Federal policies restrict public land access

Ross Bielema

It’s been no surprise to gun owners that President Joe Biden has gone after firearms and their owners on multiple fronts. There is ample evidence that he would love to ban ownership of American Sporting Rifles (AR-15s and clones mistakenly called “assault rifles,” which are among the most popular semi-automatic rifles in the United States) and has used his Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) to ban pistol braces in an about-face from the previous ATF ruling that they were fine for civilian use.

Biden and other gun-hating liberals apparently have given up on the previous liberal dream to ban handguns. This is probably because the public has generally accepted concealed carry of handguns in all 50 states, with Nebraska becoming the 27th state to legalize constitutional or permitless carry (any resident age 21 or older with no criminal record can carry a handgun without a permit). Nebraska Gov. Jim Pellen signed the bill into law in April, and it becomes effective Sept. 10.

In recent weeks, Biden has turned his attention to hunting, hunter education in schools and even archery instruction. All hunters should be aware of these attacks to the sports we hold sacred, especially us Wisconsin hunters.

After a vast expansion of public access to federal lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and more under the Trump administration, Biden is looking to not only undo some of this access, but ban hunting guides on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.

The BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that oversee many federal lands are changing definitions of conservationism through a newly proposed Public Lands Rule, according to a recent FOX News story.

Experts say rule changes would prohibit commercial use of guides and outfitters on these lands, effectively banning the long-accepted practice. The ban would prevent public access to these lands for most hunters and anglers, according to Kerrie Cox Romero, executive director of the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides.

Another Wildlife Service practice aims to ban lead ammunition on eight public hunting areas, requiring copper-only bullets and non-lead fishing tackle by September 2026.

Because of the limited availability of all-copper bullets, this could prove another way to restrict hunters from these lands, according to the International Order of T. Roosevelt — an organization working to preserve hunting, fishing and trapping. Because of various regulations and restrictions, 2 million sportsmen have walked away from these sports in recent years, according to Luke Hilgemann, executive director of the IOTR.

This rule is not “following the science,” according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

“In fact, it is ignoring the need for scientific evidence in order to advance an anti-gun and anti-hunting agenda,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the NSSF.

The Biden administration in November 2022 settled a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity after the Trump administration expanded hunting and fishing on federal lands. The settlement included taking steps to “protect wildlife harmed by expanded hunting and fishing on national refuges,” according to the FOX News story.

Most of us hunters and anglers would argue that sportsmen keep wildlife populations in check and our tightly regulated sports do no harm to any species. In fact, these regulations and our conservation dollars from excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment have helped expand populations of elk, wild turkeys, deer and other species, in addition to providing habitat for non-hunted species.

Meanwhile, sportsmen and legislators are working to reverse a twisting of language in a bill signed into law by Biden last year that will prohibit federal funding of any hunting, trap shooting or archery programs in schools.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed into law by Biden last year amended the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act funding to prohibit giving funds for any program that provides training in the use of a dangerous weapon, according to a story by Free Range American.

Although some schools use Pittman-Robertson funds (an excise tax on firearms and ammo) to pay for hunter education, archery and trap shooting programs, this latest twist in long-standing ESEA policy bans using those funds for such programs. Sarah Martinez, a Department of Education official, noted that hunter ed, archery, wilderness safety and other courses that use firearms, bows or anything that can be considered “technically dangerous weapons” can’t be funded under ESEA.

Here is a link to one of many stories on this anti-sportsman effort by the Biden administration: https://freerangeamerican.us/biden-kills-school-archery-programs.

Here’s a list of the 116 Wisconsin high schools that have trap shooting teams, including Shawano, Oconto, Clintonville, New London and many other area schools: http://wiclaytarget.com/teams.

In response, the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act has been introduced in Congress to reverse this funding ban. At least 24 attorneys general have endorsed it (Wisconsin’s has not). Supporters argue that teaching responsible and safe hunting and archery will lead to fewer accidents.

It’s sad that in the name of supposedly protecting the public from mass shootings, Biden has chosen to attack hunting, fishing and archery. I don’t recall any attack committed by someone armed with a trap gun, bow or fishing rod. Why don’t we go back to the tried-and-true concept of punishing people for breaking the law and letting law-abiding Americans remain armed so they can protect themselves from those released without posting bond or those paroled multiple times?

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.