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Saving the wild planet

Strange Bedfellows or Natural Allies?

The Sierra Club has serious political differences with the National Rifle Association, but the two organizations can agree on one thing: The Katy Prairie in Texas, a winter home for millions of waterfowl that nest in the Midwest and Canada, should be protected. “It’s perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain that if you’re going to enjoy the fruits of the outdoors, you’re going to have to take care of it,” says NRA director Sue King.

Working with Marge Hanselman, former conservation chair for the Houston Group of the Sierra Club, King has lobbied city officials and testified at hearings to oppose construction of an airport that would obliterate the prairie. She even donated the proceeds from a women’s target-shooting event to the Sierra Club and the Katy Prairie Conservancy. “Sue King is a strong woman and one of the most avid conservationists I know,” Hanselman says.

According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Alliance, most hunters and anglers have strong conservationist leanings. A study the organization completed in January 2000 found that 83 percent of hunters and 86 percent of anglers support keeping the remaining wild areas in national forests free of roads. Both groups place a high value on protecting water quality (98 percent of hunters and 99 percent of anglers); providing habitat for endangered species (93 and 94 percent, respectively); and preserving places for solitude and experiences close to nature (91 and 92 percent).

Given these shared passions, environmentalists have much to gain from banding together with hunting and fishing groups. Sporting enthusiasts are numerous in some states with lots of public land, like Wyoming and Nevada, where environmentalists tend to be on the defensive. National environmental groups have a combined membership of more than 5 million, with millions more in local and state organizations. Add that to the nation’s 50 million hunters and anglers, and you have a formidable grassroots force.

The Sierra Club is already working with dozens of sporting groups around the country. Our New York activists held a fish-in on the Hudson River, catching and releasing fish to publicize the need to clean up General Electric’s PCB pollution in the waterway. We are teaming up with hunters in North Dakota who are opposed to oil and gas development in the Little Missouri Grasslands, and with both hunters and anglers in Wisconsin to fight the mining industry. In the broader Great Lakes area, the Sierra Club has joined forces with the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited to protect wetlands and enhance water quality. “The Clean Water Act has greatly improved our lakes and streams,” says hunting and fishing guide Gary Engberg. “But we still need to ensure the fish we catch are safe for all to eat.”

Such alliances could be increasingly important. President George W. Bush has suggested that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a nesting ground for hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl, is a good place for oil and gas drilling. He is also trying to overturn the plan that put 58 million acres of wild forests off-limits to logging and roadbuilding. “As the Sierra Club works to defend these places, we will continue to reach out to the hunters and anglers who have a stake in them,” says Sierra Club legislative director Debbie Sease. “We’re natural allies.”

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