Orange and Green
by: Andy Walgamott Posted on: October 21, 2010
Underneath my hunter orange this fall you’ll find another color: green. I have to be careful where I show the earthier shade, though. It can be dangerous to do so at deer camp – and that’s a shame. Then again, showing my orange amongst a bunch of environmentalists could get me in trouble too – and that’s also a shame. It’s because both groups have their share of folks who are absolutely sure the other side is bent on their destruction and will do nothing short of shoot every animal or melt every gun barrel to reach that goal. Web sites percolate fantastic stories, bloggers and columnists foment, magazines aggravate. We’re kept in a constant state of fear of each other. Witness the titanic struggles over wolves in the Northern Rockies. On the one hand there’s the comment I just read that all wolf lovers hate babies, smoke pot and that there aren’t any animals left in Yellowstone. And on the other, there’s the kind of people who believe their “spirit animal is a large black wolf with bright blue eyes.” Meanwhile, back on earth, those of us not on the flaming fringes all want essentially the same things: healthy woods and waters that provide habitat for plentiful critters, as well as safe drinking water and an escape from the city.
WE MAY DIFFER on the details, but we’re all defenders of wildlife, and wildlands, at heart. It may be hard to believe that people who shoot animals care about them, but hunters were among this country’s earliest environmentalists (though we reflexively prefer the term “conservationists”). Teddy Roosevelt set aside vast forests and grasslands. Through Congress we’ve taxed ourselves to help bring back animal populations from near extinction due to market hunting, a practice far different than what we do today. These days, Federal duck stamp fees, which allow us to hunt waterfowl, alone raise nearly $200 million annually. And while that money is plowed right back into state wildlife agencies, it does far more than just ensure hunters have enough geese and big game to hunt each Fall. Watchable birds, mammals and fish, says the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, brings $1.7 billion a year and 21,000 jobs largely to rural areas. It’s a fantastic success story – and one that some hunters think falls on deaf ears among the green community. And that’s a problem because we are a powerful potential partner. Then again, some hunters tend to ignore or grumble loudly about things that have also helped wildlife out – the 1964 Wilderness Act, banning lead shot for waterfowl, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, etc. Those successes are every bit as fantastic, but they’re seen as green victories. And that’s a problem too, for when we see things only through political lenses, animals and landscapes lose.
KUMBAYAH CAMPFIRES may be a ways off, but perpetuating the divide between hunters and environmentalists does neither side any good. The truth is many environmentalists hunt and many hunters care deeply about critters. Conservatives hike as Liberals fish. Red Staters like wide-open spaces and Blue Staters love their wooden houses. Urbanites enjoy salmon fillets while suburban – and rural dwellers like to breathe fresh air and drink clean water. The labels used to keep us apart are bunk. True, we all have our high horses to come off of. Hunters, they are state wildlife areas, for all the people of Washington to enjoy, not just hunting areas. Enviros, we have zero interest in shooting you or your dog when you wander Washington’s woods and fields during hunting season – for starters, you don’t taste as good as elk or pheasant. And while we may never fully agree on how to get things done – broadly speaking, we sportsmen tend to roll up our sleeves while greens tend to argue in court – there are some signs that both groups are moving towards each other. Take the collaborative Columbia Highlands initiative, a plan worked out between environmentalists, loggers, ranchers, conservationists and others in the Colville National Forest. It would set aside nearly 200,000 roadless acres in the Selkirks and Kettle Crest as wilderness while keeping open twice that much acreage for continued logging, and leave another 400,000 for forest restoration, wheel-based recreation and other activities. After eight years of work amongst very disparate groups, it seems like a win-win has emerged – wildlife and habitat, recreational opportunities, ranching and sawmill jobs protected – instead of the proverbial carpet being pulled out from under somebody. We’re much more alike than we are different. We have common goals. We can work together. Orange and green, green and orange.
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