Environmentalists and sportsmen are often cast as enemies, and indeed sometimes their interests do conflict. But they are far more often allies. While it is true that environmentalists tend to come from the same political firmament that produces animal rights activists, and there is a lot of overlap, their goals tend to be different. Most environmental groups know that blindly protecting all animals can harm the environment through over population, and that hunters and fisherman are among the country's most dedicated conservationists. When you take out government money, which makes up the lion's share of conservation projects, hunters and fishermen, through taxes, fees, and dues to such groups as Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, account for the most private money dedicated to conservation.
The Obama administration has an opportunity to win sportsmen over to its side, attracting a constituency that is traditionally republican. Yesterday the Senate passed a huge wilderness conservation bill. By a vote of 73-21, they designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, meaning it cannot be developed in any way: no logging, no mining, no drilling, no housing. ATVs and snowmobiles are prohibited. Hunting, fishing, backpacking, climbing, camping and horseback riding are allowed. Although this sometimes grates on hunters and fishermen who use ATVs to get to their spots, on the whole sportsmen support wilderness legislation because it preserves habitat in as close to its natural state as possible. The bill required a lot of deal making and compromise, as well as a lot of cooperation from both sporstmen's groups and environmentalists. If the bill passes the house, it will be the first environmental legislation signed by President Obama. It has not only the practical advantage of protecting millions of acres, it has a symbolic advantage as well: what better way to repudiate the eight years of corporate exploitation and rape of the land under the Bush administration than to immediately designate 2 million acres as untouchable? (many people, myself included, believe that the primary mission of the Bush administration has not bee American colonialism but the rolling back of federal protection of the environment to make it easier for oil companies to "drill baby drill.")
But it is also important that Obama win over sportsmen to his side. Sarah Palin is still lurking in the shadows out there. Unlike John McCain, who doesn't hunt or fish and mentioned in his interview with field and stream the need for America to "exploit" our natural resources, Palin is seen as a champion of sportsmen because she is an Alaskan and because she hunts. As the standard bearer for the Republican party (which she is clearly becoming) she has the ability to solidify that part of the base along with the religious conservatives. Obama, by pushing for passage of this legislation in the house and by signing it, will not only please a huge part of his own base but will eat into the Republican's base as well. If he can continue to publicly champion preservation of and access to habitat, he will win a lot of converts away from the Republican party.