Hunters, anglers advocate for wildlife in election | AspenTimes.com

Hunters, anglers advocate for wildlife in election

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” The nation’s hunters and anglers, a big chunk of them Republicans or independents, are up for grabs this November because they want to hear what the candidates will do about climate change, open lands and water quality, says Larry Schweiger of the National Wildlife Federation.

Sportsmen care about more than guns, Schweiger said at a National Wildlife Federation Action Fund reception this week. The group is the political arm of the nonpartisan National Wildlife Federation.

“It’s popular to paint all sportsmen with the same brush and think we’re all beer-swilling nuts on guns,” said Tony Dean, host of regional TV and radio outdoor shows that air in the upper Midwest.

Dean, a self-described “Theodore Roosevelt Republican” from Pierre, S.D., said his vote depends on which party and candidate targets climate change. After all, he said, sportsmen see its effects on the ground, in the air and in the water.

“Two species most apt to suffer from increasing temperatures are trout and salmon,” Dean said, “and here we are in the heart of some of the best fly fishing country on the face of the earth.”

Dean, who lives on the Missouri River, said huntable populations of ducks and Canada geese used to show up by October. The past few years, significant numbers of birds don’t flock in until the end of January. He said the ice on Devil’s Lake in North Dakota isn’t firm enough for ice fishing until late January; the season used to start around Thanksgiving.

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“Sportsmen see the destruction of our public lands from the dependency on fossil fuels, the (oil and gas) drilling and other development occurring across American public lands,” Schweiger said. “Sportsmen know that if wildlife are on the front lines, they have to be on the front lines, too.”

More than 700 hunting and fishing groups from every state have signed on to a campaign asking Congress to protect wildlife by addressing climate change, he said.

State Sen. Josh Penry, a Republican from western Colorado, helped announce the formation of a “Colorado Sportsmen for McCain” coalition this week. He said in a press release from the John McCain campaign that McCain understands hunting and fishing are essential components of Colorado’s heritage and that “the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is a basic, individual constitutional right that we have a sacred duty to protect.”

Protection of gun rights has been an important issue to hunters and anglers, but groups such as Trout Unlimited and individual sportsmen also started talking in the 2004 election about preserving open spaces and public lands. Campaigning in 2006, Bill Ritter, now Colorado’s Democratic governor, courted the so-called “hook and bullet” vote by playing up both his hunting and fishing experience and concerns about conservation.

Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain say they would pursue mandatory pollution reductions to reduce carbon emissions. Obama has come under attack from the National Rifle Association, but his campaign says support of “sensible” gun control wouldn’t interfere with hunters.

This election, Schweiger said, sportsmen are more frustrated with federal environmental and energy policies.

“We’ve had a total of eight years of a runaway energy strategy that’s really damaged the West,” Schweiger said. “Overlay that with the dieback of the forests here in Colorado with the pine bark beetle. Hunter and anglers see that and the earlier snowmelts.”

Bark beetles have killed about 1.5 million acres of Colorado’s lodgepole pines. Drought and the lack of frigid weather that would kill the insects are believed to be contributing to the epidemic.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., said protecting the right to bear arms is important ” but so is safeguarding wildlife.

“These have not been a good eight years and they have not been a time where there has been good protection of our waters,” said Dingell, once a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park northwest of Denver. “We’ve got a huge challenge in front of us.”

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