The mid-term elections may well have served as a primer on how America’s sportsmen can best preserve protections for public lands and waters—the engines that have long enabled us to have the best and most accessible outdoors sports in the western world.
If you only read the political analysis of those election results, there seems plenty of reason to be afraid. Some of the loudest voices now in control of Congress have opposed many of the national programs that sportsmen’s conservation groups support. This includes reestablishing wetlands protections stripped from the Clean Water Act; the Roadless Rule and wilderness designations; energy development policies that give fish, wildlife, and outdoors sports equal footing with oil and gas company profits; Clean Air regulations to reduce carbon pollution; reform of mining regulations that allow bad ideas like mountain top removal in the Appalachians and the Pebble Mine in Alaska; and the sale of public lands to states and/or private companies—a move that could wipe out public-land hunting and fishing as we’ve known it for a century. And that’s just a partial list.
But any claims that the election was a public mandate to support those anti-conservation measures is wrong.
Here’s why: In state and local ballot initiatives where conservation was an issue, conservation usually won.
Anyone who follows these issues should not be surprised. For years, statistically valid public opinion polls have shown that Americans, by large margins, favor tighter protections for public lands, clean water, and clean air. These results cross party lines. Yet, time and again, the congressmen representing these people vote against their constituents’ wishes. That isn’t just my opinion. Recent research here and here has shown that votes in congress typically run counter to what the public actually wants done. Instead, these scholars conclude, congressmen vote for the wealthy interests that paid for their elections. And those interests often oppose what sportsmen need to protect fish, wildlife, land and water.
What does that say to sportsmen’s conservation groups?
Based on their campaign statements—and some of their post-election threats—the incoming Congress may be the most hostile to our issues in recent times. So national sportsmen’s groups clearly have their work cut out rallying the public to defeat the assault expected to come. But they should also increasingly work with groups in states to put these issues on ballot initiatives.
That’s the only time average citizens have an equal voice these days—and they have shown that, in most cases, they will vote with sportsmen.