Results of a new poll that shows sportsmen prioritize protecting public lands with support even as strong as that for gun rights really came as no surprise to Ken Theis.
"There is an awareness creeping into the ultraconservative community that has been supporting gun rights forever as they realize that if they don't start looking at the environmental conditions of habitat that the only reason to have firearms is for self-protection," said Theis, Utah coordinator for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
"We have destroyed a lot of habitat and hunting and fishing opportunities are diminishing as a result. It is encouraging to see an attitude that habitat matters."
The National Wildlife Federation last week released a national public opinion poll of 800 hunters and anglers that illustrates sportsmens' attitudes about public lands, conservation, global warming and habitat restitution for environmental disasters.
• Forty-seven percent said conservation is just as important as gun rights. Thirteen percent believe conservation is more important than gun rights.
• Fifty-nine percent believe global warming is occurring and two in three sportsmen believe there is a moral responsibility to confront global warming.
• Forty-nine percent feel protecting public lands should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies such as oil, gas and coal. Thirty-four percent favor development of energy supplies even if public lands suffer.
• The largest numbers in the poll showed 81 percent of sportsmen believe British Petroleum should be fined the maximum amount allowable for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and that the funds should be used to restore fish and wildlife habitat along the Gulf and not for infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, ports and convention centers.
The poll was taken Aug. 27-Sept. 1 of self-identified hunters and anglers who are also registered voters. It has an error margin of 3.2 percent.
"Hunters and anglers are the original conservationists," said John Gale, Utah representative for the National Wildlife Federation. "They have an intimate level of understanding that when you take care of fishing and hunting habitat, hunting and fishing can largely take care of themselves."
Sportsmen, particularly hunters, tend to be classified on the conservative side and usually vote Republican; 42 percent of those polled said they were from that party.
"It is great to see political partisanship doesn't really play a role here," Gale said. "Hunters and anglers are putting conservation and public lands stewardship first, at least in this poll. They are increasingly upset about impacts on their opportunity to hunt and fish and the issues that threaten the future of hunting and fishing for their children."
Gale hopes the numbers in this poll will help more sportsmen get involved in efforts to protect the hunting and fishing heritage in North America.
After years of decline a recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed a national increase in hunting (up 9 percent) and fishing (up 11 percent) from 2006 to 2011. Overall, 37 million Americans hunted or fish, or both and spent $90 billion doing it.
"Through shifting political winds, sportsmen have not flinched in their conservation values," Larry Schwiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a prepared statement. "Candidates at all levels should answer this simple question: 'What's your plan for protecting our outdoor heritage for our children's future?' These are ethics that sustain America's wildlife, outdoor economy and healthy families."