By Glen Wunderlich
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- It may be a difficult concept for some individuals to understand, but hunters’ dollars have been the driving force behind wildlife conservation long before animals had lawyers.
Through license fees, plus hidden excise taxes on firearms and hunting and fishing gear, ample funds have been generated for wildlife management.
This year alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has distributed $1.1 billion in revenues generated by the hunting and angling industry to state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies throughout the nation. The funds support critical fish and wildlife conservation and recreation projects that benefit all Americans.
Enter into the equation the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which was passed by Congress in 1980. Since then, it has been a cost-recovery resource for veterans, Social Security beneficiaries, and small businesses who find themselves in litigation against the federal government. Any payouts – and, there have been many in the millions of dollars – are taken from funds meant for wildlife conservation generated by outdoors people. As a result, wildlife habitat improvements and management continue to suffer.
As I reported in 2014, Lawsuit Profiteering by anti hunting groups and their lawyers continues to run rampant with our tax dollars at the expense of wildlife.
When the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) law was first enacted, federal agencies were required to report annually on EAJA applications and the amount of attorney fees each agency awarded to groups and individuals. However, that reporting requirement ended in 1995 due to the Federal Reports Elimination and Sunset Act.
As a result, since 1998 there has been no uniform method of reviewing EAJA and there is no public accountability or transparency in the program.
Over the past 15 years, several thousand cases have been filed by animal-rights groups against the federal government. The result is that millions, if not billions, have been paid out, which in effect, makes us all contributors to radical causes we may not support.
Their strategy is simple: Overwhelm the system and bilk the public in the name of environmentalism or animal protection. As an example, in one petition the Center for Biological Diversity requested that the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) review 404 species in the Southeast alone for Endangered Species Act (ESA) consideration. Additionally, WildEarth Guardians filed two petitions listing 1,156 species for protection. Victories are often obtained because of technicalities such as missed deadlines and hardly ever for substantive matters.
And, remember, those of us, who have paid our hard-earned dollars into the system, have had no legal right to know how much of our money has been squandered. However, there remains hope.
This past week, the U.S. House approved unanimously by voice vote the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (H.R. 3279), a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and cosponsored by Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN). The bill reinstates requirements that federal agencies track and report the attorney fees they award under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
H.R. 3279 requires the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to track and report payments made by the federal government under EAJA in order to increase transparency and inform Congress of the impact and effectiveness of the law. The bill requires ACUS to submit an annual report to Congress and establish an online searchable database available to the public. This will allow the public to access information on the amount of attorneys’ fees being paid under EAJA, to whom the taxpayers’ money is being paid, and from which agencies.
In the past, similar efforts to create this semblance of transparency promised by the current administration have stalled, because past U.S. Senate leader, Harry Reid (D-Nevada) blocked its advance by never allowing it to be brought forth for consideration. We can draw our own conclusions as to his rationale, but the results fly in the face of honesty, not to mention the best interests of our wildlife resources.
With Mr. Reid’s departure from the top of the chain of command, the American people now have a chance to follow the money. And, it’s about time!
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).