People cast their ballots for presidential candidates for any variety of reasons. And with the first candidate debate taking place in Denver on Wednesday night, sportsmen hopefully will have an opportunity to learn which party is willing to go to bat for the issues most dear to their hearts.
For many of us, that issue is conservation. According to a recently released poll of 800 hunters and anglers conducted by the National Wildlife Federation, 47 percent consider conservation just as important as gun rights. Thirteen percent believe it's even more important.
Forty-nine percent feel protecting public lands should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of energy supplies produced such as oil, gas and coal. Thirty-four percent favor development of energy supplies even if public lands suffer.
Fifty-nine percent of sportsmen believe global warming is occurring and two out of three believe there is a moral responsibility to confront it.
Those are but a few of the telling statistics found in the national poll. Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the fact that 42 percent of those polled described themselves as Republicans. Only 18 percent called themselves Democrats.
So it seems, at least from a sportsmen's perspective, that Mitt Romney and the GOP are in disagreement with their own party members.
I say this for a few reasons, but most notably due to the Republican Party's current platform calling for selling off federally owned public lands.
Some may remember Romney's quote in Nevada earlier this year that "I don't know what the purpose is" of all this federal land in the West. That might be written off as one of those 1 percent things. But what comes as an outright affront to any Westerner who appreciates public lands is Romney's support for Republican efforts to end federal control over large sections of the West. In other words, our potential president supports turning the land over to the states for prospective privatization and development.
The so-called Sagebrush Rebellion isn't new to the West, but the newfound political support for this thinly veiled property grab is. The governor of Utah recently signed a bill demanding that the federal government hand over nearly 30 million acres to the state, and the Colorado legislature — led by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) — attempted to pass a bill that followed suit. The Republican National Committee currently touts that "Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government's enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used ... through private ownership." Romney has cheered the effort.
For those, like Romney, who "don't know what the purpose is" of public lands in the West, here's the shortlist:
The land serves as habitat for a rich bounty of wildlife. It's a public playground, including spectacular national parks, fantastic recreational opportunities in national forests and the type of vast open space on Bureau of Land Management acreage where a person can momentarily exist unencumbered by the stresses of society.
It generates income. We use the land as a source for natural gas and oil. We harvest trees and allow them to grow anew. We study the past by digging for dinosaur bones or clues from prior cultures. We graze livestock. We camp. We fish. We hunt. We boat. We ski.
I could go on. But if Romney still doesn't get it after more than a century of rich national public land history, I doubt another paragraph in the newspaper will offer clarity. The best we can hope is that the topic is broached here in the West on Wednesday night, before it all goes away.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, firstname.lastname@example.org