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Taking Aim at the Sportsmen's Heritage Act

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WASHINGTON - Advocates for the National Park System say most of the parks weren't meant as sites for hunting and recreational shooting - but those could be allowed under a bill approved last week by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sponsors of the Sportsmen's Heritage Act say it's intended to "enhance opportunities" for recreational fishing, hunting and shooting on public lands. But national parks and monuments are also public lands. If this bill became law, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) says, park managers would have to take specific steps to exempt their sites from allowing recreational gun use.

Kristen Brengel, the NPCA's director of legislative and government affairs, explains.

"Essentially, the land manager has to allow hunting - and if he or she does not, they have to justify through scientific evidence or other ways why it should be prohibited as an activity. So, it basically makes hunting the priority use on all public lands."

Brengel says it would be a waste of time and money for park managers at such national park sites as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the San Antonio Missions to have to justify why they won't allow hunting.

Brengel thinks involving the National Park System was probably an unintended consequence of a bill that was designed to try to bypass protections for public land. Either way, she says, almost 70 current national park sites already allow hunting. For the rest - from the Statue of Liberty to Civil War battlefields and the Flight 93 National Memorial - her group believes there are places firearms just don't belong.

"These are not sites that were ever intended to allow hunting or recreational shooting. They were really there for educational purposes or for people to learn about history, or really appreciate the scenery and the natural setting."

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has 27 cosponsors and bipartisan support. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill last week to ensure that national parks were excluded. NPCA says it now will push for what it calls a "genuine exclusion" in the Senate.