awards are only one aspect of S 733, which should make it to the President Trump’s desk. Here are other key provisions of the bill:
- Specifically declaring the policy of the United States to include the enhancement of hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands;
- Continuing to recognize the States’ authority and responsibility for wildlife within their borders;
- Establishing that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service lands are open to hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless specifically closed to those activities;
- Placing limits on such closures and imposing requirements for the process for closing lands;
- Requiring the creation of a list of federal public lands that allow hunting but for which access is a problem;
- Exempting commercial filming permits for film crews of three or fewer, or for news gathering purposes;
- Amending the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act to allocate funds for construction and expansion of public target ranges on BLM and Forest Service lands;
- Establishing a statutory Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council to advise the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture on wildlife and habitat conservation, hunting, and recreational shooting;
- Allowing the transport across National Park Service (NPS) land of bows or crossbows that are “not ready for immediate use”; and
- Confirming it is proper to use qualified volunteers from the hunting community to cull wildlife on NPS land.
Additionally, this legislation would create an online public database of information on court cases against the U.S. government and would ultimately free up financial resources for conservation measures entitled to those Americans, who in good faith, provide the funding.
Time has come to deliver the transparency in government we were all promised and rightfully deserve.