An Exclusive Interview with Senator Barack Obama

Our editor-in-chief Anthony Licata sat down with Illinois Senator Barack Obama to ask him about the issues that matter most to sportsmen in this election; conservation, gun rights, and the outdoors. His answers may surprise you.

Field & Stream Online Editors

LICATA: If you were elected president, what would be your No. 1 conservation goal?
SENATOR OBAMA: I think the most important thing that the next president can do is establish a better working relationship between the federal government and the states, because what we've seen under the Bush administration is the ability of special interests, whether it's the oil companies or the gas companies or the coal companies or what have you, to do end runs around the interests of hunters and sportsmen [and]conservationists in the states. [They] go to Washington, get certain regulations overwritten--for example, the watering down of the Clean Water Act--so that rules that had been in place for generations around wetlands were suddenly eroded. Or the roadless forest reserve, where suddenly you've got a change in administrative rules without much consultation. I think that people in the states know best the importance of access to public lands, and we've got to restore some balance there.

LICATA: In your career, what is the conservation legislation that you're most proud of?
SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I sat in the Environment and Public Works Committee and had a range of legislation come before me. Probably the thing that I'm most proud of is fighting off some of the efforts to diminish the Clean Air Act. That was a tough set of votes for me because I come from a coal state. But some of the regulations that were put in place I think would have had a long-term effect on our efforts to preserve our public lands, and our private lands, as well. When I was in the state legislature, I was a cosponsor of the Wetlands Protection Act there. I worked extensively in efforts to create smart growth strategies so that you didn't have subdivisions and development constantly spreading out...working with others to try to encourage land trusts and land preservation strategies, I think that's an area that has been very fruitful. But my overarching philosophy is that we have to be good stewards of the land, and we've got to think in terms of sustainability. We're going to have some development. I mean, there's going to be drilling.

LICATA: The current administration passed some executive orders that made drilling and energy extraction the top priority for management of federal lands. How do you override that legislation at a time when people are clamoring for gas and looking for new sources of energy?
SENATOR OBAMA: Look, you're absolutely right. Since 1999, the amount of drilling on public lands has gone up 260 percent, and yet prices have skyrocketed. And it indicates a basic truth, which is we're not going to drill our way out of these problems. This is something that I've consistently said. This is an area where I've got to disagree with both the Bush administration and with John McCain. There are certain areas where drilling may be appropriate. North Dakota, it looks like, may have new oil fields that have not been explored. And for us to tap into areas...where there's not a big conservation impact, no problem. ANWR, on the other hand, is a great example. This is our last great wilderness refuge. And if we started tomorrow, we would not see a drop of oil out of ANWR for a decade. And even at peak production, experts estimate that it would have an impact of maybe 4 cents on a gallon of gas. And that's 15, 20 years from now, when, who knows what gas prices are going to be? Now, it's just not a smart strategy. [It's] much better for us to think in terms of energy efficiency and, you know, exploit the resources that we have when they are accessible and when the trade-offs are such where we're not destroying land that we want to pass on to the&nbs next generation.

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LICATA: _Senator, earlier this year you made a comment about rural citizens clinging to guns that got a lot of criticism, and many sportsmen took that to mean that you don't respect or understand the traditions of American hunters and shooters. How would you respond to that?
_SENATOR OBAMA: Well, you know, look, when you're on a campaign trail, you're not always going to choose the perfect word. But what I was specifically referring to--and this is something that I've said before--is that when you've got a federal government that is doing nothing in terms of thinking about people's economic situation, then they don't end up voting on the basis of the economic issues. What they do expect is at the very least they can preserve those traditions that have been so important to them, like hunting, like their faith. That ends up being the focus of their attention. If I had said "relied on"--or that it's important to them--instead of "cling," there wouldn't have been a problem. You know, if you've been on the campaign trail and you're on your sixth event of the night, then you end up maybe choosing the wrong word. But if you talk to sportsmen in my home state of Illinois, they will tell you that I've always been a forceful advocate on behalf of the rights of sportsmen, on behalf of access for sportsmen and hunters. I've been somebody who, well before the recent Supreme Court case, stated my belief that the Second Amendment was an individual right.

LICATA: Do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: What I think it has done is provided some clarity that, in fact, the Second Amendment is an individual right and that law-abiding gun owners can't be prevented from going out and hunting, protecting their family on their own. That doesn't mean that, as Justice Scalia and the Supreme Court noted, it doesn't mean that we can't have some common-sense gun control legislation out there-for example, background checks, making sure that we're keeping guns out of the hands of criminals or people who have mental illnesses. The important point is that I am very mindful of the fact that sportsmen in America may have gone hunting with their fathers, their grandfathers, their mothers, their grandmothers, and that this is part of a tradition and a way of life that has to be preserved. And there's nothing that I will do as president of the United States that will in any way encroach on the ability of sportsmen to continue that tradition.

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LICATA: You mentioned common-sense gun legislation. Would you consider the assault weapons ban and registration of guns to fall into that category of common-sense gun control?
SENATOR OBAMA: I think those are two separate issues. I think that when it comes to the assault weapons ban, the answer is yes. I think AK-47s generally are not used for hunting. AK-47s or vest-piercing bullets are generally used to hurt people. And I think that it's legitimate for us to say military-style weapons that aren't traditionally used for purposes other than killing people, we've got to be careful about. But I'll be honest with you. I'm more interested in enforcing the laws that we do have-for example, tracing guns that are used in crimes back to people who have been using them. I don't anticipate that there's going to be a whole slew of efforts at the federal level when it comes to gun control. But I think that strong background checks; making sure that we're dealing with the gun-show loophole, which I think has been a problem; allowing us to trace guns that are used in crimes back to where they were purchased--those are the kinds of initiatives that I think pose no threat whatsoever to law-abiding gun owners.

LICATA: You are a big supporter of ethanol to help us with our fuel problems. But the more ethanol production, the fewer lands that farms are putting in the Farm Bill CRP program. You also support giving increased money for farmers to put land in that program. How do you reconcile those two things? How do we both preserve the habitat and produce ethanol?
SENATOR OBAMA: The CRP, I think, is critically important. And you're right. I was glad to see increased emphasis on that in the Farm Bill. It didn't go as far as I'd like to see it go. I think that corn-based ethanol is a transitional technology. It's helped us build an infrastructure for biodiesel and biofuels that we can build on in the future. But I think that what we've got to be looking at are efforts using cellulosic ethanol, switchgrass, wood chips, nonfood approaches, and what we've got to do is help farmers to figure out how can they make some money using stuff that is not being used right now as opposed to the only way that they can make money...is with corn-based ethanol that not only it has some limits in terms of energy efficiency, but also consumes an awful lot of water.

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LICATA: Do you hunt and fish? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: You know, when you're in the South Side of Chicago, there's not too much-too many opportunities for hunting and fishing. When I was a kid, I grew up in Hawaii, and so I would go fishing with my grandfather. And when I got older, actually, we did spearfishing there, which was sort of a combination of hunting and fishing. You know, we would snorkel. I didn't scuba dive at the time, but I would snorkel and [use a] spear gun. And some of my best memories are going down there with friends of mine. In Illinois, I haven't gone hunting and fishing.

LICATA: What do you like to do outside? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: I am a big hiker. I love going off and just getting lost. Not literally, but I tell you, one of the pleasures of being a presidential candidate has been traveling all across the country, and we spent quite a bit of time in Montana recently. And I've got to say that I am absolutely certain that one way or another, after this presidential process is over, whether--because I lose or because I win--and I've got a little vacation time coming, I'm going to learn how to fly fish, because that land is spectacular.

LICATA: Do you have a favorite piece of public land? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: One of my best memories as a child was the first time I went to Yellowstone. You know, I was 11 years old, and I went with my grandmother and my mom and my sister, and t I think pose no threat whatsoever to law-abiding gun owners.

LICATA: You are a big supporter of ethanol to help us with our fuel problems. But the more ethanol production, the fewer lands that farms are putting in the Farm Bill CRP program. You also support giving increased money for farmers to put land in that program. How do you reconcile those two things? How do we both preserve the habitat and produce ethanol?
SENATOR OBAMA: The CRP, I think, is critically important. And you're right. I was glad to see increased emphasis on that in the Farm Bill. It didn't go as far as I'd like to see it go. I think that corn-based ethanol is a transitional technology. It's helped us build an infrastructure for biodiesel and biofuels that we can build on in the future. But I think that what we've got to be looking at are efforts using cellulosic ethanol, switchgrass, wood chips, nonfood approaches, and what we've got to do is help farmers to figure out how can they make some money using stuff that is not being used right now as opposed to the only way that they can make money...is with corn-based ethanol that not only it has some limits in terms of energy efficiency, but also consumes an awful lot of water.

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LICATA: Do you hunt and fish? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: You know, when you're in the South Side of Chicago, there's not too much-too many opportunities for hunting and fishing. When I was a kid, I grew up in Hawaii, and so I would go fishing with my grandfather. And when I got older, actually, we did spearfishing there, which was sort of a combination of hunting and fishing. You know, we would snorkel. I didn't scuba dive at the time, but I would snorkel and [use a] spear gun. And some of my best memories are going down there with friends of mine. In Illinois, I haven't gone hunting and fishing.

LICATA: What do you like to do outside? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: I am a big hiker. I love going off and just getting lost. Not literally, but I tell you, one of the pleasures of being a presidential candidate has been traveling all across the country, and we spent quite a bit of time in Montana recently. And I've got to say that I am absolutely certain that one way or another, after this presidential process is over, whether--because I lose or because I win--and I've got a little vacation time coming, I'm going to learn how to fly fish, because that land is spectacular.

LICATA: Do you have a favorite piece of public land? **
SENATOR OBAMA**: One of my best memories as a child was the first time I went to Yellowstone. You know, I was 11 years old, and I went with my grandmother and my mom and my sister, and