Hunters, anglers speak out for conservation, ensuring continued access to public lands
Sportsmen believe it’s a priority to manage public lands for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
Judith Kohler and John Gale
Conservation is a nonpartisan issue and candidates can’t take the votes of sportsmen and women for granted this election if they don’t address safeguarding fish and wildlife habitat and ensuring access to public lands, hunters and anglers said during a news teleconference Monday.
The importance of conservation of public lands to hunters and anglers, viewed as conservative-leaning, is underscored by the results of a National Wildlife Federation poll. The results show that sportsmen place conserving habitat on a par with gun rights. An overwhelming majority believe it’s a priority to manage public lands for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.
"This should truly be a bipartisan issue, one in which reasonable people can find reasonable ways to maintain public lands for many purposes, including regulated hunting and fishing by the average American," said John Smeltzer, chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Federation board and a retired assistant director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Erica Stock, Colorado Trout Unlimited’s outreach director, said the findings of the sportsmen’s poll didn’t surprise her because of the values she knows are deeply held by hunters and anglers.
"I was raised in a conservative household with conservative values and it never occurred to me that taking care of my community and taking care of our land was an ethic restricted to one political party or the other," added Stock, who also works with the Western Native Trout Initiative.
The poll’s results are being rolled out as the presidential candidates head to Denver for their first debate. Because they’ll be in the West, it would be fitting for the candidates to discuss their positions on public lands management, said John Gale, regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation.
"More than half the nation’s premier fisheries and most of the important big-game habitat are found on public lands in the West," Gale said. "All the guns and rods you can buy won’t matter to hunters and anglers without healthy habitat and waterways and access to the public lands that put all Americans on equal footing.
No one denies the importance of energy development on public lands, Gale added, but it must be done responsibly. It’s important to acknowledge the sustainable economic benefits of the hunting and fishing made possible by public lands, he said.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report estimates that hunting and fishing produced $1.55 billion for the economy last year in Colorado and about $76 billion nationally.
The most immediate way members of Congress can demonstrate their support of hunting and fishing is to pass the Sportsman’s Act of 2012, Stock said. The suite of bills by Sen. John Tester of Montana aims to maintain access to public lands and conservation funding.
By contrast, proposals to turn over our public lands to individual states have ignited opposition across the political divides, Smeltzer said.
"States don’t have the capacity to manage for use by all," Smeltzer said. "If states were in charge of our wonderful public lands, it’s likely the lands would be available for use by only a few."
Read the poll memo and slide deck at NWF.org/Sportsmen and get more National Wildlife Federation news at NWF.org/News.
This national public opinion poll conducted among 800 self-identified hunters and anglers was conducted by Chesapeake Beach Consulting from August 27 through September 1, 2012 for the National Wildlife Federation. The sample for this survey was randomly drawn from a list of self-identified hunters and anglers. To qualify, a respondent must have indicated they were a hunter, an angler or both as well as a registered voter. All interviews were conducted by telephone, including 15 percent of the interviews by cell phone. The margin of error for this study is plus or minus 3.2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.