Presidential campaigns meet the outdoor press in Colorado
Fort Collins, Colo. — Representatives from the presidential campaigns of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump took questions about guns, public lands, and other natural resource issues last week at the Hilton Fort Collins hotel.
Two avid outdoorsmen, Donald Trump Jr., speaking on behalf of his father’s campaign, and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., representing the campaign of Hillary Clinton, separately addressed more than a dozen outdoors and environmental writers from around the country.
The writers had convened for host organization Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s 14th annual three-day Western Media Summit. Mike Toth, special projects editor for Field and Stream magazine, moderated the forums, asking pointed questions of the candidates, then taking additional queries from other media on hand.
Donald Trump Jr.
The father of five children, Trump Jr., 38, said he learned about hunting and fishing as a boy from his maternal grandfather: “Hunting and fishing is my lifestyle, it’s what I do. I haven’t spent a weekend in New York City in 10 years.”
His dad, Donald Trump Sr., told Outdoor Life and Field and Stream magazines at the annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas last winter that he would oppose selling off the nation’s federal lands. Since then, however, representatives of his campaign have suggested that selling public assets could help balance the budget. Toth and other media representatives pushed hard on the topic with candidate’s son.
Trump Jr. reiterated that his father doesn’t support public lands transfer to the states, a position he noted that diverged from other leading Republican candidates during the GOP primary process. The campaign does believe that states could have a bigger management role, however, Trump Jr. said.
“This is where we’ve probably broken away from a lot of the traditional conservative dogma on the issue, in that we do want federal lands to remain federal. That’s not to say that the states shouldn’t have a larger role perhaps in managing some of those lands. I think, you know, their scientists are there, they’re on the ground, they understand those issues, I think, certainly better than a lot of bureaucrats in D.C.”
He absolutely opposes states taking the land “so two minutes later they can sell and handle a deficit. One day it’s public, the next day it’s the state’s, and the next day it’s sold off and inaccessible. That can’t work.”
On the issue of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund only receiving its maximum funding twice in 50 years, Trump Jr. said the program would be a priority for his father.
“I think it’s important and we need to convince others it’s important. My dad can be a pretty convincing guy. He’ll lean on me. I can be a loud voice in his ear on this issue.”
Outdoor News asked whether he wants to be Secretary of the Interior in a Trump administration:
“That was brought up at holidays,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t know that I’m qualified. But I think I can speak for a lot of people not always represented…. I would be a very loud voice and advisor and help set a great precedent for this country on these (outdoor) issues.”
On the Clean Water Act and state efforts to overturn the federal rule, Trump Jr. called wetlands “a big priority” but also noted that too many groups use laws like the Clean Water Act for lawsuits to “prevent anything from happening.”
“They spend billions in frivolous litigation and that money could go to conservation,” he said. “We strongly believe in clean water but we can do it in a way that allows national progress, so we’re not constantly fighting legal battles.”
Trump Jr. called the Endangered Species Act “an important law” that he doesn’t think should be dismantled, but he also called it a Trojan horse for people and groups “pushing their agendas.” He cited the lengthy delisting process and accompanying litigation with Great Lakes wolves as an example.
He responded to several questions from Toth, including climate change, as “complex” but drew a hard line on a couple of topics, including guns. An owner of AR-platform rifles, he and the campaign oppose any attempts to ban them. And the so-called no-fly, no-buy effort is a non-starter, too, at least partially because of civil liberties concerns. “No one talks about the people on the terrorist watch list who shouldn’t be there. We need common sense and due process.”
He was dubious about climate change being caused by people and industry. That has “yet to be shown to me,” he said. That said, Trump Jr. didn’t rule out carbon mitigation efforts, but added, “We need the whole world to play ball.”
A Vietnam veteran and eight-term congressman from California’s 5th District, Rep. Mike Thompson is a member and former co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. Thompson, 65, described growing up duck hunting in what’s now northern California wine country, and said he is actively advising the Clinton campaign on outdoor issues.
On public lands, Thompson said his candidate’s record and campaign position on maintaining federal ownership and access has been consistent and unwavering.
“[Clinton] doesn’t believe we should be selling public land. She’s been very straightforward about that. She gets it. She understands that not only is it important for people who hunt and fish and hike and recreate in the outdoors to have those public lands to do that, but it’s important to everything else that we care about. It’s important to clean air and clean water. It’s important to our economy,” he said.
Thompson said the Clinton campaign would like to double potential expenditures from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to $1.8 billion. (The current cap is $900 million, and Congress has only appropriated the maximum twice in the LWCF’s history. Conservationists were happy with the $450 million the fund received in the latest federal budget cycle.)
“She (Clinton) understands the value of the LWCF for access and to maintain lands we already have,” Thompson said.
He acknowledged that Clinton is not a hunter but commended her for not pretending to be an outdoorswoman via dubious photos ops afield.
“I don’t think it should matter that she is not a hunter,” he said. “Hillary Clinton still supports this community. She would not have sent me here if she didn’t.”
Thompson defended the compromise that prevented sage grouse listing on the Endangered Species Act and called on Congress to fund the plan.
The most pointed questions from media toward Thompson focused on Clinton’s stance on gun issues. He described himself as more pro-gun than Clinton, but called her a Second Amendment supporter. She supports a background check on all commercial sales (closing the so-called gun show loophole) and preventing anyone on the terror no-fly list from purchasing firearms.
He called Clinton a longtime supporter of the Clean Water Act and cited loss of moose in Maine (because of ticks and the spread of tree-killing pine beetles in the American West) as reasons for pursuing climate-change legislation.
At the end of both interviews, TRCP CEO Whit Fosburgh presented Trump and Thompson with stacks of 28,000 signatures that his organization had collected via a petition at sportsmensaccess.org. The petition requests that state and national decision-makers pledge their support for “America’s public lands legacy and oppose efforts to transfer federal public lands to individual states.”
Trump Jr. joined Fosburgh for a day of trout fishing last Wednesday, June 22, on the Poudre River of northern Colorado. He then participated in the evening dinner with summit attendees and listened to a session presented by Lori Weigel, of Public Opinion Strategies, a Washington DC and Denver-based polling firm. Her presentation focused on the trends shaping attitudes in the West (and around the country) on natural resources management and conservation.
Weigel’s data showed strong support for public lands across the country. One slide showed that 78 percent of national respondents said they had used federal public lands in the past year. That figure was 93 percent for respondents from the Interior West.