Is an outdoors column the place to comment on the recent election?
You bet, but not in the sense of sizing up the winners and the losers. This one serves as a reminder that conservation was put on the back burner during the campaign and as a wake-up call for anyone interested in any aspect of outdoor recreation.
There are serious conservation issues that Congress must deal with soon. The divisive nature of the campaign should not keep hunters and hikers from uniting to promote these issues. This is made difficult because the term "environment" has become a buzz word for so-called "Liberal Tree Huggers."
The National Rifle Association is crowing about the Republican victory on its Web site (www.nra.org) because it ensures that hunters, shooters and gun collectors can expect less pressure on Congress to pass laws that affect them. But that organization still refuses to look beyond the Second Amendment to see that, to be a hunter's friend, it must speak out on habitat issues. If they don't, we'll all have little to hunt.
Conversely, the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) and the League of Conservation Voters (www.lcv.org) seem to believe that the Bush re-election means the End of Conservation is Near!
That is far from the case. But the polarization of these camps makes it difficult for outdoorsmen to speak in one voice so that the administration -- and Congress -- does what we need.
For example, Monday is the deadline for comments on the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Last summer, the Bush administration announced plans to eliminate the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that limits logging and development in 58.5 million acres of national forest lands. The Roadless Rule was adopted in 2001 after two years of public participation that revealed overwhelming support for it.
Check the National Audubon Society site (www.audubon.org) to add your comment electronically.
The Audubon site also notes the Senate next week should act to fund a number of bird conservation programs in the Department of the Interior's budget.
These include the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, State Wildlife Grant programs, Land & Water Conservation Fund, our National Wildlife Refuge System and the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. All are of critical importance to birds and those who are interested in their welfare.
Then there is the so-called "Open Fields Act." That needs co-sponsors if it is to gain traction, say both the Izaak Walton League (one of the earliest, staunchly bipartisan conservation groups) and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. (Their Web sites -- www.iwla.org and www.trcp.org -- have information.) The bill could open up vast acres of privately owned land by paying farmers to set aside some of their land for outdoor recreation.
We should learn about this to see if we find it an attractive measure, then say something to our representatives in Congress.
Like everyone else, I am a walking bundle of contradictions: a person who loves birds -- both as a hunter and a bird watcher; a person who relishes wilderness and quiet human-powered vehicles -- yet loves motor homes, cars and motorcycles.
Most of all I detest political manipulators -- yet believe that politics and politicians hold many keys to the future of outdoor recreation.
So whomever you voted for no longer matters -- nor does "getting them the next time." This IS the next time for conservation. We need to act now, if we want the outdoor life we enjoy to be available to our children and grandchildren.
That's why I like the statement by the National Wildlife Federation. They congratulated the president, and noted that, during the run-up to the election, both he and his cabinet secretaries made commitments and pledges about conservation. They want to work with them to see those pledges are kept. That certainly seems sensible. After all, a house divided cannot stand.