Western Sportsmen Wish to See Game Habitat Protected

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Western sportsmen want to see fish and game habitat protected as energy extraction continues. Most hunters and anglers believe unchecked drilling will impact wildlife. A new poll released Thursday by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development (SFRED) shows hunters and anglers in the Rocky Mountain West are not willing to sacrifice fish and game resources to unchecked oil and gas extraction in their state.

The poll, conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va., was given to about 1,600 licensed hunters and anglers in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Sportsmen and women were asked their opinions on a number of topics related to oil and gas extraction on public lands, and the majority, while favoring responsible development of domestic resources, expressed concern over the impact drilling will have on fish and game populations, and, by extension, hunting and fishing opportunities.

"That says something quite significant, and it ought to raise a few eyebrows in Congress and within the new Obama administration," said Rob Masonis, vice president of western conservation for Trout Unlimited, one of dozens of sportsmen's groups, organizations and businesses working within the SFRED campaign. "Hunters and anglers are a significant constituency in the West, and they have perhaps the most intimate connection with the land than any other user group. That they wish to see habitat and opportunity protected, even as oil and gas drilling continues, is certainly noteworthy."

For instance, when asked if public lands should be managed more for fish and wildlife or more for oil and gas extraction, approximately 65 percent said public lands should be managed for both about equally. Over 30 percent believed management philosophy should actually tilt in favor of fish and game, while only about 3 percent of the sportsmen polled believed public land should be managed first and foremost for oil and gas extraction.

"Given the strong conservation values of hunters and anglers, this information comes as no surprise," said Jim Lyon, vice president for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, another of the groups working under the SFRED umbrella. "Hunters and anglers have been in the business of conservation for a long time and we know that oil and gas can be extracted while we conserve wildlife at the same time.

"Unfortunately that's not the case right now. Sportsmen know that we have to balance energy and conservation. Hopefully, after hearing from hunters and anglers, members of Congress, with the help from a new presidential administration, will allow us to do just that."

The poll also revealed some very telling information regarding the depth of the connection sportsmen have with the land and waters of the West. Approximately 80 percent of the hunters and anglers polled believe the energy industry should be responsible for meeting the regulations put forth in the federal Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Presently, the energy industry is exempt from some provisions in both laws.

"Sportsmen and women in the Rockies have seen the impact irresponsible oil and gas drilling can have on water sources," Masonis said, citing water quality problems in Wyoming's Sublette County and numerous drilling mud and wastewater spills in northwest Colorado last winter. "Clean water is an issue that transcends any single campaign to protect habitat-it's a necessity in the arid West. The fact sportsmen are among the first to sound the alarm is significant, but without help from Washington, the West's water resources could be in real peril."

"We have reached a crucial juncture in Western energy development, and sportsmen are the first to appreciate that, if we continue on our present course, game populations will be irreparably harmed," said TRCP Energy Initiative Manager Steve Belinda, a former federal biologist. "The model presently used to regulate oil and gas extraction on our public lands does not work for fish and wildlife. Energy development must follow a true multiple-use approach and be pursued in accordance with the best available science if our sporting traditions are to remain part of America's shared cultural heritage."

Some other important findings in the poll:

* About 75 percent of those polled believe the federal government should take the necessary steps to protect hunting and fishing opportunities on land leased for oil and gas extraction.

* The poll reveals the sportsmen and women throughout the West are concerned oil and gas extraction will result in a loss of hunting and fishing access on public lands, less wild area or natural habitat for fish and wildlife.

* Those polled believed increased oil and gas extraction will result in more poaching.

* About 85 percent of those polled strongly or moderately opposed any process that would exclude sportsmen and women from the decision-making process surrounding the leasing and drilling of public lands.

* In rating the importance of the uses of public land in the West, the sportsmen and women polled placed hunting and fishing and outdoor recreation atop their list, with wildlife habitat management coming in a close second, and fish habitat management third. Traditional oil and gas extraction came in well down the list, below development of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

To see the poll in its entirety, visit www.tu.org.