Can Hunters, Environmentalists Team-Up?
by Dave Workman
A recent story in Washington Monthly suggests strongly that after years of divisiveness, environmentalists and hunters may once again be moving closer together toward a common good, to protect millions of acres of public land from sale and exploitation.
However, not everyone agrees with the article, written by 28-year-old Christina Larson, who accompanied her father as a child on his bird hunting treks, as an accurate portrayal of what is happening between hunters and environmentalists. Likewise, a suggestion by Larson that the issue of global warming may solidify this new spirit of cooperation was received with some skepticism.
Larson, who also wrote an earlier article, entitled “The End of Hunting?” told Gun Week, “I’m not necessarily talking about everybody joining the same club, but people working side by side.”
Noting that there are communalities between environmentalists and hunters, Larson said it is not necessary that everyone in both camps agree with one another on all issues, but that they are finding some issues, particularly dealing with public lands, on which they can work together.
“These are things that didn’t happen five or 10 years ago,” she observed.
That’s certainly true, as the story recalls. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the environmental movement became a political force, it was not uncommon to see “greens” and “oranges,” as Larson calls environmentalists and hunters, respectively, fighting the same battles. But a chasm developed when environmentalists became associated with the radical animal rights movement, putting hunters on the defensive, and long-standing animosities remain.
Many hunters and shooters are not so quick to concur that there is much potential for the two communities to join as a formidable coalition. There are issues that divide the camps.
For example, hunters and anglers need to travel to enjoy their pastimes, and many directly blame the work of environmentalists over the past generation to stop development of domestic oil supplies and even the construction of refineries for driving up the cost of fuel. It takes gas to power SUVs and pickup trucks, especially those hauling boats and campers or trailers.
It takes fuel to power fishing boats and off-road vehicles and ATVs. Skyrocketing gas prices put a serious crimp in any hunter’s budget.
Above and beyond that, environmental groups, including local chapters of the Sierra Club, have frequently been associated with efforts to curb or prevent hunting. There have been environmental objections to gun ranges, either to develop them or shut them down. Hunters and shooters don’t forget that sort of thing.
The case that perhaps best highlighted the division was the outbreak of hostilities within the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) two years ago over former National Rifle Association (NRA) President Kayne Robinson’s remarks about the Sierra Club during a presentation at the NRA-sponsored breakfast at OWAA’s 2004 conference in Spokane, WA.
Gun Week has covered that controversy at length. OWAA’s board of directors admonished Robinson over his remarks, leading to a departure of many of the nation’s most prominent hunting and gun writers from the organization. They took with them many industry supporters, and subsequently formed the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). The dust has yet to completely settle on that revolt, and it typifies what may be an insurmountable barrier between greens and oranges.
Even the issue of protecting public land does not completely bring groups together. In Colorado, for example, there is a huge problem developing in the Boulder Ranger District of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.
According to Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado Sport Shooters Association (CSSA), shooters are battling with the Forest Service over recreational shooting. Increasing complaints from other forest users, and from people who have built homes and bought property up to the edge of the national forest, have prompted the Forest Service to start looking at shooting prohibitions. Some areas have already been posted.
Fabian acknowledged that part of the problem can be traced to “slob shooters” and just plain slobs who dump used appliances, televisions, computers and other hazardous materials on forest land, and others who use those things as targets. Despite cleanup efforts, Fabian admitted that within a few weeks of cleaning up some of these dumpsites, more trash appears.
“Slob shooters are going out there and giving everyone a bad name,” he said. “A few bad apples are spoiling it for everyone.”
Michael Bane, a Boulder-area resident and producer of outdoor programs, expressed both outrage and frustration at the Forest Service for apparently pushing to shut shooters out. He sees the Forest Service bowing to pressure from other interest groups, including hikers, ATV riders and other nature lovers while ignoring the needs of shooters.
The Great Divide
A handful of prominent outdoor writers have been highly critical of the NRA for trying to recruit hunters. That list includes Ted Williams, Tony Dean and Pat Wray, the latter two who were on the OWAA board during the Robinson flap.
Wray, a longtime NRA member, told Gun Week that his objection to NRA’s involvement with hunters is that the organization politically supports politicians who have poor track records on environmental issues.
Conversely, NRA’s Susan Recce said a major problem with environmental groups is that they traditionally support politicians who typically support gun control. The Sierra Club even opposed the appointment of Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, while his nomination was welcomed by many gun rights activists.
Wray is especially alarmed that the NRA has been faithful to the Bush Administration, which had pushed a policy of selling public lands on the grounds that the revenue would help finance education programs.
“Selling off chunks of national forest land; that’s a neat little trick under the guise of raising money for education,” Wray contended. “Over the past 50 years the national forests and Bureau of Land Management have tried to consolidate their lands . . . and now because we have some needs in the education field the Bush Administration feels like we have to do a one-time sale of public lands to private entities to finance education. If I were a cynical person I’d think this were just another move to privatize public land holdings under the guise of something else.”
But Wray also observed, “I think we are still a step or two away from hunters and environmentalists getting back together, and I think that global warming probably will be the final nail that puts it all together. I think that actions by the Bush Administration in particular over the last seven years, whatever it’s been, have provided the impetus.”
Greens No Help
On the other hand, Recce stated, “The green groups always want the sportsmen to join their side, but they have never once lifted a finger to do anything for sportsmen.”
But even for Recce, the picture is not all warfare.
“There are issues where environmentalists and hunting/wildlife conservation groups will see eye-to-eye,” she said. “The best example I have of that at the national level is a group I was a founding member of called Coordinated Alliance for Refuge Enhancement. The CARE Group’s efforts are to increase funding for wildlife refuge operations and maintenance because hunters and bird watchers stand to lose equally if the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have the funds to administer recreation programs or that the recreational value is limited if the wildlife and habitat are in poor condition. NRA and Safari Club International are members as are Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon Society.”
David Roberts, a staff writer at the on-line magazine Grist, based in Seattle, WA, is another skeptic.
“What I hear is lots and lots of talk about how important it is for environmentalists to win over the hook-and-bullet crowd,” he said. “There is a confluence of interest on the western lands issues; there are the seeds of genuine cooperation. There are hunting groups and environmental groups working on it.”
However, he said the premise that global warming may be the catalyst that finally brings both camps together is “arguable.” And, he admitted, environmentalists and hunters will have to overcome the stereotypes, and that could be difficult.
Animal Rights Issue
“I know that a lot of environmentalists are somewhat resentful of the way they’ve been stereotyped by the hook and bullet crowd, and vice versa. One thing that muddies the water is the connection of environmental activists with animal rights people.”
Yet, he said hunters and environmentalists may be working toward many of the same goalsprotection and preservation of public lands being foremost, especially in the Westbut on parallel tracks, not the same path.
Veteran outdoor writer Tony Mandile is not so certain that even the public lands issue will entirely unite hunters and environmentalists.
“Certain things that they support, we also support as hunters and fishermen but where do you stop,” he questioned. “Keeping companies like mining and other people from buying up public land is a good thing, but taking that same land and making it inaccessible to the same hunters and fishermen who helped keep it from being sold off is bad. That’s when we get into the roadless area discussion.”
And that is a thorny issue that divides sportsmen and environmentalists, and even certain sportsman cliques. Some groups, such as Trout Unlimited, have leaned toward more roadless areas, insisting that such areas grow bigger fish and game. Others argue that roadless areas are de facto wilderness, shut off from the overwhelming majority of the public, even though they are not officially designated wilderness.
“Certainly,” Mandile said, “I don’t want to see half of Arizona torn up by copper mines but I want to get into those areas to hunt or fish.”
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, remains unconvinced that greens and oranges are ready to come together. They may cooperate on some issues, he acknowledged, but lining up as a unified political force is another matter altogether, he said.
Gottlieb is active in the “wise use movement,” which believes in the “multiple use” concept for public land management and was founded to battle environmental extremism.
“While we all agree that we want to protect public land,” Gottlieb said, “the greens want the government to first own it, and then lock it up so nobody can use it. That’s going to keep greens and hunters divided.”
Optimism v. Reality
Richard Feldman, an attorney who has been active in the firearms industry and gun rights movement for years, told Gun Week in an e-mail that the Washington Monthly article “is the most interesting story I’ve read in a long time about the possibilities for the pro-gun, pro-hunting movements to form alliances with the environmental movement.”
A perennial optimist, Feldman recalled that the late Theodore Roosevelt made a link between hunting and conservation that endured. His legacy was to protect habitat that benefited wildlife, and this public land not only provided hunters with opportunity, it also preserved this nation’s most scenic natural resources.
“Many of the players have found themselves fighting each other on numerous issues,” Feldman noted, “but if this ‘linkage’ can be successfully forged it has the real potential for a substantial realignment in both ‘issue clusters’ and thus in the outcome of American politics.”
Wray, the Oregon-based outdoor writer and NRA critic, believes there is “a little bit of a groundswell” bringing hunters and environmentalists closer. He is likewise optimistic greens and oranges will come together, at least on some important issues.
“I think as hunters become more concerned about the environment and take more steps to create alliances that do that,” he said, “I think they are going to take a look at more people of like mind who will consider such alliances, however long they last.”
Larson also believes this will happen, out of necessity.
“Maybe I’m an optimist here but I think these things are so important,” she said. “If hunters and environmentalists don’t reach out and try to understand each other I don’t know who’s going to take up fighting for the American landscape in the future. . . . Every movement, every new alliance started somewhere.”
But NRA’s Recce added the perspective of reality, noting, “There may indeed be collaboration at the local level among greens and hunters, but not at the national level. I see the reason simply being politics. The greens support those in Congress who so happen to champion gun control. And, our Congressional support base tends to be those who support the extractive-development industries. The only way we could collaborate at the national level is if in championing a cause, the politics . . . are taken out of it.
“I am pleased to read that there are those in the green organizations who are hunters and who would like to turn around their organizations so that they are more favorable to hunters,” she added. “But, again it comes down to who is holding seats in Congress, that’s where we diverge and I don’t see that the twain will meet.”
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