Sportsmen and Environmentalists Can Work Together
Sportsmen and environmentalists are too often and too easily divided when we actually have a great deal in common. I prefer to think of all of us as conservationists.
Today, the groups that represent those two major constituencies are collaborating in an unprecedented way. And you can help.
We do have examples of collaboration that are worthy of repetition.
The best example is the cooperative venture between Maine Audubon and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) that created the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. With some early funding support from L.L. Bean, the two organizations created the MOHF initiative, collected enough signatures to qualify it for the referendum ballot, and then worked together to convince Governor Angus King and the Maine Legislature to enact it rather than send it out to referendum.
The fund gets its money from an instant lottery game and has distributed over $13 million to important conservation and outdoor recreation projects and programs in the last twelve years.
That collaboration was the beginning of a partnership that continues today. As SAM’s executive director and lobbyist, I meet annually with the Audubon staff to review each organization’s legislative priorities and issues for the next legislative session. We work to minimize our differences and find issues we can work together on.
Here’s how it worked most recently. Audubon’s lobbyist Jenn Burns Gray asked for SAM’s help on legislation to improve the installation of culverts so they do not impede the upstream passage of fish and aquatic organisms. I asked for Audubon’s help on a SAM bill to protect wild brook trout.
Audubon’s new executive director, Ted Koffman, showed up to testify at the hearing on SAM’s bill, on his second day in his new job, and I helped Jenn with the culvert bill.
Later this month we’ll all meet to review issues for the 2010 legislative session.
But this partnership is now expanding well beyond the legislative stage, as Ted and I explore ways our two groups can work together on critical wildlife and fisheries habitat issues.
The Conservation Recreation Forum is an example of a new effort at collaboration. The forum consists of organizations representing sportsmen, environmentalists, and landowners who meet periodically to learn about key issues, reduce areas of conflict, and find new ways to collaborate.
I proposed the forum idea to the Governor’s Task Force on Public Access and it became a key recommendation of the Task Force. Representatives of five groups representing sportsmen and environmentalists organize each forum around key topics.
The forum has met three times so far at SAM’s Augusta conference center and explored a variety of important issues. In September, the forum discussed ecological reserves and conservation easements (see my blog reports on these topics). Our first forum included a fascinating presentation by Roxanne Quimby about her successful effort to reach out to her adversaries and find common ground as she works on long-term management plans for the land she has purchased in the north woods. It has been my privilege to be included in this collaboration with Roxanne.
If we are to continue this promising collaboration, we must understand what motivates each of us and drives our conflicts over outdoor recreation. Here are some of the “understandings” that I offered to the Governor’s Task Force:
· Hunters must understand that nonhunters fear for their safety during hunting seasons – and must have places they can enjoy where hunting is not happening. Nonhunters must understand that hunters have experienced a lot of posted land and fear that this trend will continue, crowding them into smaller areas. Hunters believe they can’t afford to lose any more hunting ground. As access to private land has diminished, sportsmen have come to depend on public land and this is likely to continue.
· Both game and nongame animals belong to the people and are appreciated by all of us. But hunting and trapping are the principle methods of controlling populations of game animals and limiting the impact of problems like Lyme disease and crop damage.
· Access to private land is a privilege in Maine, not a right, and landowners have many problems that are caused by recreationists and others, from illegal waste dumping to environmental damage from motorized vehicles.
· Although walk-in access to great ponds is guaranteed, Mainers have no rights of access to moving water. And a large number of great ponds have no public access site or site for launching watercraft.
· Most recreationists need motorized access in order to enjoy the lands and waters of our state. The majority are unable to recreate in areas they cannot reach by motor vehicle. Most recreationists appreciate areas where motorized access is not allowed, including many hunters who enjoy walk-in hunting and anglers who enjoy remote trout ponds.
· ATV and snowmobile riders need through trails all over the state and some side trails to special places.
· Many recreationists enjoy “quiet” waters without motors or with limited horsepower motors.
In addition to encouraging further collaboration and cooperation between the groups that represent sportsmen and environmentalists, each of us can contribute to solutions to our problems and conflicts. Here are a few of my suggestions:
· All recreationists should understand where our disagreements are real and establish methods to mitigate and resolve those disagreements.
· Hunters should support the creation of nonmotorized areas on both public and private lands.
· Strong and comprehensive landowner relations programs should be established at state agencies and all groups that represent outdoor recreationists. Nonhunters should participate in and support landowner relations programs.
· All groups should work to secure legal access to all Maine waters, including moving waters – with a mix of boat and hand-carry launches that match the size and uses of the water.
· All groups should be active in habitat protection and enhancement programs and issues.
· Nonhunters should consider the concept of hiking seasons and hunting seasons, to allow all recreationists some opportunity to use public lands, instead of pursuing bans on hunting that prevent hunters from ever enjoying particular sections of public land while hikers enjoy year-round access and use.
Sportsmen and environmentalists have so much to gain by working together and so much to lose if we don’t. And each of us can contribute to a new era of cooperation and collaboration.