It’s now or never for public hunting and fishing.
For 2 million miles of stream habitat that support the wild trout and big-game herds in the West. For 20 million acres of small wetlands that produce most of the ducks U.S. hunters shoot every fall. For Appalachian mountaintops that protect trout streams; for coastal estuaries that produce salmon, redfish, snook, and tarpon along the coasts.
If individual sportsmen and sportswomen don’t act now—if they don’t contact their congressional delegations in the next few months and tell them to call off their attacks on the regulations and conservation programs that have sustained quality public hunting and fishing for a century—their grandchildren may never share the experiences they hold so dear.
That’s the reality facing America’s hunters and anglers in 2012.
“The average hunter and angler out there doesn’t understand what’s going on, that what we’re seeing is the biggest attack on fish and wildlife habitat in 100 years,” says Jim Martin, conservation director of Pure Fishing’s Berkley Conservation Institute and former chief of fisheries at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
He’s not exaggerating.
The sportsmen’s conservation movement finds itself lashed by political and economic forces that threaten to undo generations of work and billions of dollars dedicated to building and protecting the habitat base that supports the world’s best public outdoors experiences.
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.
And that was just for starters.
They also went after keystone federal regulations protecting critical habitat, including a definition of wetlands essential to waterfowl, trout, and big-game habitat; mining regulations that protect Appalachian ecosystems; clean-air rules that protect forests and people, plus other rules needed to address global warming and sea-level rise that threaten to drown our coasts; clean-water rules that prevent the spread of dead zones in estuaries producing saltwater fish; and rules that protect roadless areas sustaining big-game herds and backcountry hunting.
Most of those initiatives were blocked in the Senate, but by the end of 2011 the assaults were still going on. The persistence of the attack has shaken veterans of the sportsmen’s conservation movement, not only because it shows just how well-funded their opponents are but also because it hints that the attention hunters and anglers once commanded in Washington may be slipping.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, who saw a lot in his 31 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including a stint as its director. “There were times in the past where we faced budget cuts, or debates over some regulations. But the push to take away the regulatory framework that has been essential to fish and wildlife for so many decades makes no sense—not even for the economy.
“The forces at work now really are unprecedented.”
Those forces are creating a perfect storm that could cause irreparable damage.