Conservation is just as important as gun rights, according to a new poll of sportsmen by the National Wildlife Federation. Nearly half said those two priorities have equal weight in their minds. And given a choice between prioritizing oil and gas production or protecting public lands, 35 percent chose the fuel and 49 percent chose the public lands. John Gale with the NWF says he thinks Utah is the perfect place for a balanced approach between recreation and tourism and energy development.
"You've got amazing places like the Book Cliffs and the Uinta Basin that provide really high-value hunting and fishing opportunity. And I think when we look at our energy extraction interests there, it's a prime place to consider balance in the truest sense."
In the Western states, maintaining and improving access to public lands also ranked high on the priority list. NWF says millions of acres of public land are surrounded by private land, discouraging or preventing their use. 42 percent of the poll respondents said they are Republicans, 32 percent Independents, and 18 percent Democrats.
More than two-thirds of the sportsmen polled said the U.S. should work to reduce carbon emissions, update the nation's mining law, which is 140 years old , and expand and strengthen the Clean Water Act. The findings don't surprise John Gale, who says these issues should be as important to politicians as they are to their constituents.
"People running for office need to be talking more about this. These are fundamental values that Westerners are really attached to, in a very personal way. By not talking about them, they’re really missing out on an opportunity to get a message out to the majority of people, that lie in the middle."
Last weekend, both U.S. Senators from Utah voted with the majority, to consider the Sportsmen's Act of 2012, a package of 19 bills, as one of the first orders of business after the elections. It focuses on conservation funding and public lands access. The House already passed its version of the legislation in April.