Divisiveness and its Affect on Conservation of Natural Resources

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Today is my birthday.  But I don’t really feel much like celebrating.  In 41 years of life, I have never seen our country more divided.  The absolute hatred I see from people for those on the other side of the political isle is concerning and should be for all Americans. With such division I wonder if any of the major issues we face will ever be resolved.  I also wonder if the division we see will ultimately hurt the goal of conservation of natural resources.

My Background

First let me explain where I am coming from.  I worked for a state wildlife agency for 15 years.  For most of that time, I worked with nongame species (species that are not hunted or fished).  Most of the people that are concerned with nongame species conservation tend to be liberal minded.  They tend to want more government intervention when it comes to conservation, especially when it comes into opposition from development.

On the other hand, I am an avid fisherman and hunt occasionally.  I would hunt a lot more if I didn’t live in Florida.  Hunters and fisherman tend to be conservative.

Kevin with an eastern indigo snake
Kevin with an eastern indigo snake

But make no mistake, hunters and anglers care deeply about conservation.  In fact, it is hunters and anglers who fund the majority of fish and wildlife conservation through taxes on fishing and hunting equipment.

Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration

How Conservation Is Funded

The Pittman-Robertson Act, enacted in the 1930’s provides money for conservation from an excise tax on guns and ammunition.  In fact, one could argue a heavy-handed approach to gun control legislation could seriously damage the funding mechanism for wildlife conservation.

Not to be outdone by hunters, anglers advocated for the Dingell-Johnson Act in the 1950’s, which taxes fishing equipment for conservation of aquatic resources.  These two pieces of legislation form the majority of the funding source for conservation in the United States.  To learn more about what is taxed for conservation, click here!

The Problem We Face

But it isn’t just hunters and fisherman who enjoy our wild spaces and wild species.  Campers, hikers, paddlers, bird watchers, equestrians, offroad enthusiasts, divers and countless others enjoy nature and desire to see it managed, conserved and in many cases, preserved.

Rarely do all the different user groups get along, and resource managers have to balance the desires of different stakeholders who often want special access for their activity.  I have long thought hunters and anglers shouldn’t have to shoulder the lion’s share of the costs of conservation, and I was pleased to spend the last 2 years of my career as a wildlife biologist working on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.  This act would provide new and sufficient funding for wildlife conservation.  Combined with the funding from hunters and anglers, a new era of conservation could become a reality.

Alliance for America's Fish and Wildlife

The Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife is a diverse group of stakeholders trying to make sure the act passes.  In fact, Kemp Outside joined the alliance several months ago. But so far the act has not made it through both houses of congress, and time is running short. Will the divisiveness we see between conservatives and liberals spill over into an unwillingness to support a bipartisan effort? Will the desires of specific user groups for their activity continue to cause infighting when we should be pulling together for the good of the resources we all love? And ultimately, will we miss an opportunity to make a difference?

My entire career, I was surprised by the unwillingness of user groups to work together.  Bass fisherman and duck hunters would fight over the management of a lake, or equestrian groups and mountain bikers would battle over access to trails.  But the events of the last few days have shown us all we are way beyond that.

A Call To Unity

As for me, I created Kemp Outside to help moms and dads get their kids outside.  I don’t care what user group they end up in as long as they end up in one.  Because a passionate user of the resource is one who will fight for the resource.  But unless we figure out how to come together, liberals and conservatives, we will never see the goals met we have set for ourselves.  Kemp Outside is for conservative families.  Kemp Outside is for liberal families.  Kemp Outside is for hunters and anglers, and it’s for hikers, campers and paddlers.  I can’t guarantee I will always agree with everything someone says, but I am always willing to find ways to work together for the good of the resource.

So how about it Sierra Club and Ducks Unlimited? How about it Defenders of Wildlife and National Wild Turkey Federation? And how about it The Nature Conservancy and B.A.S.S? How about it hunters, anglers, paddlers, boaters, bird watchers and hikers? Will we ever find common ground? Will it always be like this?

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