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Poll: Public Lands Access, Preservation Should be Priorities

PHOTO: Man in a deer stand. Photo credit: Steve Maslowski, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
October 1. 2012
PHOTO: Man in a deer stand. Photo credit: Steve Maslowski, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

DENVER - In just a few states this election year, the nation's public lands are part of the political debate. But they're on the minds of millions of hunters and fishermen, according to poll results from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that include sportsmen in Colorado.

Conservation is just as important as gun rights, according to that poll. Nearly half those responding said those two priorities have equal weight in their minds. And given a choice between prioritizing oil and gas production or protecting public lands, 35 percent chose the fuel and 49 percent chose the public lands.

John Gale, NWF regional representative, says he thinks the poll mirrors the views of more Coloradans than just those who hunt and fish.

"Most Americans are still reasonable people that value things like public lands, like fish and wildlife habitat. And while they understand the need for oil and gas and energy, they don't want to see that come at the expense of what public lands offer them."

Forty-two percent of respondents said they are Republicans, 32 percent Independents, and 18 percent Democrats.

In the Western states, maintaining and improving access to public lands ranked high on the priority list. NWF says millions of acres of public land are surrounded by private land, discouraging or preventing their use.

More than two-thirds of the sportsmen polled said the U.S. should work to reduce carbon emissions, update the nation's 140-year-old mining law, and expand and strengthen the Clean Water Act. The findings don't surprise John Gale, who calls sportsmen "the original conservationists."

"We regard ourselves as stewards of the land because we have such a strong connection to it. We understand at a fundamental level that if you take care of the land, then the land will take care of you. And if you take care of fish and wildlife habitat, the hunting and fishing will take care of itself."

Last weekend, both U.S. Senators from Colorado, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, voted with the majority, to consider the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 (S 3525), a package of 19 bills, as one of the first orders of business after the elections. It focuses on conservation funding and public lands access. The House already passed its version of the legislation (HR 4089) in April.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CO