Lansing, Michigan – -(Ammoland.com)- With 39 million outdoor enthusiasts spending $90 billion annually on their pursuits, sportsmen and women contribute enormously to America’s economy and its fish and wildlife resources.
Recognizing this, a multi-year effort to pass a comprehensive sportsmen’s package aimed to support conservation and to improve access to recreational hunting and fishing on federal lands may now be realized, if the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 is passed by the 114th congress.
It’s no secret that the promise of governmental transparency has been little more than typical campaign rhetoric. However, a specific segment of the bill, Title I. Sec. 103 – Federal Action Transparency, addresses long-standing concerns of sportsmen and women relative to environmental litigation and where their money goes. The Equal Access to Justice Act has been paying the legal fees of lawyers and experts who sue the government largely on technicalities.
One problem with the system is that these taxpayer-funded windfalls for certain animal-rights groups are not tracked in any manner. Beyond that, money earmarked for genuine conservation efforts through the national Fish and Wildlife Services never makes it to help the animals that Democrats and Republicans alike cherish and enjoy.
The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), H.R. 2919, has been passed by both Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives to put an end to such nonsense but under previous leadership, has never seen the light of day in the Senate.
This bill is now incorporated as part of the Sportsmen’s Act and may shed some light on the clouded system of payments to anti-hunting extremists.
Here is how the system has worked. The EAJA requires the U.S. to reimburse
legal fees to people who sue the government and win. EAJA originally was specific to cases of Social Security and Veterans benefits, and small business claims, but has since been used for any case brought by any 501(c)(3) advocacy group for any claim not covered by a specific law.
[ It even has a name “Lawsuit Profiteering” . That is when anti-hunting groups file frivolous lawsuits they can easily win then bilk tax payers for inflated lawyer costs in an attempt to deplete Fish and Wildlife Services coffers. ]
There is no current record on how much money is paid for these cases or to whom. The Government Accounting Office has attempted to find evidence of payments since 1995 and has concluded there is no reliable way to do this, because in 1995 Congress repealed the EAJA reporting requirements, thereby eliminating the statutory mechanism to oversee EAJA expenditures.
It may seem like small potatoes to bureaucrats that spend trillions of dollars we don’t have, when we’re talking paltry sums in the millions. However, shuttering a fish hatchery or leaving a forest unmanaged has real consequences when it comes to our wildlife. The aforementioned transparency will demonstrate which agencies are involved in lawsuits, who files the suits, the reasons, and the amount of public money paid to the lawyers.
Settlement agreements that are sealed or otherwise privileged will remain so; only the amount of public funds disbursed for reimbursement will be reported.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act is more than an access bill and a means to promote economic growth; it will give sportsmen and women the transparency in government we were all promised, while protecting our national treasures of land and water and the wildlife therein.
About Glen Wunderlich Charter Member Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Outdoor writer and columnist for The Argus-Press (www.argus-press.com) and blog site at www.thinkingafield.org Member National Rifle Association (NRA), Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), member U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance (USSA), Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM).