The hook-and-bullet crowd is bully for conservation

November 4, 2012 12:07 am

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By Larry Schweiger

It's been exactly 100 years since reformers, frustrated by the government's allegiance to special interests and a Cabinet filled with corporate lawyers by President William Howard Taft, formed the Bull Moose Party. The party was named for the celebrated sportsman and former president, Theodore Roosevelt, who felt Taft had turned his back on the Roosevelt legacy of conservation.

A century later, today's sportsmen could be excused for wondering whether history is repeating itself. Out on the campaign trail, it's been anything but open season for debate on the top conservation issues of the day.

But a new poll shows that beyond the Beltway, protecting America's conservation heritage remains a top priority for sportsmen. America's hunters and anglers expect our political leaders to lay out their plans for protecting our air, water, wildlife and public lands.

While I was head of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, I worked with countless Pennsylvanians who felt passionately about the outdoor legacy of Penn's Woods. Candidates at all levels should answer this simple question, "What's your plan for protecting our outdoor heritage for our children's future?"

People who love the outdoors inherently understand the importance of a healthy environment. Regrettably, the day is nigh when we can no longer fish for smallmouth bass in the middle Susquehanna River due to repeated fish kills caused mainly by high water temperatures. And when we can engage the natural world, who among us wants to risk eating a mercury-laden fish, or venison exposed to a pollutant that moves up the food chain from power plant emissions?

"The nation's fishermen and hunters are on the front line of our field naturalists. Doing what they love best, they see firsthand the impact of climate change on natural systems and our wildlife. Their conclusions are based on observations made over years spent in the out of doors," says sportsman and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt IV. "As this new poll shows, by substantial margins fishermen and hunters believe we have a moral responsibility to act as stewards to pass on to our children's children our magnificent public lands and waters."

The Chesapeake Beach Consulting poll conducted for the National Wildlife Federation reports that while hunters and anglers tend to be conservative politically, many are split-ticket and independent voters who care deeply about conservation and believe confronting global warming isn't a matter of left or right, but a matter of right or wrong. The poll found that:

• A supermajority of sportsmen (79 percent) wants to restore Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and waterways, including smaller creeks and streams, to protect our health and important fish and wildlife habitat.

• Given a choice between protecting America's public lands and prioritizing the production of oil, gas and coal, 49 percent want to protect public lands and just 35 percent choose fossil fuel production.

• Two of three sportsmen polled (66 percent) believe we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children's future. Additionally, 69 percent agree the United States should reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and threaten fish and wildlife habitat.

• Sportsmen strongly believe British Petroleum should be held accountable and fined the maximum amount for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster (81 percent) and that those funds should be used exclusively to restore the fish and wildlife habitat of the Gulf of Mexico and its fishing and hunting heritage, and not for unrelated infrastructure projects (87 percent).

• Finally -- and this may surprise many -- conservation is just as important as gun rights according to nearly half of sportsmen polled (47 percent). Another 13 percent believe conservation issues are even more important than gun rights.

The hook-and-bullet crowd cares about conservation, from oil disasters to carbon pollution to helping our children build a connection with America's great outdoors. Even with the elections upon us, there's still time for candidates to stop dodging conservation and talk about what these real Americans really care about.

For America's hunters and anglers, conservation is literally a kitchen-table issue. And, yes, it's about jobs here in Pennsylvania: Fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation are big business in the Keystone State, supporting more than 150,000 jobs and generating $4.3 billion in economic activity.

Protecting our wildlife, natural resources and public health has a long, bipartisan tradition in this country and our democracy thrives when we work together toward a common goal. We expect our political leaders to outline their plans for protecting our air, water, wildlife and public lands. America's sportsmen and women are voters, too, and they're pointing the way.

Larry Schweiger is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. He served for eight years as president and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and was executive secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
First Published November 4, 2012 12:00 am