Lawmakers who value votes of sportsmen and women need to address climate crisis

Todd Tanner

If you’ve been paying attention recently, you may have noticed that the fossil fuel industry is doing its best to remove climate and clean energy provisions from President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. When it comes to coal, oil and natural gas, the industry’s short-term profits invariably trump economic stability and a livable future for our kids and grandkids.

At the same time, a broad array of climate-conscious Americans — scientists, students, educators, young professionals, outdoor enthusiasts — are pushing as hard as they can for climate action. They’ve experienced the high temperatures, extreme weather and shifting precipitation patterns of 2021, and they want to address the looming threat to our physical and economic well-being while there’s still time to do so.

No one in Washington, D.C., should be surprised that politicians in thrall to the fossil fuel industry are working to minimize new climate policies, or that their climate-concerned counterparts are pushing to shift America towards clean, renewable energy. We’ve seen this dynamic play out for decades.

For the first time in memory, though, politicians opposed to climate action risk alienating a key rural demographic: America’s sportsmen and women.

More than 40 million hunters and anglers reap the benefits of healthy landscapes every time they head outdoors with rod, bow or gun. A century’s worth of vital conservation work has reinvigorated fish and wildlife habitat here in the U.S., and iconic species like white-tailed deer and rainbow trout have thrived as a result. Yet our conservation victories are now proving tenuous in the face of climate chaos. Without intact ecosystems, America’s robust fish and game populations won’t survive for long.

Successful hunters and anglers pay attention to the natural world. It’s the only way that they can consistently catch fish or put game in the freezer. Yet that heightened awareness makes it all but impossible to ignore the burgeoning impacts of human-caused climate change.

Granted, the evidence differs from region to region across the country. Some sportsmen now face more intense rainfall and flooding, while others confront unprecedented drought, or more extreme wildfires, or coastal inundation, or dying forests, or stronger hurricanes. Still, the rapidly shifting patterns are becoming obvious to anyone who spends time outdoors. 

Meanwhile, the science is crystal clear: Unless we lower our CO2 emissions and put the brakes on the current warming trend, our fisheries will eventually crater and anglers will lose opportunities they’ve always taken for granted. Hunters, too, will be forced to watch helplessly as waterfowl, upland bird and big game populations begin their slow but inexorable declines.

As long as we continue to spew billions and billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere on an annual basis, the natural world will face radical changes and our fishing and hunting will suffer the inevitable consequences.

So why should Congress care? Because if our fisheries decline and our hunting falls off a cliff, sportsmen will inevitably look for someone to blame.

Our outdoor heritage is a major part of America’s rural culture. It’s baked into our way of life.  When our fisheries and wildlife biologists, as well as other scientists, point the finger at politicians who refused to protect our woods and waters from the ravages of climate change, and when it becomes clear that many senators and representatives chose fossil fuel industry profits over our outdoor traditions and sporting heritage, there will be hell to pay at the ballot box.

The House recently voted on President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Those votes are now cast in stone, and it’s a matter of record who supported strong climate action and who did not. Going forward, senators from both parties will have to decide whether they want to side with healthy landscapes and clean waters — and with America’s 40 million sportsmen and women — or whether they’d rather pledge their allegiance to an industry that’s largely responsible for the most severe planetary crisis we’ve ever faced.

Hunters and anglers have a long history of supporting parties and politicians who share their values and honor their outdoor traditions. Year in and year out, they show up and vote for people who have their backs.  Allegiances can shift, though, and it’s not hard to predict how sportsmen and women will react if they’re thrown under the climate bus. America has a choice to make between climate action and climate chaos. Now Congress needs to understand that choices have consequences.

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.

Tags Angling Climate change Climate change policy Conservation Environmental Issue Fishing Human impact on the environment Hunting Joe Biden Natural environment outdoor industry Outdoor recreation Rural voters sportsmen

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