"Sportsmen" stab Theodore Roosevelt in the back
One of the goofier gaffes Mitt Romney has made on the 2012 Campaign Trail was when he recalled a recent Montana hunting trip – but forgot if he had pursued elk or moose.
Dig deeper, though, and that hunting trip reflects something more sinister than a slip of the tongue.
President Theodore Roosevelt left America a rich legacy of abundant wildlife and millions of acres of public lands. Now, some influential, well-heeled hunters are stabbing Theodore Roosevelt in the back, and trying to recruit Mitt Romney to undermine TR’s legacy.
Roosevelt championed a simple idea that is the foundation of all conservation and wildlife management in North America. This idea is that wildlife belongs to all of us, not to the rich or the land-owning elite. That is the idea underlying America’s national parks; the effort to restore now-abundant game animals like whitetail deer, turkey to elk, from near extinction and rescue endangered species like peregrine falcons and bald eagles.
This is a uniquely American idea. In Europe, wildlife is considered the property of the landowner or nobility. Hunting and fishing -- what little remains -- is entirely in the hands of the elite.
The idea that wildlife belongs to all and should be managed by professionals using sound science is called the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Most all hunting and conservation groups, including conservative, venerable hunting/gun organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, embrace the model.
But not everyone. In particular, meet Don Peay and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW). The group was founded in Utah and has spread throughout the West. One state at a time, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife is dismantling the very idea of a public wildlife resource, and replacing it with special privileges for the privileged.
In Montana, SFW is pressuring local county commissioners to circumvent the state wildlife commission on predator management. In Arizona and Idaho, SFW is lobbying legislatures to allow landowners to own and sell hunting privileges, independent of the rules the rest of people have to live by.
In Alaska, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife worked to have its state president Corey Rossi, appointed head of the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Rossi had no professional credentials, but loads of political connections.Today, Rossi, stands accused of violating game laws he was sworn to defend. That’s gotten a bit of press, including a recent interview where SFW founder Don Peay spelled out SFW’s radical agenda.
Speaking to the Anchorage Daily News, Mr. Peay dismissed the Theodore Roosevelt legacy as “socialism” that needs to be “revisited.”
"We understand the North American model where wildlife belongs to the people, but we're also seeing dramatic reductions in game populations in the western United States under that model," he said.
This twisted reading of history puts Mr. Peay and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in some pretty lonely company.
But lonely company can include powerful company. In Alaska, that included then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
Which leads to Mitt Romney, the most likely Republican nominee for president.
Guess who took Mr. Romney on his moose (or was it elk?) hunt in Montana? Mr. Peay. Peay bragged of this political connection in an email to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife membership.
Mr. Romney hails from Massachusetts, a state severely lacking in wildlife and wildlife habitat. Even he confesses ignorance on the topic of public land. “Unless there’s a valid, legitimate and compelling public purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land,” said Romney, campaigning in Nevada.
I suppose Romney could crack a history book and read why Theodore Roosevelt and others created this public estate we westerners are so proud of. Instead, he listens to Don Peay. Something tells me they’re talking about big bucks alright, but not the ones with antlers.
But what can sportsmen do? This: Before you give a dime to a “conservation organization” or give a vote to a political candidate, make sure they answer this question: Do you believe the wildlife of North America belong to all of us, equally, or do you think it should be sold to the highest bidder?”
If they don’t answer, or fudge in the least, keep looking. They aren’t looking out for you.
Image: Theodore Roosevelt left America better than he found it.
Ben Long is an outdoorsman, author and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media.