By Don Jordan

Inside Outdoors Sept. 19, 2004.

When National Rifle Association President Kayne Robinson stood before the nation's outdoor writers and broadcasters at their Spokane conference last June, he probably expected the usual eyewinks and back pats members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America typically give to the NRA.

Robinson would have been fine if he had not started a political campaign. Instead, the NRA chief chose to attack the Sierra Club as being a claven of environmentalist anti-hunters who are secretly scheming to ban guns in America.

Furthermore, he told the assembled newspaper and magazine writers and editors and broadcasters that the NRA would never cooperate with the Sierra Club. Why? Because the Sierra Club was trying to "hoodwink" hunters into voting for candidates who don't support the NRA's agenda, said Robinson.

Both the NRA and the Sierra Club are supporting members of the writer's association and pay a heavy membership fee to support the group. In return, the supporting members get to speak to the writers, explain their agendas and try to generate favorable press coverage.

A large number of outdoor writers are NRA members and some write for their various publications. Some are members of the Sierra Club and write for their publications, and a few are members of both. The Sierra Club became a supporting member in hopes of recruiting hunters and anglers to support habitat preservation on public lands. Most OWAA members welcomed the club's message. According to the Sierra Club, one in five of its members are hunters and anglers.

Unfortunately, Robinson didn't stop there. In what turned out to be a gross prevarication, the NRA leader charged that hunters are being locked out of 26 million acres of public land because of a Clinton Administration decision to limit road building.

In fact, none of these lands are closed to hunting. They are closed to mechanized traffic like four-wheelers, cars, 4x4 trucks, helicopters, airplanes and motorcycles. If you want to hunt or fish in the remaining roadless areas in the U.S., you have to either walk or ride horses. Later, when indignant writers asked Robinson to name a roadless area closed to hunting by the road- building limit, Robinson was unable to name a single acre. Why? Because there are none to name.

That's where the ugly specter of politics entered Robinson's "misstatement." The NRA supports the reelection of George W. Bush, because it figures to get a better deal on gun laws from the Republicans. Bush has also promised to eliminate the Clinton road-building ban.

Add to this mix of political swill the fact that some hunting and angling groups, usually especially conservative folks, have announced their opposition to Bush because of his natural resources extraction policies. Bush wants to open millions of acres of untouched lands to mineral and oil exploitation in those very areas where the most conservative of the hunters and anglers the west and in Alaska.

On June 30, OWAA Board of Directors voted to send a critical letter to Robinson about his speech. In part, the letter was to express "our disappointment in your harsh criticism of fellow OWAA supporting member Sierra Club" and that some of Robinson's comments were "inappropriate."

So far, nobody has uncovered a secret Sierra Club stealth plan to undermine the 2nd Amendment, and the club's desire to protect public lands is well established. And, while the Sierra Club no doubt has members who want more gun control, it also has members who want less.

After that, lots of newspaper outdoor writers blasted the NRA for being so narrowly focused on its firearm agenda that it is backing the wrong horse for hunters and anglers. Habitat loss is the number one threat to hunting and fishing in America today, and nobody disputes it, nobody.

"Here's a fact Robinson missed. Some 8,700 acres of wildlife habitat -- farms, fields and forests -- are lost to development every day in the United States. They were lost to urban development. They are gone forever behind 'No Trespassing' signs and beneath asphalt. That's the real enemy of all who love the outdoors," wrote Ben Logan In TidePool.

Trout Unlimited, whose members are considered to be extremely conservative politically, held a press conference at the same Spokane meeting. TU released a series of studies, reports and statistics that all concluded that the best hunting and fishing in America are found in "undeveloped roadless areas" in the national forests and Bureau of Land Management property. Why? Because every Tom, Dick and Harry can't drive his ATV to the edge of the stream or remote elk pasture.

A number of long-time outdoor writers and broadcasters have very publicly resigned from OWAA over the NRA flap. They have accused their fellows of trying to subvert OWAA and turn it into an anti-hunting arm of groups like PETA. OWAA, a 77-year-old group that can only be called conservative, will survive the loss of the gun whackos, but I am wondering if we, the people, will.

Unfortunately, NRA has driven yet another wedge into the fabric of our society, dividing even those of us who support the 2nd Amendment because we aren't "pure" enough (meaning Republican enough) in our politics. As an OWAA member since 1972, I know that most of us see how important it is to safeguard the Bill of Rights, and, at the same time, protect and preserve wildlife habitat. It has to be that way, but in the end, I predict we get to keep our guns and suck our thumbs as we watch the bulldozers and paving machines bury the last good places on Earth.

Copyright 2004. Jordan Communications

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