F&S Exclusive: John Edwards Interview

Yesterday's heavy and heated response to Presidential Candidate John Edwards' proposed "Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" prompted us to call the North Carolina Senator and discuss the details. F&S Associate Editor, Brian McClintock, asked Edwards about some of his policy points, how he enjoys the outdoors, and what he thinks about gun ownership.

Field & Stream: Why is the "Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" is important to you and to American hunters and anglers?

John Edwards: I grew up in rural America, and it's a huge part of who I am. I want to ensure that hunters and fishermen's rights are being watched over and protected. I think it's important for the country because we have a lot of outdoorsmen who care about having access to land, being able to hunt and fish, having clean water, and to just be able to enjoy the outdoors. I think it's important for America, and I think it's important for people who hunt and fish.

F&S: What do you think is the single largest threat to hunting and fishing?

JE: I think there are two. One is having access to lands to hunt and fish on, and ensuring that those lands are available. Secondly, to protect and preserve the land and water so that it continues to be available for generations to come

F&S: You say you hunted as a boy, what outdoor activities do you currently participate in?

JE: Oh, I still love to fish. I don't hunt anymore, but I haven't hunted since I was a young boy. I've basically fished all my life -- both saltwater and freshwater, but I probably do more freshwater fishing. I love spending time in the woods. I live on a big piece of land, and we have a great opportunity to spend time out in the woods, myself, my wife, my kids. We enjoy the outdoors, we love them.

F&S: How do you plan on protecting gun rights and promoting gun safety?

JE: I think, first and foremost, that we need a president who actually believes in the Second Amendment and in the individual right to own firearms. And, the importance in that, both for hunting and for protection, and I do. I think part of it is the way of life that I grew up with, and the culture of which I grew up in. It's been with me my entire life.

I think there are some reasonable things that we can do to make sure we keep guns out of the hands of people like that young man who did the killings at Virginia Tech. I think we can fill in some holes that exist in the system today. I haven’t met a hunter yet who needed an AK-47 to hunt, but I think we need to be very careful to make sure that the second amendment rights are protected.

F&S: What are some of those holes?

JE: I think we can use the Virginia Tech shootings as instructions. It was a young man who had obvious and identified mental and emotional problems. It was well documented in court records, but because we haven't done an effective job of filling the gaps in our national system, he didn't get identified when he went to buy a gun. That's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. Making sure the public's protected from people who have serious criminal records and people who have serious emotional and mental problems from having guns.

F&S: How do you hope to preserve Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land with many farmers looking to take advantage of the high corn prices by turning their CRP fields into cornfields?

JE: Well, first of all, I don't want to get too far out there because this is largely done through the Farm Bill, and I want to see what actually comes out of that. My position is pretty simple. I support the CRP to make sure that farmers and land owners make the steps necessary to preserve their land. My experience with farmers in North Carolina and in Iowa and in other places in the country is that most family farmers are both responsive and responsible to conservation efforts because their land has been in their families for years. They care about ensuring that the land is, in fact, preserved and that conservation efforts are undertaken.

I think the role of public policy in this is to make sure that, through the Farm Bill, this program receives the support it deserves.

F&S: How do you plan to balance the Roadless Rule with maintaining access to land?

JE: President Clinton was a big supporter of the Roadless Rule, and George Bush reversed it. Basically, what I want to go back to is the form in which the rule existed when the Clinton Administration went out of office. The idea is to preserve these lands and meet our environmental responsibility.

F&S: How are you hoping the Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities is used in the future?

JE: Some of these things are very specific, and will require laws to be changed or be passed. For example, the Open Fields Program provides federal funding to encourage private landowners to allow people to hunt and fish on their lands. The public access camps give people more voice in local land management. For those things that require changes to the law, I will make proposals to congress to make changes.

Taking steps to necessary to enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA) is more administrative because the CWA already exits. It’s just a matter of making sure we cut down on mercury pollution based on what science says can be done. The Second Amendment exists. We just need a president who recognizes that it exists. And we need a president that will make sure that the Bureau of Land Management is actually looking out for the public’s interest in public land. Some of these points have to do with the way you administer responsibilities that the president and administration already have, and some have to do with changes in the law and funding.