Hunters across nation prioritize conservation

Lansing — A recent nationwide poll of sportsmen shows the majority view conservation as equally or more important than gun rights, and they strongly support federal protections for wetlands and waterways.

The survey of hunters and anglers, commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation, also emphasizes the need to engage youth in the outdoors and wildlife conservation.

Brenda Archambo, outreach consultant for the National Wildlife Federation in Michigan, said the poll results should send a message to lawmakers that sportsmen and women are interested in more than their right to bear arms.

“Candidates should look at this and realize … they have to dig deeper than that,” Archambo told Michigan Outdoor News, adding that the majority of the 800 hunters and anglers polled strongly support protections in the Clean Water Act, expanding access to public lands, and taking action to confront global warming.

Politically, sportsmen are typically “quite conservative,” Archambo said, “but we also split tickets and vote independent on important issues.”

Key findings showed 47 percent of hunters and anglers polled believe conservation is as important as gun rights, and an additional 13 percent said conservation is more important.

Large percentages also support federal environmental protections, including 82 percent who favor updating mining regulations to clean up abandoned mines, and 79 percent who want to restore Clean Water Act regulations for wetlands and waterways.

Two-thirds of sportsmen questioned “believe we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children’s future,” according to the NWF.

Roughly half of respondents said they would prioritize protecting public land over oil, gas, and coal production.

The biggest consensus, however, involved investing the next generation in the outdoors. Eighty-seven percent of those polled believe children aren’t outdoors enough and that it threatens the future of wildlife conservation in America.

Archambo believes the survey’s findings suggest Michigan’s lawmakers could do more to win over sportsmen voters. While she believes the focus in the Legislature on recruiting and retaining hunters, especially through youth programs, is a positive, “some of the things that have come down is pretty anti-conservation.”

She cited “land cap” legislation that limits the amount of public land the state can own, as well as a proposed bill to tax lands within the nature conservancy.

“I think the overarching message is there are 1.7 million hunters and anglers in Michigan … and the poll talks about how we vote,” Archambo said. “We need the candidates talking about our issues because we’re a large demographic.”

Kent Wood, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, agreed with Archambo’s assessment of Michigan’s legislative priorities.

“There are a number of bills right now that are working on different gun rights things, but you don’t have that parallel with conservation,” Wood said. “You don’t have this big crop of pro-natural resources, pro-conservation legislation that we do for firearms right now.

“I think what’s lacking right now is a connection between conservation and good natural resources policy and good hunting and fishing rights.”

Wood said giving priority to both issues – gun rights and conservation – is necessary to preserve the state’s hunting heritage and the $3.3 billion industry it supports, although partisan politics makes it a challenge.

“In today’s sort of polarized, political party-driven society, it’s one side agrees with some of this stuff and the other side agrees with the other parts of it,” Wood said. “It’s all intertwined, it’s not one thing or another for conservationists and outdoors people … and we’re trying to get our Legislature to realize it’s all intertwined.”

Both Archambo and Wood commended the focus of lawmakers in recent years on expanding opportunities for people who couldn’t easily participate in hunting and fishing in the past.

The concern about getting more youth in the outdoors is “something the Legislature certainly realizes,” Wood said.

“We’ve heard a number of lawmakers talking about that,” he said, citing a recently passed mentor youth hunting program, and new opportunities for disabled and elderly hunters. “There have been some positive things in general to make it easier for people to hunt and fish and get outdoors.”

Michigan Bow Hunters Association President Dean Hall also believes Michigan’s lawmakers are “doing some positive things” to promote hunting and fishing, but parents and mentors also need to do their part to ensure conservation continues to be a priority.

The early youth hunt, youth mentoring program, and a new Hunters Helping Landowners program are providing more opportunities, he said, but his experience as a hunter safety instructor has highlighted other components of the equation that are often overlooked. “Parents and mentors are not engaging kids enough,” he said. “Often, they’ll put (young, new hunters) in a blind a pretty good distance from their own. I think what it all boils down to is not spending the time with the kid, to give them quality time out there in the field.”

Interest in the outdoors is an important component of ensuring future access to public lands, and Hall, like those surveyed, understand what’s at stake.

“That’s a resource that, in time, we could lose and we need to protect it, not just for hunting habitat, but for other activities as well,” he said.

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