Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Hunters, Anglers, Environmentalists

by Mary-Beth Baptista

Spurred by blatant congressional attacks on America's natural resources, environmentalists are setting aside past differences with hunters and anglers and working together to defend wild lands and habitat from timber and oil companies, mining conglomerates and irresponsible developers.

More than 100,000 Sierra Club members - better than one out of six - are active hunters and anglers dedicated to continuing the sporting tradition through public land conservation. Considering that more than 50 million Americans fish and 15 million hunt, such a coalition makes sense. Most recently, alliances such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, run by elk hunters, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, run by a former National Audubon Society lobbyist, have protected or restored 1.8 million acres north of Yellowstone National Park.

Trout Unlimited has been another powerful force in not only conserving public lands from the threats of grazing reform and irresponsible forestry practices, but preserving the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts. "What has made Trout Unlimited so successful is that it is run by people who are not just sportsmen or environmentalists, but both, " wrote Ted Williams in the September/October issue of Sierra magazine.

"Whenever sportsmen combine with environmentalists, you have 60 to 70 percent of the population, an absolutely irresistible coalition," Chris Potholm, professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College in Maine, told the magazine.

In August 1995, in Greensboro, N.C., a diverse group of hunting and angling organizations, environmental groups and federal wildlife management agencies sat down to rejuvenate the century-old alliance. Over a year later, the Sierra Club is a leading member of the new Natural Resource Summit of America, whose mission is "to inform Americans of the need to make our natural resources a priority and to hold elected leaders and candidates accountable for their positions on these issues."

With a combined membership totaling 11 million, the alliance aims to educate the public about congressional attacks on the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and our public lands.

"The foundation for this alliance has always existed," said Dan Smuts, of the Sierra Club's Land Protection Program. "Our partnership has flourished because of the effort put forth by all parties to maximize and highlight common ground, rather than to try to overcome differences."

Since that first meeting in Greensboro, Club activists nationwide have linked arms with local hunting and fishing organizations to get the message out. When Bucks County Group activist Ed Zygmunt heard Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was coming to his town, he worked with the Pennsylvania Federation of Sports Clubs Incorporated to organize a canoe trip down the once-polluted Susquehanna River, a Clean Water Act success story. Additionally, Zygmunt has worked with the federation to produce a joint radio ad in defense of the Endangered Species Act. Similar ads ran in Georgia and Delaware.

Club members in Washington and Oregon worked with the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition to reach fishing enthusiasts at major angling shows. They circulated fact sheets describing trout and salmon habitat loss caused by clearcutting and mining waste runoff and encouraged anglers to mail educational postcards to Congress.

Among other coalition efforts, the Club has designed a traveling display booth to be used at outdoor shows across the country. Volunteers from the Houston Group staffed the booth at a hunting and fishing show for four days.

"They assigned our table next to a hunting guide service, with stuffed things hanging all over their display," said activist Diana Stevens. "Both groups were initially apprehensive, but we soon discovered that they hunt at the site of a proposed airport, an endangered wetland where we birdwatch. I don't think you could have much more common ground than the preservation of habitat. We made new allies in our battle that day, but we wouldn't have if we hadn't been open-minded enough to be there."

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