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Hunting’s cognitive dissonance

March 16, 2012

Earlier this week I was directed to an article in Field & Stream magazine, the consummate hunting and fishing periodical, about the threats to public lands instigated by this current incarnation of Congress.  It’s bad out there, folks.  Money for public lands, for state parks and gamelands, for maintenance and outreach and keeping the damn doors open, is the first to go when the deficit vultures come calling.  And Field & Stream is right to be concerned, because their readership, assuming they are, in fact, hunters and fishers and not dentists looking for periodicals to set on waiting room tables, are disproportionally affected by any sort of budgetary concerns that federal, state, and local parks and wildlife departments face. From the article:

Last year, many in Congress joined an anti-conservation movement that could cripple or eliminate vital fish and wildlife habitat initiatives that had broad support for years. The attacks began shortly after the new Congress was sworn in, with an appropriations bill to keep government functioning—H.R. 1—that was loaded with dozens of policy riders aimed at everything from wetland protections to global warming studies. Most failed, but the assaults never stopped. As the National Wildlife Federation pointed out in December, one in five of all House roll-call votes taken in 2011—fully 22 percent—involved measures to weaken environmental protections. The Conservation Reserve Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program were targeted for decreased funds.

Field & Streams deserves some credit for even introducing a topic so overtly political.  There are those who might feel that we shouldn’t seek to antagonize our fellow outdoorspeople by bring up such matters, just look at some of the responses to Ted Eubanks’ posts over at the ABA blog.  I couldn’t disagree more.  In this day and age everything is political.  It’s always been so, but it’s a testimony to the politicians across the political spectrum that they considered for so long that issues surrounding our public lands and the conservation and proper management therein was something of a third rail, untouchable unless one was willing to take a significant political hit for doing so.  There was a time, not that long ago, when politicians and conservation interests were able to pass something as important as the Pittman-Robertson Act, essentially a surtax added to the cost of outdoor sporting equipment which directly funded acquisition of lands for use by hunters, fishers, and non-consumptive users.

We birders know all this, of course, because we’re constantly told that the reason we have public lands to do our thing is solely because hunters and fishers have magnanimously decreed that we can use them… sometimes… maybe.  But our impact is generally ignored, our access is limited during hunting seasons, and our quarry is harvested with occasional acknowledgment of bag limits and seasonal regulations.   Hunters and fishers are the true conservationists, by virtue of their passive contributions through the purchases of firearms and bullets and licenses and whatnot.

I’m not criticizing those who seek to join hands with the hook and bullet set and sing kumbayah in an attempt to reverse the hemorrhaging of dollars from our beleaguered wildlife agencies nationwide.  I only find the argument that our problems would be solved in large part by sufficiently genuflecting to hunters and fishers, and by allowing our clearly different interests to be subsumed by them, to be tiring.  Besides, I simply don’t believe that it’s possible to even do so, and not for anything having to do with us, but with the hunting and fishing culture.  And frankly, for their good work in bringing this crucial issue to light, Field & Stream is part of the problem.

Read the excerpt above, and try to figure out at whose feet Field & Streams seeks to lay the responsibility for this massive attack on public lands.  I’d encourage you to read the entire article if you haven’t yet, and try to figure out what’s missing.

In the entire article – more than 1500 words – GOP and Republican are used exactly 3 times.

Sure, there’s a lot of talk about “this Congress” and “lobbyists”, but there’s very little mention of the people who are in charge of “this Congress”, of those who are especially responsive to the needs of “lobbyists”.  Aside from one paragraph – a bare three sentences – there’s nothing in the article to suggest that the sustained attack on public lands and the environmental laws that keep those lands clean and open are the result of one political party. That’s not to say Democrats are guilt-free, President Obama himself has been frustratingly disinclined to take clear stands on natural resource issues, but the Republican Party, specifically the bomb-throwers in the House of Representative and in state houses across the nation, have been the primary drivers of the sort of legislation that Field & Stream decries, that every self-respecting outdoorsperson should oppose as well.  So why the kid gloves?

It’s not much of a controversial statement to say that the politics of most birders tend to lean to the left.  Many of us are particularly interested in environmental and land use issues, especially as they pertain to the birds we watch.  Neither am I going out on a limb to say that politics of hunters and fishers tends towards the right, this is despite the fact that the environmental and land use issues that affect birders affect hunters and fishers in exactly the same way.  They need places to hunt and fish after all.  However, many hunting advocacy groups have been busy pushing that the primary issues surrounding hunters as one of gun rights and access, this is despite a steady erosion in the restrictiveness of gun laws in the United States over the last 30 years.  And while those advocacy groups have their eyes on the front door, powerful interests have gone right in the back, casting environmental laws as the work of Democrats, of tree-hugging liberal activists who want to restrict the god-given rights of hunters to enjoy their heritage and thus, dismantling them.

Despite the patent absurdity of these caricatures, land use and environmental regulations that have worked to protect public lands, that have sought to keep air and water clean, that have sought to set aside parts of the country for outdoor recreation by those who may not be able to afford to do so on private lands, have been under continued assault.  And it’s the Republican Party holding the hatchet every single time.

And yet hunters and fishermen continue to cast votes for Republican candidates in direct opposition to their best interests, and Field & Stream is befuddled.  Here’s the deal though, unless the actions of the Republican Party are explicitly spelled out, unless outdoorspeople are pointed in a certain direction and told in no uncertain terms that these are the people trying to take away your access to hunting and fishing, they will continue to starve federal and state agencies until they can no longer be managed to allow access. This is already happening in many states.  Still, though, there remains hunters who will head to the Field & Stream message boards to traffic in anti-Obama conspiracy theories about gun confiscation or to complain about the Democrats, a political party whose platform on public lands is indistinguishable from the GOP of only 20 years ago.  They’d rather pretend that they can continue to vote for people that are degrading the means by which they participate in the activities they claim to love and still expect to get what they want.

There was a time when Republicans could be counted on to stand up for outdoorspeople.  Those days are long gone, and not coming back to my eyes. And it appears too many hunters and fishers are willing to piss into the wind rather than open their eyes to the mess that party has become.  And until they do, no cajoling, no pleading, and no duck stamps will convince them to care about public lands, and we’re all the worse for it.

Perhaps Field & Stream should write about that.

  1. March 16, 2012 1:28 pm

    I attended the GOP Caucus for my precinct in Utah last night. When they read the county platform, I was really impressed and very surprised with the stance on conservation…they actually want to protect wilderness areas. There is some hope as there are some conservation-minded conservatives.

    • Nate permalink*
      March 16, 2012 2:37 pm

      I think western states have to lead the way here, as that’s where so much of the usable public land is. That’s nice to hear though, I hope the money ends up where the mouth is.

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