Why is Washington leaving sportsmen out in the cold?

Why is Washington leaving sportsmen out in the cold?
© Todd Tanner

Like many Americans, I grew up with the unforgettable aroma of trout sizzling in an old cast-iron frying pan, the smell of Hoppe’s #9 gun oil and the scent of Sno-Seal rubbed into old leather boots. I remember watching my grandfather clean his shotgun at the kitchen table, following my dad through the November deer woods and all the endless hours I spent fishing the tiny creek that ran past our house. Simply put: Hunting & fishing have always been an integral part of my life, and that’s not likely to change.

Here in Montana there’s an enduring connection between the landscapes that support us and the people who spend their time afield with rod and gun. While it might seem like we’re unique, it turns out that our passion for the outdoors is actually mirrored all over the country.  From Pennsylvania to Texas, and from Wisconsin to Georgia to Maine, there are hunters and anglers who treasure our natural landscapes and vote for politicians willing to fight for our rural way of life.

Lately, though, it seems like we’ve been seeing a little less of that “willing to fight” and a little more snake oil.

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Take the recent pandemic stimulus bills. Where is all the support for our farming and ranching communities? Where’s the long-awaited funding for high speed rural internet, which is arguably more important today than it’s ever been before?

What about more money for America’s endangered rural hospitals and health clinics? And why aren’t we seeing more stimulus dollars for the Conservation Reserve Program? Those CRP checks help farmers keep their financial heads above water, while protecting marginal agricultural lands from ill-advised cultivation. If Congress is trying to jump-start the economy, shouldn’t we be increasing “per acre” CRP payments and extending those contracts out to 25 years?

Not only is CRP acreage good for farmers in these difficult times, it’s also good for sportsmen. It provides excellent habitat for upland birds and waterfowl while creating a natural buffer to keep fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from polluting the streams and lakes where we fish.

Our rural hospitals and clinics are vital, too, as they offer essential medical services and improve the quality of life for those of us who live far away from big cities. And it should be obvious that comprehensive high speed internet would make modern existence far, far easier for everyone in fly-over states.

So why is it so hard for Congress to stand up for sportsmen and other rural Americans? Shouldn’t our senators and representatives be looking for “win/win” scenarios that help our rural communities navigate the perilous waters of the pandemic?

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Maybe Congress can explain why it isn’t supporting clean, renewable energy as we try to kick-start the economy and put America back to work. Seriously — think about that for just a second. Wind energy has been providing more and more new jobs across America. The same is true of solar. Why aren’t we hearing about congressional support for our clean energy jobs, which can’t be outsourced and which are insulated from the boom & bust cycles that plague the fossil fuel industry?

Here’s a thought: If we invest in clean energy development on America’s public lands, we can create new jobs, support American businesses and workers, and use a percentage of the royalty payments from all that clean energy to build new fishing access sites, ball fields for our kids and municipal swimming pools.

Supporting clean energy jobs would also help us limit the damage from human-caused climate change. Deep down, every American with just a little bit of awareness and a modicum of common sense knows that our planet is warming and humans are responsible. We can’t continue to inject billions upon billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every single year and pretend that there’s no impact on our rural communities.

We’ve seen the massive wildfires in the West, the catastrophic flooding in the East and Midwest, and the devastating storms in the South. It’s time we started building the clean energy infrastructure that will cut our CO2 emissions, benefit our children and grandchildren, and revitalize America’s economy for the next 50 years.

Now that all sounds great, especially at a time when common sense seems to be in such short supply, but let’s be honest. I imagine that people in D.C. are wondering why they should care about any of this. Why listen to a guy who lives out on the edge of nowhere, who drives a pickup, who has deer heads on his walls and elk antlers in the shed, and who knows way more about fly rods and shotguns than he does about the halls of power in our nation’s capitol?

And that’s a reasonable question.

The only answer I can think of at the moment is that there are approximately 40 million anglers and hunters in the U.S., and — like many of them — I plan to vote come November.

Maybe, rather than preaching the gospel according to all those high dollar lobbyists, our politicians should listen to their constituents for a change.

Todd Tanner is a lifelong hunter and angler, an outdoor writer, the founder of the School of Trout, and the president of Conservation Hawks, a group of sportsmen and sportswomen focused on combatting climate change. The views expressed here are his own.