An Open Letter to Our Next President
Outdoor Life challenges the incoming administration to improve the nation’s economy, promote healthy lifestyles, and repair our public lands and water
Congratulations on your election. Now the work of leading—and healing—America begins.
I know there’s no shortage of places to start, but sneak a look out the window of Air Force One. All that open space that you flew over as a candidate is the real America, and it’s full of game and fish, and of citizens ready to work with you. When you visit us at our wild-game dinners and conservation banquets and hunters’ breakfasts—and you are going to get plenty of these invitations—you will find that politics don’t matter to us as much as solutions.
You should know this about sportsmen: We are bipartisan. We love our guns as much as we love clean water and abundant wildlife. We are practical, independent problem solvers. And at the risk of overplaying the patriot card, sportsmen carry the flame of self-reliance and grit that has defined America since we were a collection of colonies.
So if you are looking for a few policy wins early in your first term, and a place to stake your claim that you are a pragmatic visionary, you can’t do better than addressing some of these issues that are critical to America’s sportsmen and sportswomen.
#1) Articulate a Sensible Public-Lands Policy
Radical fringe groups have reignited a new kind of Sagebrush Rebellion, arguing that the federal government has no business owning land. The most dangerous expression of this mindset was the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last January, but there are plenty of extremists using legislation instead of guns to achieve the same goal. Here’s the deal: There are some federal lands that should be sold, either because they are too expensive to manage or because they have little public value. But the fire-sale radicals forget that there’s actually a very useful tool at your disposal to identify and process the sale: the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Encourage Congress to reauthorize this act. Then your administration should use it to identify low-value federal lands, parcels with no public access or that are hugely expensive to manage. Sell them, and use the proceeds to buy higher-value lands that promote public access, wildlife habitat, and watershed conservation. learn more: conservationfund.org/partner-with-us/federal-policy/fltfa
#2) Promote a National Stream Access Program
We wish we had seen you outdoors more during that crazy primary and general election season. I get it; you’re not an avid outdoorsperson. But many millions of your constituents are, and fishing is one of our favorite outdoor activities. Yet most of the waterways in America are off-limits to public recreation because they flow through private land or are too small for navigable watercraft. We’re not big proponents of top-down policies—especially when they come from Washington, D.C.—but you could immediately open millions of miles of fishable streams to the public if you were to promote nationally the sort of stream access we have in my home state of Montana. The law here says that the public is allowed to access a stream anywhere it crosses a public roadway or public land. Our law has made Montana an international destination for fishing, and all of those anglers have made the state’s economy robust and resilient. When you support public recreation access, you also support a sustainable recreation economy. But public access has these additional benefits: promotion of healthy lifestyles and outdoor traditions, resolution of our nation’s nature-deficit disorder, and conservation of landscapes and waterways. learn more: www.backcountryhunters.org/streamaccessnow
#3) Resolve the Public-Land Filming Mess
I love to take photographs, some of which appear in this magazine. I also love to shoot videos of my hunts, and some of that footage shows up on outdoorlife.com or our Facebook and Instagram feeds. Thing is, if I’m shooting video and photography on public lands, I may be breaking the law unless I get a commercial-use permit from the land-management agency that administers the public property. It’s not just me and my fellow editors; public-land hunters and anglers are all exposed to significant fines if we post a social-media image that might be construed as commercial. The permits are expensive, often arbitrary, and time-consuming to obtain. They were originally intended to mitigate the impact on our public lands of big Hollywood-scale film crews. And while those projects should continue to be held to a high standard, the one-size-fits-all permit no longer applies in the Snapchat age, and it probably prevents many of us from promoting the message that our public lands are productive, beautiful, and inviting places to visit. With a simple executive action, you could waive this outdated filming requirement for millions of Americans. learn more: owaa.org/blog/2015/02/owaa-position-filming-photography-public-lands/
#4) Support Conservation Funding
For too long, politics have gummed up the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This money derives from a portion of offshore oil drilling revenue, and is essentially an energy mitigation tax intended to fund critical conservation projects. Passed with wide bipartisan congressional support in 1964, for decades it provided up to $900 million annually to help states consolidate public land, invest in wildlife refuges, and conserve critical wildlife habitat. Partisan politicians now control the funding spigot, turning it on and off to suit their interests. Consistent, predictable funding for conservation has never been more important. Most state wildlife agencies historically have been funded by sportsmen’s hunting and fishing license dollars, but as America’s demographics change and our population becomes more urban and removed from traditional uses of the land, wildlife managers and open-space advocates need the long-term predictability that the fully funded LWCF provides. learn more: lwcfcoalition.org
#5) Normalize the Use of Suppressors
The firearm suppressor has an image problem. First is the name. Commonly called a “silencer,” it’s easy to think—wrongly—that it renders a gun silent. And thanks to innumerable Hollywood villians, it is synonymous with evil-doing. Why else would someone want to quiet the sound of a gunshot except to break a law? In order to save our sense of hearing, that’s why. It’s time that America caught up with the rest of the civilized world and promoted the use of suppressors for hunting and recreational shooting. Across much of Europe, suppressors are required on firearms, as a public-health consideration for shooters and because they minimize the spooking of game animals. As it now stands, if an American wants to own a suppressor, he is subjected to a thicket of archaic rules that date back to Al Capone and the heyday of organized crime rings. Ultimately, we urge Congress to pass the Hearing Protection Act of 2015, but until that happens, there are things that your administration can do to remove the stigma from suppressors and make it easy for ordinary, law-abiding shooters to own them. Direct the ATF to streamline “Form 4,” the paperwork required to register a suppressor. Reduce the cost of the suppressor permit. And shorten the many-months waiting period we currently endure in order to own a suppressor. learn more: americansuppressorassociation.com
#6) Respect the Conservation Coalition
This should be obvious, but it takes a lot more than a village to manage America’s abundant fish and wildlife and the wild places where they live. There is an alphabet soup of public agencies, nonprofit organizations, think tanks, and advocates who spend a whole lot more time and energy thinking about conservation issues than either you or I do. They already have detailed plans and strategies about how you should tackle things like public access, conservation funding, and land-management conflicts. Listen to these folks, who represent a wide coalition of perspectives, political views, and geographic regions. You have the luxury—and the permission given you by America’s voters—to pick and choose from their recommendations. But at least listen. There’s a reason we call ourselves “conservationists.” We like to conserve. We are reasonable, restrained, and thoughtful. But we also are opinionated, and it’s our opinion that you have a short time to spend your political capital to make a difference for America’s natural resources and our legacy of public hunting and fishing on healthy public lands.