Natural Allies

Natural Allies From Sierra Sept.-Oct. 1996 If only hunters, anglers, and environmentalists would stop taking potshots at each other, they'd be an invincible force for wildlands protection. by Ted Williams Every spring, when cowslips blaze yellow in Meadow Brook and peepers jangle around the marshy fringes of Poler's Pond, I lead an evening "woodcock walk" to the Grafton Conservation Area, 50 miles west of Boston. This year 20 participants and a reporter met at the trailhead at 7:15 p.m. and, while robins whinnied and song sparrows trilled, I read them Aldo Leopold's "Sky Dance." Then, in the orange explosion of a Yankee sunset, we hiked up the ancient cowpath and took our seats under a dogwood stand. The Conservation Area is a 52-acre sanctum for such suburban outcasts as foxes, owls, hawks, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes -- a place of shade and shine where meadow and woodland wildflowers bloom from early spring to late fall, where ruffed grouse thunder out of old orchards tangled with bittersweet, where butterflies dance through milkweed silk that sails on the summer breeze and the breath of school children. Eight years ago when a developer was poised to replace the living cloverleaves with the asphalt kind, to run a sewer line up the cowpath and gouge out foundations for 50 houses, my wife, Donna, and I organized a crusade to save our special place. Everyone, especially me, thought it was impossible. But we brought people here, showed them the wildlife and the beauty, and somehow convinced our frugal community of 12,000 to cough up $1.3 million to buy the land. I like to bring my woodcock watchers here half an hour before curtain call so they can absorb the wildness of the place, listen to church bells from old-Grafton center and birdsong from hardwood groves, and gradually convince themselves that the woodcock isn't going to show. When, finally, he materializes out of the afterglow and utters his first nasal "peeent," the excitement is tangible. Sometimes I hear gasps when he launches into the azure sky, fluttering and twittering between Venus and the moon, then warbling and falling like an oak leaf almost to our feet. When I explain to the woodcock watchers that I will hunt these birds in October with a 12-gauge shotgun and my soul mate, a 60-pound Brittany named Wilton, some of them are visibly shocked and disappointed. More than 50 million Americans fish, and 15 million hunt, yet environmentalists have made scant effort to forge any lasting alliance with them to protect the land and water that sustain wildlife. "Environmentalists don't reach out to sportsmen," says Chris Potholm, a professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College in Maine. "If they did, they'd be invincible. Whenever sportsmen combine with environmentalists, you have 60 to 70 percent of the population, an absolutely irresistible coalition." Consider the alliance between the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, an agency set up and funded by Congress to leverage matching conservation grants from the private sector. The latter is run by a former National Audubon Society lobbyist; the former by elk hunters. Working together (and with help from other sportsmen and environmentalists), the alliance has protected or restored 1.8 million acres north of Yellowstone National Park. Consider also Trout Unlimited, perhaps the most effective force for environmental reform among sportsmen's groups. What has made Trout Unlimited so successful is that it is run by people who are not just sportsmen or just environmentalists, but both. On endangered species, grazing reform, mining reform, hydroelectric relicensing, clean water, forest practices, river dewatering -- Trout Unlimited is on the front lines, suing every exploiter in sight and generally raising hell. Such conservation-minded sportsmen predominate in Alaska, though you'd never know it from talking to state officials. Only three years ago the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hatched a plan to generate more moose, caribou, and hunting-license revenue by shooting wolves from aircraft. "We feel we are going to create a wildlife spectacle on a par with the major migrations in East Africa," effused Fish and Game's Wildlife Director David Kelleyhouse, known to his many critics as "Machinegun Kelleyhouse" because he once tried to requisition a fully automatic weapon for "wolf management." Supporting this 1920s-style theory of game production was then-Governor Wally Hickel, who explained to me and other journalists at a Fairbanks "wolf summit" that "you can't let nature just run wild." Most journalists reported that the state was responding to Alaskan hunters. But, as usual, hunters got a bum rap; a statewide poll revealed that only 36 percent of them were in favor. Since then typical Alaskan hunters -- who admire wolves and understand ecosystems -- have joined with environmentalists to try to ban aerial wolf-hunting permanently. The Wolf Management Reform Coalition, as the alliance is called, has already gathered enough signatures to get such an initiative on the November 1996 ballot, and Alaskans are showing strong support. Success stories of this sort don't raise Professor Potholm's eyebrows. Sixteen years ago he founded The Potholm Group, a national polling and strategic-advice company that has engineered some unlikely habitat victories in 55 state referenda. For example, it's hard to imagine a more hopeless task for the Great Basin Nature Conservancy than convincing the residents of that 83-percent-federally-owned bastion of property-rights fanaticism called Nevada to pass a $47-million bond issue for the purpose of acquiring more public land. Initial polls indicated that the 1990 referendum would lose by a margin of four to one, but subsequent research established that it could be won if both hunters and anglers were brought on board. The Great Basin Nature Conservancy informed sportsmen that the bond issue was important not just for endangered species but for game and public access. When the referendum came up in November -- at the height of national-budget panic -- it won with two-thirds of the vote. "We've won referenda in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, Rhode Island, Maine, Minnesota, and Arizona because we were able to get environmentalists and sportsmen to cooperate," reports Potholm. "We can win environmental referenda anywhere if we can get environmentalists and sportsmen working together. I can get the cowboys in Montana to vote to save the black-footed ferret if the enviros will let them hunt elk on the land…The biggest mistake enviros make is they always look to the Democrats first. If I can get the sportsmen on board, then I get them to bring the Republicans." Hunters and anglers have a long history of protecting and restoring fish, wildlife, and habitat. They saved game (and many species now classified as non-game) from commercial market hunting, a practice that had no more to do with sport hunting than gillnetting has to do with angling. At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 500,000 white-tailed deer in the United States; today there are 27 million. Only 41,000 elk survived in 1907; now there are a million. In 1910 antelope were down to 5,000; today there are at least a million. A century ago wild turkeys were close to extinction; last spring there were 4.2 million. Our 92-million-acre national wildlife refuge system was started by hunter Theodore Roosevelt. And it was saved by hunter J. N. "Ding" Darling, the Pulitzer prize-winning political cartoonist of The Des Moines Register who, with his fellow waterfowlers, pushed through a law in 1934 to require duck and goose hunters to purchase a federal permit in the form of a stamp (to be pasted to the state hunting license that they also had to buy). Since that day duck-stamp money has gone to purchase national wildlife refuges. In Darling's cartoons one of the bloated, cigar-chomping politicians commonly seen evicting bandaged, splinted birds and animals from their happy homes was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dumb, FDR was not; so he wrestled the camel's head inside the tent by hiring Darling to direct the Bureau of Biological Survey, progenitor of the Fish and Wildlife Service. When the president broke his promise to fund the new national wildlife refuge system, Darling conspired with Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota to tack a $1-million appropriation to the duck-stamp bill. The hugely popular Norbeck spoke in such a heavy Norwegian accent that when he asked for something, his colleagues preferred to just say "yes" rather than undertake the daunting task of translation. No sooner had Norbeck taken the Senate floor than he removed his false teeth and, as Darling loved to tell it, "asked, in words totally devoid of understandable articulation, for an amendment to the bill allocating six million dollars." "Aye," said the Senate, uncertainly. Darling had told Roosevelt to watch for the bill and sign it. Somehow, it appeared on the president's desk just as he was hurrying out the door to go fishing. On returning to the White House, FDR sent Darling this note: "As I was saying to the Acting Director of the Budget the other day, 'this fellow Darling is the only man in history who got an appropriation through Congress, past the Budget, and signed by the President without anybody realizing that the Treasury had been raided.'" To raise money for wildlife management, hunters and anglers have successfully lobbied for excise taxes on fishing tackle and ammunition. Today, they are joining with other nature lovers to push for new excise taxes on an even wider range of outdoor products (such as backpacks, tents, birdseed, and field guides) that would provide an additional $350 million a year for ecosystem management. Leading the charge are the state game and fish directors who call themselves the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Their initiative, "Teaming With Wildlife," has been endorsed by more than 1,000 environmental and sportsmen's organizations and businesses. Formation of such alliances, however, has been painfully, dangerously slow. A major obstacle is the ease with which hunters are body-snatched by their worst enemies. They, much more than anglers, are paranoid because they have been beaten up so savagely and so long -- not just by the animal-rights advocates but by society in general. I cannot count the number of times I have been shrieked at by anti- hunters. Once I drove away with one slashing at me with her fingernails and literally hanging from my truck window. Now, when they demand to know if I have a hunting license, I ask them if they have a badge. Hunting advocate Michael Furtman, writing in the April 1996 issue of Midwest Fly Fishing, offers this explanation: "After a decade of attacks by the animal-rights movement, defensive sportsmen were like a dog too long in its kennel -- literally panting for kindly attention. Anyone that would pat us on the head would be rewarded with our undying friendship. That the person reaching out a hand -- the wise- use movement -- was intent upon taking that 'dog' to a medical research facility never occurred to most of us." While environmentalists have been ignoring or alienating sportsmen, developers and their hirelings within the wise-use movement and Congress have been seducing them by dressing up in camouflage and flouncing around at photo ops with borrowed shotguns. For example, the 50 senators and 207 representatives of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus loudly profess to defend fish, wildlife, and sportsmen but consistently vote to destroy habitat. In the House, 83 percent of the CSC supported H.R.961, the bill that would basically repeal the Clean Water Act. By contrast, only 34 percent of non- caucus members supported the bill. Last year CSC members voted for fish, wildlife, and the environment an average of only 23 percent of the time (as recorded by the League of Conservation Voters) compared with 43 percent for the entire House and 47 percent for the entire Senate. Leading the CSC in the Senate are Conrad Burns (R-Mont.; LCV score 0), John Breaux (D-La.; LCV score 29), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.; LCV score 0), and Larry Craig (R-Idaho; LCV score 0). House leadership consists of Don Young (R-Alaska; LCV score 0); Pete Geren (D-Tex.; LCV score 31); Toby Roth (R-Wis.; LCV score 8); and John Tanner (D-Tenn.; LCV score 31). These voting records make perfect sense when you check some of the funders of the caucus' money-raising tentacle, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation: Alabama Power, Alyeska Pipeline Service, Chevron, Dow Chemical, International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, Champion International, Mead, American Forest and Paper Association, National Cattlemen's Association, Olin, and Phillips Petroleum. Just before the last election Don Young -- arguably the most vicious enemy of fish and wildlife in Congress -- used his CSC connection to persuade Outdoor Life to ooze and gush about his self- proclaimed greenness. The 99-year-old publication told its 1.3 million subscribers that Young "is your kind of politician," that he "fights the good fight," and that "you'd be hard pressed to find a more fearless Washington advocate of the sportsman's life." There followed a lengthy interview in which Young berated the long-silent animal-rights activist Cleveland Amory and puffed and blew about the public's right to bear arms. This from the magazine that had produced Ben East -- a giant in outdoor journalism, a heroic defender of wild things and wild places, and grandfather of Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. (Outdoor Life is now under a new editor.) Then there is the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, a front for developers, wise-users, and right-wing ideologues that wangles voluminous space in outdoor media. When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Mollie Beattie (now deceased) moved to control such incompatible and illegal activities on wildlife refuges as overgrazing and jet-skiing, WLFA told sportsmen to send money so it could stop her from also banning hunting and fishing -- something she had never dreamed of doing. The hook-and-bullet press swallowed it hook, line, boat, and motor. Wildfowl Magazine reported that non-hunter Beattie was plotting "to abandon waterfowl management on the refuges," and asked its readers to confirm the rumor that she was "wearing spandex shorts to work" just like Mariel Hemingway, last seen in an Audubon TV special "strutting around the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in her spandex biking shorts and whining [about hunting being 'controversial'] like some PMS poster child." When Beattie added 15 hunting programs and six fishing programs on refuges (something she had planned to do all along), WLFA bragged that it had "bloodied" the service and saved the refuge system for sportsmen. At this point, WLFA's national affairs director, Bill Horn -- who, as assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks under James Watt, had crusaded to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and invited developers into the whole refuge system -- set about drafting (or "helping to draft," as he prefers) H.R.1675, the "National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act," for Don Young. When Horn, a lawyer, isn't working for WLFA, he offers counsel to such clients as Washington State property-rights zealots trying to block a new wildlife refuge and Florida condo developers seeking to restore subsidized federal flood insurance in order to build more profitably on coastal habitats. The bait Horn and Young set out to attract sportsmen to their refuge bill was the elevation of hunting and fishing (already permitted on refuges wherever possible and appropriate) from "uses" to "purposes," thereby changing the official mission of the refuge system from protecting biodiversity to pleasuring humans. In the same vein, the bill would waive restrictions on military uses of refuges and require the Fish and Wildlife Service to get congressional approval to buy any new refuge over 500 acres with land and water conservation funds. On April 24 -- the day the bill passed the House -- Mollie Beattie called it "the beginning of the end of the National Wildlife Refuge System as we know it." Basically, WLFA attributes its victory to me. "More than any other factor," writes Vice President Rick Story in a letter to the 2,000 members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, my "diatribe against the bill [in the May 1996 issue of the association's magazine] provided that much-needed surge of adrenaline which helped motivate our staff to continue plugging through the arduous last stages of the campaign to ensure the bill's passage…Sportsmen and sportswomen nationwide did a fabulous job communicating their concerns to Congress." For once I agree with Mr. Story, at least with the last sentence. It's just that the House, as usual, didn't listen. Under the inspired leadership of the National Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League of America, Trout Unlimited, and local hunting-and-fishing clubs in Montana, sportsmen and sportswomen nationwide were and are working closely with the environmental community to kill the bill. Now it looks as if the alliance will prevail. The refuge bill is expected to run into major trouble in the Senate; and in the unlikely event that it makes it through, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will ask the President for a veto. Even as the frightened hunter hears monster stories from the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus and the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, some environmentalists oblige by acting the part of anti-blood-sport bogeyman. The big green groups such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club have never opposed hunting. In fact, they recognize the sport as a legitimate and necessary wildlife-management tool. But they are perceived as anti-hunting because of embarrassing behavior by some of their members. Take the position of certain state Audubon chapters on mourning-dove hunting. At the same time agribusiness destroys the habitat of upland gamebirds such as grouse, quail, and pheasants it produces vast swarms of grain-eating doves. Over 2 million hunters legally kill about 50 million doves a year in 37 states without even denting the population. In farming states like Indiana and Michigan there is every good reason to hunt mourning doves and no reason not to. For any sober, practical champion of biodiversity, dove hunting is the quintessential non-issue. Yet when I explained this in the March 1985 Audubon, as part of an eyewitness report on Indiana's first dove hunt, the editor was deluged with mail and wound up printing 49 letters, 26 of them irate. "Are robins next?" demanded one reader. "I would not object to destroying Ted Williams," wrote another. "We have an overpopulation of his breed." After 11 years I thought that Audubon chapters might have learned something, and maybe they have. But in 1995, when Michigan tried to legislate a hunting season for its superabundant doves, the Michigan Audubon Society (the second biggest chapter with 40 sub-chapters of its own) shouted the bill down. "Many, in these violent times, point to the irony of a proposed hunting season on the international symbol of peace," it seriously asserted. "They didn't have to support the bill," remarks Wildlife Management Supervisor Richard Elden of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, "just remain neutral and it might have passed. Michigan Audubon said its position was not an effort to oppose hunting, but it truly was. We have plenty of doves. They just plain opposed expanding legitimate hunting opportunity." Such behavior plays into the hands of those seeking to discredit the entire environmental movement. "There are people out there day in and day out telling the public and Congress that environmentalists are anti-hunting," declares Paul Hansen, director of the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation group composed largely of hunters and anglers. "To my knowledge, the environmental groups haven't done a thing to clarify it. Some of their members might be anti, but institutionally none of them are -- not Defenders, not Audubon, and not the Sierra Club. If there's one piece of advice I have for environmental groups it's this: Get right up front and say that you aren't anti-hunting." The traditional refusal of most environmental groups to do this fuels sportsmen's paranoia and makes it difficult to educate them about environmental politics. I know because I've been attempting such education for 26 years. The very word "environmental" engenders suspicion in the hook-and-bullet set. Therefore, I am the "Conservation Editor" of Fly Rod & Reel. As "Senior Editor" of Gray's Sporting Journal, I took elaborate pains to explain how much gunpowder I've burned whenever I wrote something to augment the me-and-Joe stories. Even so, I received and published countless letters like the following: "Ted Williams has betrayed sportsmen everywhere" and "If you insist on bringing up controversial environmental issues, you do not become a sportsman's magazine but an environmental magazine. There are too many 'do gooder' magazines on the market today and few that give you the joy of remembering a good hunt or the one that got away. Please review your policy and let's keep Gray's a clean magazine." Or consider this, recently published in Fly Rod & Reel: "Dear Mr. Williams: You are a good writer, but I am getting tired of paying my money to hear your political agenda. From what little I know of the 'wise-use movement,' they appear to have taken a different (perhaps better) slant on managing our environment. Let me enjoy reading about your skillful exploits. Leave the politics alone." Six years ago when Defenders of Wildlife tried to initiate dialogue with hunters by joining the Outdoor Writers Association of America, a large element of the association fantasized that Defenders was somehow anti-hunting and moved to throw it out. Such a prolonged stink was raised that Defenders voluntarily withdrew. "All we had in mind was an occasional exchange of views," read the good-bye letter. "Yours for diversity, biological and otherwise, M. Rupert Cutler, President." Joel Vance, who had just finished his term as OWAA's president, upbraided us in our magazine as follows: "For shame! We've run off a group that wanted to communicate with us…and we call ourselves communicators? Naah, we're just a bunch of hypocrites who can't stand a contrary view." So if environmentalists can excuse sportsmen for fleeing into the arms of their worst enemies, maybe sportsmen can at least understand why reaching out to them hasn't always been that easy. But lately both sides have been doing a whole lot better. One of the brightest spots has been Sports Afield magazine, now in the hands of a fearless, enlightened editor named Terry McDonell, who has been educating his readers with such exposes as: "The Misguided War Over Refuges," "A Bad Deal for Sportsmen: What's Wrong With the Contract With America," and "A Spring Sermon…Or Siberia" (an essay on why sportsmen need to work with environmentalists). And yet only five years ago, under a different editor, the magazine contributed $24,375 to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and ran a 15-page supplement (largely paid for by gun and booze companies) in which CSC members got to write articles on behalf of their campaign contributors, one of the more nauseating bearing Don Young's byline and entitled "Why Alaska Sportsmen Support Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." A year ago the 600,000-member Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) -- a conservative, for-profit organization with strong ties to the Republican Party -- took on a new role of environmental activist. Bruce Shupp, the respected biologist B.A.S.S. hired to run its conservation program, set about forging what promises to be a political juggernaut -- a sportsman-enviro alliance called the Natural Resource Summit of America. The catalyst was the disastrous "clean water" bill and its mouthy House sponsorship, which made the costly error of referring to B.A.S.S. on national TV as "an environmental extremist group." The summit's goals have evolved way beyond just saving the Clean Water Act to striving for solidarity on such fronts as environmental law and natural-resources and public-lands policy. The third meeting of the summit, on March 4, was attended by such diverse groups as the Sierra Club, the American Fisheries Society, the Izaak Walton League, the American Sportfishing Association, The Wilderness Society, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and the Environmental Defense Fund. "The whole complexion changed yesterday," Shupp said on March 5. "We went in a new direction. We've got a product now. We're going somewhere. After 25 years of splitting apart we finally got our act together, and we're talking to each other." Much credit for the new unity must go to the 104th Congress. For instance, Senator Pete Domenici (R- N.M.) has introduced a grazing bill so hideous as to accomplish the impossible -- that is, forge an alliance not just between enviros and sportsmen, but between sportsmen and animal-rights advocates. Basically, the bill would reserve public lands in the West for the ranching industry. If agents of the Forest Service or BLM had to check compliance on a grazing lease, they would need permission of the permittee to set foot on the public's land. Eleven of the bill's 16 original sponsors are members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, but sportsmen haven't been fooled. Lonnie Williamson -- vice president of the Wildlife Management Institute and past president of the Outdoor Writers Association -- blasted the CSC and Domenici, calling the legislation "the Rangeland Rape Bill." Urging opposition to the bill in a joint letter to members of the Senate are 155 unlikely collaborators, including the Sierra Club and eight of its chapters, 11 Audubon Society chapters, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Republicans for Environmental Protection, Humane Society of the United States, The Fund for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Izaak Walton League of America, California Bowmen Hunters and State Archery Association, and Sportsmen's Council of Central California. Assisting Domenici in forging this new unity has been Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus Co-chair Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who in his last election bid raised over half a million dollars from energy, mining, and agriculture interests. Burns has introduced a bill that would promote the sale and development of public land managed by the Forest Service, the BLM, and the Bureau of Reclamation. But Montana sportsmen-enviros, marching under such ../banners as the Montana Wildlife Federation, Billings Rod and Gun Club, and Anaconda Sportsmen's Association, are exposing Burns with a media blitz called "Keep Public Lands in Public Hands." The coalition's stated mission: "Save Montana's hunting heritage from the clutches of Conrad Burns and his crazy attempts to sell off our public lands." Stung by the bitter opposition from a group that had bowed and scraped for him in the past, Burns charged that the Montana Wildlife Federation "has lied about the bill" and dubbed the organization a "front group for [the] Democratic Party." Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, my sportsman-environmentalist friends are being called the same thing whenever they complain about a Contract-on-America bill that would squander our nation's real wealth. Most of them belong to the grand old party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, but unlike some of the new Republicans who allegedly represent them, they have a right to call themselves "conservatives." On John Muir's birthday last April, Donna, Wilton, and I met one of them trudging out of the Grafton Conservation Area. Behind him on the cowpath were four women and a small boy. They'd read the story about Friday's woodcock walk in the morning paper and had hoped to see the show for themselves; but they said the woodcock had stood them up. "You're ten minutes too early," I said. With that, we all filed back up to the dogwood patch, took our seats under a crescent moon that flashed through fast, pink clouds and, to the score of peepers, field sparrows, and distant church bells, watched a spectacular double sky dance by dueling males. In the old days I used to lecture my generally anti-blood-sport woodcock watchers about what bird hunting means to me, and the words would always come out wrong. Now I just tell them how this wild, magic place came to be saved. We get along fine. - 30 - Ted Williams is a hunter, fisherman, and environmentalist whose last article for Sierra, "Defense of the Realm" (on the federal agents who protect endangered species) appeared in the January/February issue.