Republicans and firearms groups are lining up to oppose President Biden's progressive nominee to oversee more than 500 million acres of public land.
Biden tapped current Rep. Debra Haaland to become secretary of the interior. A member of the president’s Cabinet who stands eighth in line of succession just behind the attorney general, the chief of the Interior Department oversees the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Park Service, among others. As such, they are responsible for some 20 percent of the land in the country, a budget of $11 billion, and over 70,000 federal employees.
Haaland, a former chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, has represented her state in Congress since 2019. A supporter of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, she has been ranked one of the top 10 most liberal members of the House of Representatives.
When it comes to public land issues, she has sponsored bills to fight "environmental injustice" as well as a measure pushing that Congress, rather than the President, has the authority to modify a national monument designation. The Trump administration repeatedly expanded hunting and fishing opportunities to sportsmen on public lands in the past three years.
Haaland also introduced the sweeping 84-page Climate Stewardship Act that mentions "greenhouse gasses" and "carbon sequestration" more than 40 times. The bill also aimed to create a rebooted civilian conservation corps, dubbed the “Stewardship Corps,” to be drawn from "youth from low-income communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color," to jumpstart careers in the forest and wetland restoration sector. The package was endorsed by the Sierra Club, a California-based environmentalist group that has strongly and repeatedly pushed to ban traditional ammo on public lands.
Another resolution introduced by Haaland, backed by not only the Sierra Club but also the Center for American Progress, aimed to conserve at least 30 percent of the country's ocean and land by 2030. Currently the federal government, through the Interior Department, controls 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the United States.
"We need 100% background checks and to close loopholes — especially with gun shows," said Haaland on her Congressional campaign website. "We need to rid our communities of military-grade weapons; neither hunting nor policing require automatic weapons."
"She refuses to commit to maintaining hunting, grazing, timber harvest, and trapping on public lands," Montana Senator Steve Daines, on Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary.
Then, there were more pointed questions on sportsmen issues.
In July 2019, Haaland called for a ban on trapping on all federal land, over which Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., called her to task over in committee hearings last week.
"If confirmed, would you restrict or ban trapping on public land?" he asked.
"If I'm confirmed, I will look at the science, I will consult with everyone I need to consult with," she said before explaining her call two years ago was one that involved her local constituents at the time.
Pivoting, Daines turned to Haaland's thoughts on bans over popular semi-automatic rifles, which she has repeatedly slammed and called for increased regulation.
"Given your call to ban some sporting rifles, why should Congress believe that you will work to protect and expand shooting and hunting opportunities on our public lands?" he asked.
Haaland didn't speak to concrete protections for semi-autos but did say she came from a long family and tribal tradition of hunting, explaining she harvested an Oryx at White Sands that "fed my family for about a year."
Daines then asked Haaland if she supported a ban of traditional lead ammo and fishing tackle on federal lands. The outgoing Obama administration's U.S. Fish & Wildlife boss in January 2017 had moved to implement such a controversial prohibition, which was promptly countermanded by the Trump administration’s incoming interior secretary just weeks later. As in other questions, Haaland was noncommittal.
"I look forward to looking into that issue, consulting with the experts, I know that there are a number of scientists at the Department of Interior if I am confirmed," she said. "That will absolutely be a conversation that we have."
After the hearings concluded, Daines said her evasive responses pointed to the likelihood she would follow Biden's anti-energy and anti-gun agenda.
“This week's hearing confirmed what I feared from Rep. Haaland’s record and our one-on-one conversation – she’s a hard-line ideologue with radical views out of touch with Montana and the West," said Daines. "She refuses to commit to maintaining hunting, grazing, timber harvest, and trapping on public lands. Her record shows she will ignore science on wildlife management and natural resource development and instead be tied to her far-Left ideology."
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which worked closely with the Trump administration’s interior secretaries on hunting and recreational shooting issues, doesn't see a lot of good news coming in Haaland, whose confirmation seems likely.
"Based on Rep. Haaland’s testimony during her confirmation hearings, her past support for radical gun control including banning modern sporting rifles, and her unwillingness to commit to not banning the use of traditional ammunition for hunting on federal land, the NSSF is forced to oppose her nomination to be the secretary of the interior," Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF's senior vice president and general counsel, told Guns.com.