Washington, DC — The ability of national park rangers to control poaching will be crippled by a new firearms policy proposed by the Bush administration, according to formal comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This proposal to allow open carrying of loaded firearms inside parks may never go into effect, however, since the Interior Department did not conduct assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
On April 30, 2008, the Interior Department proposed a repeal of nearly century-old national park rules requiring that firearms be unloaded and unavailable for ready use, except for the very limited authorized hunting opportunities on park lands. In its place, the Bush administration would substitute the various laws governing “any state park, or any similar unit of state land, in which state the federal park, or that portion thereof, is located…” Public comment on this plan ends this upcoming Monday, June 30th.
Besides substituting a hodgepodge of confusing state rules for one clear, long-standing policy, the Bush administration plan removes one of the key tools that park rangers have to safeguard park wildlife from poaching. As long-time former park manager and PEER Board Member Frank Buono explains:
“Rangers are few, and the miles of roads and acres in the park system are many. Park wildlife is often unafraid of people. Parks contain some of the most spectacular trophy specimens. Parks are places where poaching occurs and is most rewarding – to the poacher.”
The Bush administration proposed the rules in response to a National Rifle Association campaign that threatened congressional repeal of the park service rules. The NRA has made no secret of its desire to increase hunting within national parks.
Another large defect with the plan is the failure of the Bush Interior Department to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for conducting a formal assessment of any significant action with potential environmental impacts. In its Federal Register notice Interior concedes the proposal will have effects on “visitor safety [and] resource protection” but states that:
“We are currently working to determine the appropriate level of NEPA assessment and documentation that will be required for the promulgation of this regulation.”
Nonetheless, the Park Service has prepared NEPA assessments for far less significant proposed rulemakings. If these rules are adopted, a NEPA lawsuit would likely result in the judicial cancellation of the rules until NEPA requirements have been satisfied, a process that would take months, if not years.
“NEPA litigation will stall these firearm rules until the next administration where they may never again see the light of day,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is completely in character for this Interior Department to overlook the very environmental laws they are supposed to be administering.”