Conservation not the enemy of rights

Posted Oct. 08, 2010, at 11:12 p.m.

Republicans led the conservation movement in this country, but not anymore. In their zeal to protect private property rights and encourage the private enterprise system, they’ve turned their back on their conservation heritage.

Well, not all of us Republicans have done that. Imprinted at birth with two affiliations, Republican and sportsman, I remain a strong conservationist. But that may be driven by my sportsman gene.

In Maine and throughout the country, sportsmen remain true to their heritage, with a clear understanding of the important role the government can and must play in conserving our most valuable natural resources and assuring that all citizens have access to our special places.

Here in Maine, this remains true. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, my employer for the past 18 years, joined environmental groups in actively campaigning for every Land for Maine’s Future bond issue. Maine sportsmen can be proud of this and of their strong voting record in favor of the LMF program.

As we approach another vote on an LMF bond issue, I know that sportsmen will once again cast most of their ballots for this program.

I wish I could say the same about my fellow Republicans. This is heavily on my mind after recently reading “Becoming Teddy Roosevelt,” a wonderful exploration of Roosevelt’s relationship with Maine guides Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow written by Andrew Vietze.

Roosevelt achieved the most remarkable conservation record of all of our presidents. During his tenure, the Republican Roosevelt worked consistently to protect the nation’s natural heritage, saving some 84,000 acres a day, creating 150 national forests, five national parks, four national game preserves, 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, 24 reclamation projects and 51 federal bird reserves, including the first, on Pelican Island, Fla..

Were Roosevelt to be back up in Island Falls visiting Bill Sewall today, he’d be appalled to learn that Republican voters, 2-to-1, plan to vote against the LMF bond on Nov. 2. That has to change, and the change must be led by gubernatorial nominee Paul LePage.

LePage believes strongly that private landowners are the best stewards of Maine’s natural resources, and says if we want them to do something for us, then we’ll have to “incentivize” (pay) them.

Well, that’s just what we do with the LMF funding. We buy land from willing sellers so the places in Maine that are most special remain available to future generations as well as ourselves.

LePage says he wants to “brand Maine as a place to hunt and fish.” To do that, we must secure access to the land and water of this state and that’s just what LMF does. It’s time to stop advertising Maine as a destination for sportsmen while depending on private landowners to accommodate those sportsmen on their lands.

It’s also time for Republicans to understand that our advocacy for private property rights can be consistent with our support for public lands and conservation.

Indeed, advocating for more public lands serves the interests of private landowners who do not want to provide their lands for the recreational pleasure of the public.

If Teddy Roosevelt were living in Maine on Nov. 2, he would most certainly be voting yes on Question 3 for a new LMF bond issue. We should follow his lead.

George Smith, the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, is a writer and television talk show host. He may be reached at georgesmithmaine@gmail.com.

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