‘Hook and bullet’ clubs shooting themselves in the foot

Colorado Springs Gazette

In an alliance of odd bedfellows, hunting and angling clubs are joining forces with their natural enemies, environmental groups, in a bid to preserve their happy hunting grounds across the United States. Both groups are lining up behind a Clinton-era plan to create 60 million acres of “roadless” areas in national forests, as this 6-year-old battle shifts to the states.

And unless typical Americans stand up and demand the continuation of the multiple use rules that long guided national forest policy, they may soon find their access to public lands severely limited, as these areas become the exclusive playgrounds of ecological or recreational elitists who aren’t willing to share.

This debate is only nominally about roads: it’s actually about who will have access to 60 million acres (or about a third) of national forests, and whether these lands will continue to be managed for multiple uses, balancing ecological, aesthetic and economic goals. That’s why this battle has implications for all Americans.

I don’t do much hunting or fishing, but I don’t mind sharing the national forests with those who do. I have a live-and-let-live attitude, believing that there’s plenty of room for everybody. But watching hook and bullet clubs joining forces with gang green to support a roadless rule designed to severely limit the people’s access to “public” lands has me seeing these clubs in a different light.

It seems some hunters and anglers have become just another myopic special interest, which sees the roadless plan as an opportunity to turn federal forests into private game preserves. Public access should be limited, they argue, so there will be larger deer and elk to hunt, and more serene trout streams to fish.

It’s a selfish, short-sighted attitude that could easily boomerang on these groups – since the same arguments and tactics greens have used to exclude loggers, miners, ranchers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts from national forests can easily be used to roll up the welcome mat on hunters and fishers. Their eviction notice could be next if they embrace the exclusionist impulse behind the roadless plan.

The battle between environmentalists and resource industries has been raging for decades in the West. My scorecard still has environmentalists winning far more than they lose, but a stalemate generally prevails after years of legal and political combat. Now comes the roadless battle, which began during the Clinton administration but shifted to the states after federal courts and the Bush administration tossed out Clinton’s rule and handed this hot potato to governors.

Hunting and fishing clubs, because they are perceived as more moderate and mainstream than green groups, may have enough clout with Western governors be tip the balance in favor of the exclusionists. But that would ultimately harm them, as much as it would the West.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is leading the push for states to adopt Clinton’s roadless plan. “Hunters and anglers are very concerned about roadless areas,” Tom St. Hilaire, the partnership’s national campaigns director, said recently. “We want to see these places protected and made accessible for hunting and fishing.”

But exclusivity, not accessibility, is really the goal, since hunters and anglers already have access to most federal lands. They want to do their thing in splendid isolation, without having to cross paths with other people or share their playground with resource industries.

Greens back roadless areas because they want to evict “extractive industries” from public lands. But hunting and fishing are also “extractive industries,” anathema to those who worship nature and oppose human meddling in the wild. As well organized as the hook and bullet clubs are, they are no match, in terms of lobbying clout, for the big environmental groups – many of which would just as soon see hunters and anglers thrown out of the forests. In such a power struggle, hunters and sport fishermen will come out second best.

I don’t mind sharing public forests with rod and rifle types, as mentioned. But I know plenty of Americans who do – people who see hunters as camouflage-wearing yahoos bent on blowing away Bambi. An increasingly urbanized, Disneyfied America is indifferent, if not hostile, to hunters and fishers. And if access to public lands isn’t upheld for all Americans, and the roadless concept stuffed back in the sleeping bag, it will be the hunters and sport fishermen who next find themselves in the exclusionist’s cross hairs.

What goes around comes around, after all.


Sean Paige is editorial page editor at The Colorado Springs Gazette. Readers may write to him at The Gazette, P.O. Box 1779, Colorado

Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved.