NRA Support of Land Conservation Bill Called 'Misguided'

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Legislation aimed at promoting conservation, but criticized by conservatives for its potential to allow government land grabs, has an unusual ally, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) would establish a $900 million fund for land acquisition, conservation and recreation projects. States would receive half of the money and therefore get more control over which lands are acquired.

The NRA supports the bill because it would provide additional funds to state fish and wildlife agencies and benefit sportsmen, according to James Jay Baker, the executive director for the NRA Institute of Legislative Action.

But, the American Land Rights Association (ALRA) is urging the NRA to change its mind because of the CARA provisions allowing land acquisition.

"If NRA pulls its support for the CARA land grab, that is a very damaging blow for land grabbers," according to an ALRA statement.

ALRA contends the NRA made a "misguided decision" to endorse CARA "without input from elected NRA board members." ALRA also charges that the NRA staff "was afraid to offend powerful congressmen like Don Young of Alaska and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, the sponsors of CARA." Neither Young nor Tauzin could be reached for comment.

"Guess what", the ALRA statement concluded, "Alaska and Louisiana are the two states that would benefit most from the pork barrel spending fund buried within the CARA bill."

NRA spokesperson Kelly Whitley said Wednesday the association maintains the position it took back in August when Baker sent a letter to NRA members expressing support for CARA.

In the letter, Baker said the NRA was "very sensitive to the fears expressed by some of our members that CARA is a threat to private property owners," but expressed doubt "that any private property protections built into CARA will satisfy those of our citizens who oppose any further land acquisition and expansion of the federal estate."

According to Baker's letter, the NRA "would not attach its name and support to a bill if its effect was to infringe upon any of our members' constitutional rights."

And in a swipe at critics, Baker said, "Professional observers understand the legislative process is one of debate and amendments, and concerned individuals would be better served by an action plan to amend the bill rather than ad hominem attacks on groups such as NRA who are simply fulfilling their mandate to serve their own constituencies."

The NRA Governing Board meets Thursday for a two-day meeting in Washington and one of the items on the agenda for discussion is CARA.

The House Resources Committee approved CARA in July by a vote of 29-12.