Conservation community: Second Amendment-only voters threaten hunting opportunities

Gros Ventre River

Bureau of Land Management specialist Scott Fluer hunts with two of his wild horses on the Gros Ventre River. For the sake of their sport, Wyoming’s hunting community typically supports gun rights as well environmental protections, but the two platforms are not often shared by the same candidate. (Courtesy of Scott Fluer — click to enlarge)

By Dustin Bleizeffer

Whether it’s birding, hiking, hunting or fishing, America’s love for the outdoors brings together people from all political views. While they may clash on many issues, most do agree on one thing; conservation of wildlife and wild places is vital.

When you ask sportsmen about conservation, many will tell you that it’s downright American. The Nature Conservancy commissioned a survey of 800 registered voters earlier this year and found 82 percent agreed that conservation of America’s natural resources is “patriotic.”

Gun advocates made gains under Obama, but still factor into election

Related Story: Gun advocates made gains under Obama, but still factor into election

“We continue to see that voters overwhelmingly reject the idea that protecting land and water is at odds with a strong economy,” said Christy Plumer, director of federal land programs at The Nature Conservancy.

The sporting economy that Plumer alludes is a major contributor to the estimated $2.9 billion in tourism and travel revenue that flows into Wyoming’s economy each year. Nationwide, spending on all outdoor recreation totals $646 billion annually and supports 6.1 American jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s “The Outdoor Recreation Economy” study.

Yet the full force of that conservation consensus among sportsmen rarely comes together behind any single issue or election. A steadfast support of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, for example, often splits the sporting community with many choosing to cast their vote solely on the basis of which candidate they believe will best preserve or advance gun rights.

But the pro-gun candidate isn’t always the best on preserving wildlife, public lands access and other conservation matters important to the outdoor recreation community.

“I would agree with that,” said David Manzer, organizer for Friends of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Wyoming chapter. Manzer said the NRA endorses candidates based on gun rights, and it doesn’t tend to factor in many other considerations beyond that. (Click here to see how the NRA has graded candidates in Wyoming’s general election.)

Yet it is a discussion in the sportsmen’s community. Robert A. Wharff, executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said some sportsmen are conflicted over conservation and supporting strong Second Amendment candidates.

“The two really go hand in hand. Gun rights are important. But it does you no good to have a gun if there is nothing to hunt. On the other hand, it doesn’t do you any good to have all kinds of wildlife if you don’t have a gun to hunt with.”

Budget cuts

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), said sportsmen ought to carefully consider whether gun rights are a larger determining factor for their vote than conservation. It’s especially important this election because many conservation programs and causes are on the budget chopping block, and many worry that the Congressional Budget Committee is filled with more budget-cutting proponents than conservationists.

Farm Bill

Pronghorn range across a mountainside. Paul Ryan’s 2012 version of the congressional budget bill called for large cuts in the Farm Bill, which was largely based on compromises between conservationists and the agriculture industry over land use. (Wikimedia — click to enlarge)

Both the 2011 and 2012 versions of the House Budget Bill — also dubbed the Ryan Budget, named after House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Gov. Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate — called for sweeping across-the-board cuts, including in the Farm Bill in which sportsmen and the agriculture community had come together on many conservation efforts.

Thirty years ago, conservation funding made up about 2.5 percent of the nation’s budget. Today, it accounts for about 1.2 percent of the budget. Yet there are more stresses on America’s public lands than ever. Conservation funding falls under the “discretionary” portion of the budget, and that means it’s prone to budget cutting efforts.

“If you eliminated every single conservation program in the country, it would do almost nothing to balance the federal budget, but it would cripple an outdoor economy worth about $646 billion every year that supports more than 6 million jobs,” Fosburgh told WyoFile. “The bottom line is that if the proposed budget cuts fall disproportionately on discretionary spending, conservation is apt to be severely impacted.”

Many candidates say they support opening public lands to full-scale energy development — primarily for oil and natural gas, but also for renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy projects. This stance has some conservationists concerned. Even the 1,000-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in south-central Wyoming — one of President Barack Obama’s fast-tracked renewable energy projects — has riled some wildlife advocates. In Wyoming, energy development has had measurable negative effects on wildlife, including a serious decline among deer near the Pinedale Anticline natural gas complex.

Yet even some professional outfitters in Wyoming, who rely on healthy habitat and wildlife, say a strong energy industry is one of the most important considerations for their business.

“We don’t book hunters if they don’t have money,” said Jesse Rodenbough, with 4U Outfitters in Moran. Rodenbough, who stocked up on ammunition after President Obama was elected in 2008, said he is aware of energy development implications on the land. There is potential energy development near where he lives and works, but so far development in the state has been done responsibly and fairly, he said. The trade-offs are worth the benefits it brings to the state and, in Rodenbough’s view, there is still plenty of protected public land for recreation.

Fosburgh said he’s an ardent Second Amendment advocate, and he doesn’t view President Obama as a threat to gun rights (read related story). While the Second Amendment is a relative non-issue in this election, according to Fosburgh, conservation and public lands access are absolutely on the line.

“I don’t begrudge anybody for voting on (elections) on the Second Amendment basis. But I have an issue with people who only look at it from that point of view,” said Fosburgh. “So ask your candidate some simple questions in addition to where he or she stands on gun rights. Will you stand up for conservation funding? Will you roll back conservation laws in order to expand oil and gas development onto sensitive fish and wildlife habitats on our public lands? … Will you support full funding for the Voluntary Public Access program of the Farm Bill, which has opened up hunting and fishing opportunities on almost 3 million acres of private lands?”

Wyoming Range Legacy Act

As oil and gas drilling took hold in Wyoming’s basin areas during the past 15 years, the industry began buying up leases in and around surrounding foothills and mountain areas, including the Wyoming Range — favorite sporting grounds for locals and out-of-state sportsmen alike. When it became apparent that full-scale energy development was hurting wildlife populations (in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas fields, for example), sportsmen quickly came together as the driving force behind what would become the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which halted further oil and gas leasing in the area.

 National Elk Refuge

The Wyoming AFL-CIO has recently gotten involved in conservation efforts with the formation of a new group, the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen, to protect areas vital to hunting and fishing in Wyoming. (Wikimedia — click to enlarge)

A subsequent effort helped convince Plains Exploration and Production Co. (PXP) to sell its federal oil and gas leases that were grandfathered under the law.

“The Wyoming Range was the dagger. When we got (the opportunity for) the Legacy Act we jumped onboard,” said Kim Floyd, president of the Wyoming AFL-CIO, and an avid hunter.

The Wyoming AFL-CIO, which represents some 18,000 blue-collar workers in Wyoming, recently announced the formation of the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen. A recent Wyoming AFL-CIO press release stated, “The Wyoming State AFL-CIO — with over 18,000 members — decided to get more involved in issues related to wildlife, habitat, access to public lands, conservation and the many forms of recreation that their membership enjoys.”

Floyd said he and others are not satisfied with leaving the task of protecting hunting opportunities to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, suggesting the agency hasn’t taken a strong enough stance on the issues. Floyd also said he’s not a fan of the NRA because, as he sees it, the organization’s singular goal is to get people to vote Republican. And that mindset is counter to the careful consideration needed on public lands issues.

“I’ve got over 5,000 members who recreate on the Wyoming Range,” Floyd told WyoFile in a recent interview. Floyd said many of the AFL-CIO members are workers who say they could make more money by moving to another state, but they remain in Wyoming for the outdoors opportunities. “This whole issue about the NRA, and how they endorse and divide, has driven me crazy for years.”

“They (NRA) get people to vote their guns because it is a hot issue, and they don’t vote their pocketbook,” Floyd continued. “If you don’t have anywhere to go and use (guns), then we all lose.”

Craig Smith of Triple Three Outfitters near Buffalo sees additional oil and gas development as key to getting people back to work and then back to spending money on hunting guides. He is supportive of oil and gas development, if it is done “properly,” he said. So far he believes development in the state has been in balance with sportsmen’s interests.

“The biggest thing is getting people back to work; then they can afford to come and hunt with us,” he said. “I think everyone is aware that Democrats are for more gun laws. … We have enough gun laws on the books right now if we just enforce the gun laws we have.”

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. Reach him at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer. WyoFile reporters Gregory Nickerson and Kelsey Dayton contributed to this report.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

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Published on October 30, 2012

  • DeweyV

    I still cannot come close to buying into those figures about the economic impact of outdoors/ conservation / hunting and fishing. They seem incredibly inflated to me. I hope they aren’t using the Chamber of Commerce math book that says each dollar inserted into a local economy is spent seven more times. That’s simply not true. But the myth persists.

    If I were sponsoring a Liar’s Contest and pari-mutuel bets were being placed on who would win it , I would be hard pressed to hedge against a big game hunting outfitter, the tourism advocate, the local newspaper business opinionator, or the state-funded Economist whose job depends on his eternally sunny fungible analyses….

  • Alex Russell

    Socialist, communist, union man, all names used by narrow out-of-state special interests to tempt gullible sportsman into voting against their interests. These outfitters here don’t know an elk from a grouse and couldn’t hit the inside of a barn with a shotgun. They are pawns of the oil and gas industry paid to sell out their fellow hunter. They don’t give a rip if all winter range was paved over the tomorrow. All these so-called outfitters care about is getting another welfare check from the Koch brothers for turning hunters against each other. Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife? Just look what they’ve done in Utah, bribing Utah FG to give them hundreds of resident elk tags so they can auction them off to the highest bidder and build more pathetic high-fence canned-hunt operations. These guys idea of a trophy hunt is shooting an elk when its got its head in a grain bucket. Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife is the number one threat to hunting today.

  • Bob Wharff

    The quote I provided was directed at conservation, not the 2nd amendment. If we ever have to chose between one or the other, I would definitely side with the 2nd amendment. As several posters have already pointed out, the purpose of the 2nd amendment is much more than simply providing for recreational opportunities. Furthermore, those that are willing to justify increased firearms regulations are still pushing their own agenda. Some may be foolish enough to believe that they will support firearms for hunting; I believe, they are only trying to chip away at the 2nd amendment and eventually they would take away all private ownership.
    Putting the discussion back on the topic which was presented to me; Conservation for the purpose of conservation alone will not work either. That was the point of my comment. The hunters I know are frustrated with the current movement to re-introduce large carnivores into new areas in an attempt to supplant hunters and the role we have played as conservationists. Conservation in and of itself is not bad; however, as this articles implies, it can be weaponized and used by others to obtain their own agenda. WY SFW has chosen to support multiple use of our public lands. We believe there is a vast difference between Conservation & Preservation. In the end though, it is imperative that me, as a people, remain engaged in the many processes and that we are educated enough to know that almost everything is driven by an agenda.

  • Mary Flitner

    I believe the author of this piece tries to pull the various issues into one – they are quite un-related on many scales – over-simplifcation and broad generalization doesn’t really give credit to any of the topics – energy development, second amendment rights, conservation, hunting – not to mention multiple use on public lands…you just can’t wrap this all in one package.

  • John Garrett

    WyoFile is nothing more than a web apparatchik of the socialist wing of the democrat party, once you understand that these kinds of articles are easy to understand.

    First – The 2nd Amendment is the physical guarantor of the U.S. Constitution. It isn’t about hunting.

    Second – We need to cut the hell out of the federal budget but fat cat democrats and their crony capitalist friends hate that idea. Does the following boiler plate look familiar? ‘If you eliminated every single in the country, it would do almost nothing to balance the federal budget.’ Yep, that what they always say and that’s how we got 16 TRILLION $$$$ in debt.

    Third – The democrats are are out of ideas that create jobs, all they can do now is buy votes with government programs which we borrow 40% to sustain. The kicker is they borrow the money and they expect the kids to pay, that’s disgusting; and so is this transparent attempt to strip the citizenry of their constitutional rights by clothing statist anti 2nd Amendment strategy in the guise of ‘hunting opportunities’.

    Lastly – This is Wyoming, we’ve seen this kind of B.S. a thousand times before and nobody who really cares about this state is buying it.

    Go Pokes!

  • Keith Garoutte

    Spencer60 is absolutely correct. Our 2nd Amendment rights are not about hunting.
    It is about the people’s right to protect themselves from a tyrannical, corrupt government and protection of their families, homes and property. Our founders realized how corrupt politicians become. Hunting is a separate issue. It needs to be protected and that goes hand in hand with the philosophy articulated here.

    Think about this: if the terminology “assault rifle” had existed in our own revolution then all of the long guns that were rifled would have fit that description. Which raises the question of why should a citizen be denied access to the same weapons as those in power? Any denial of rights is the same as taxation. Once imposed, never repealed.

  • http://www.wyofile.com Dustin Bleizeffer

    Dewey, you’re right. The figure regarding outdoor sporting revenue needed some explanation. I’ve clarified that line of the story. According to the May 2012 “Wyoming Travel Impacts” study commissioned by Wyoming Travel and Tourism, travel spending in Wyoming totaled $2.9 billion in 2011. Outdoor sporting (hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, etc.) is a portion of that. Exactly how much, I’m not certain. But I will track that figure and share it. In the meantime, there is this case study (http://sfred.org/images/uploads/pdf/Cody_Full_Report.pdf) that suggests 10 percent of all jobs in Cody are directly related to hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing, bringing in an estimated $30.1 million annually — just in the Cody area alone. — Dustin Bleizeffer

  • James

    Dustin, The words “hunting” and “sports” are not in the 2nd amendment. You sir, are trying to muddy the waters.

  • Teapot

    gun worship and gun idolatry are not compatible with responsible citizenship. It is an insult to responsible sportsmen and women who grew up with rifles and shotguns as tools. As Dustin Bleizeffer points out accurately in this article, when you vote entirely on the basis of NRA ratings you risk electing people whose agenda includes the elimination of any wildlife management or regulation. Of course, not everyone with a positive NRA rating is a troglodyte. Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana was endorsed by the NRA but also built a strong wildlife and environmental record in his state. But too often the NRA endorsees bring ultra right wing agendas along with them. Be wary when you vote. An NRA endorsement should not eliminate a candidate from your consideration but neither should it be an instant stamp of approval.

  • DeweyV

    The ‘ sporting economy ‘ injects $ 2.8 BILLION into the Wyoming economy , second only to energy and minerals ?!?!?!

    Where did that number come from ? It’s unattributed by the author. Anecdotally I see otherwise. Hunting used to be like a second Tourist Season here in Cody…take a week off after Labor Day , then here comes the 12-week wave of camo and orange rifle tourists. But not these days… you rarely see an abundance of hunters and horse trailers these days in Sept-Oct-Nov. I used to manage the front gate of the huge Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse and permitted over 450 deer and antelope hunters to have access in a season . These days ? Dozens, maybe.

    I guess it comes down to how you define that ” sporting economy ” . ATV sales ? Wolf tours ??

    I also don’t give much weight to the argument by Wharff/SFW that gun rights and hunting opportunity are joined at the hip . Look to Canada : handguns banned and largely reviled , but long guns are acceptable, licensed, regulated, because of the strong hunting tradition. We can do that.

    Trying to tie a strong commercial outfitting industry to a robust oil, gas, and coal industry is also a stretch, but I am not one who favors commercially-driven hunting at all. It’s an anachronism.

  • John Daly

    There is not necessarily a correlation between game populations and the oil and gas development. Mule Deer numbers were down all over the state. There are other independent intervening events. Disease, predators (wolves), weather, too many public land users, population cycles. Each on of those events can contribute or even lead the causation. Be very careful with the logic involved.

    Private landowners also have a right to limit access across their property. This has served to protect game populations in many cases. That property right is as important as many of the other rights. The public land management folks have not acted to limit public access numbers where is it warranted. I would cite the Bud Love Unit on the Big Horns as an example. Additionally the roadless declarations have denied many of the handicapped and elderly access to public lands. This whole area is problematic and no one solution is correct for all areas of public land. Each tract and area is unique. The solution for the Bridger National Forest is not the same as for 40 acres in the Powder River Breaks.

  • Spencer60

    This article is starting with a flawed premise, that the Second Amendment was written to protect the right to hunt.

    While it’s true that hunting is probably most Americans typical use for firearms, it has to take a back seat to overall firearms rights.

    The gun control lobby has targeted hunters for too long, judging them apathetic to the overall firearms-rights battle.

    Their promises to ‘leave hunting alone’ and to only go after ‘bad guns’ is a siren call to far too many sportsmen out there.

    To anyone who believes this, try taking a scoped, bolt-action rifle to hunt in Australia or S. Africa.

    You can’t.

    They are are called ‘sniper rifles’ and are banned to anyone but police or military. Sound familiar?

    As Ben Franklin wisely said, “We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

    Supporting firearms rights and conservation isn’t an either-or battle. My guess is that any candidate who is a hunter would at least be educable on both topics.

    If you can’t find someone to support both ideals, run for office yourself. After all, that is the true American Way to change something you don’t like.

    The gun control industry’s tactics of throwing other firearms owners ‘under the bus’ most certainly is not.

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