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OPINION

Forest Service Wants to Permanently Close 226K Acres to Recreational Shooting

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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The Biden administration continues to wage war on public lands access to deter activities like hunting, fishing, and shooting sports. Mind you, these activities pump back billions to conservation funding annually. 

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The U.S. Forest Service, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), is considering a rule to permanently close over 226,000 National Forest Service (NFS) lands to recreational shooting opportunities. The affected areas will include three locations in Colorado: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland. The national forests cumulatively comprise 1.4 million acres. Public comments closed on May 5th, 2023.

Under multiple-use management of public lands, recreational target shooting is allowed on National Forest Service lands. Efforts to increase access on public lands are underway as more Americans lawfully purchase firearms and desire to go outdoors to do some safe target shooting.

This rule, if implemented, would deprive visitors to these public lands of opportunities. This recommendation first originated from the 2019 Recreational Sport Shooting Management Decision and Forest Plan Amendment, which determined these areas are “unsuitable” for shooting sports. The three reasons given include “residential housing density,” “high-use recreation areas on NFS and other government lands, and existing conflicts between recreational shooting” and “other uses on NFS and other government lands.” 

The rule, if enacted, seeks to do the following: “When fully implemented, the 226,113 acres identified as unsuitable for shooting will be closed. The three geographic areas included in the current Dingell Act notice comprise 141,095 acres of that, including 94,900 acres when Devil’s Nose opens and 46,195 acres when the Clear Creek Shooting Sports Park opens.” 

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What’s the reasoning for pursuing permanent closures here? Naturally, it’s under the guise of “protect[ing] public safety by improving management of recreational sport shooting.”(It’s reminiscent of talking points employed by gun control advocates to ban firearms under the guise of “safety.”) An initial draft claimed legal hunting opportunities won’t be affected. But the Biden administration is not to be trusted here either. 

Unfortunately, the Forest Service rule is not the first of its kind by this White House. As I’ve noted here at Townhall, the Biden administration has worked behind closed doors with anti-hunting preservationist groups to undo a Trump-era opening of 2.3 million acres to new hunting and fishing opportunities on national wildlife refuge lands. 

Additionally, the Biden-appointed Alaska Federal Subsistence Board voted to close off 60 million acres of public land to moose and caribou hunting to non-locals last spring. According to Outdoor Life, the proposal known as WSA21-01 isn’t “supported by science or data of big-game harvests.” 

Moreover, the Commerce Department is mulling obtuse vessel rules for recreational and commercial boating activities under the guise of protecting endangered right whales. But anglers and boaters worry these closures–upwards of six months–throughout the East Coast would create no-go zones, have negative economic ramifications, and displace countless Americans from recreational and boating industry jobs. 

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And there are, sadly, more public land and public water closures being mulled as we speak.

Whenever closures to sporting activitieson public lands occur, access is usually never restored. A prime example is California instituting Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) in the 1990s. 

California regulators claimed overfishing was decimating Pacific fisheries. Despite evidence showing recovery, the California Fish and Game still refuses to reopen MPAs to recreational fishing as of 2016. Why? They operate as if there’s still a “fisheries crisis”--yet the Golden State created “draconian no-fishing zones that prevent recreational anglers and their families from going out for a day’s fishing…”

Several years ago, the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) concluded the Marine Life Protection Act, which created MPAs, is “having serious negative financial impacts on coastal communities and on California’s $2.2 billion saltwater recreational fishing industry, while attempting to address a fishing crisis that no longer exists.” 

Their document continued, “While there are examples of overfishing and declining fish stocks in oceans around the world, such is not the case off the Pacific coast. The fisheries crisis that the MLPA is supposed to solve has been effectively addressed by implementation of traditional fishery management tools.” 

Exporting California policies nationwide–including preservationist environmentalist ones–is a recipe for disaster. Federal agencies, naturally, are replicating the same misguided policies on public lands nationwide.

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Let’s not kid ourselves: the Biden White House isn’t a friend to true conservationists who fish, hunt, and partake in shooting sports. On the contrary. It’s actively undermining our way of life, despite lauding the $1.6 billion generated in conservation funds by the Pittman-Robertson Act last year. 

While these prohibitions may not be overt, they’re coming. If you think your preferred style of fishing or hunting is safe from regulators or preservationists, think again. They’re inevitably coming for all facets of the sporting lifestyle. 

Let’s defend our way of life by opposing bad rulemaking emanating from Washington, D.C.

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