Friday, January 21, 2011

There's Hope Yet...

If you're reading this, chances are, you've arleady ventured by Hal Herring's Field and Stream blog, "The Conservationist." And if you've been paying attention over the last week or so, you're probably encouraged.

And rightly so.

Herring, like me, was a disappointed in the responses from a number of members of Congress to an overdue policy change announced by U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar before the holidays. Essentially, Salazar reinstated the Bureau of Land Management's ability to identify high-quality lands and propose them for protection. This power was stripped from the BLM by former Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. Predictably, the far-right, perhaps overreaching a bit in the wake the Teabagger Revival, came out with shrill criticism of Salazar for the having the stones to restore balance to a federal agency in charge of managing federal land. Imagine that.

In this blog, I singled out U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who made a half-baked remark about the "brazen" actions of the administration–that Salazar had the nerve to propose something so outlandish offended him to his right-wing core. Well, Hal Herring, who has more street cred with hunters and anglers than Bishop will ever have, took the debate to the next level, calling out Rep. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada.

Congressman Dean Heller, R-Nevada. He doesn't like
wilderness or, apparently, poorly dressed children.
Heller spouted off similar tripe to the Wall Street Journal that Bishop spewed to the New York Times shortly after Salazar made the announcement that the BLM was back in the land management business after nearly a decade away from it.

Heller's quote: "The message of the [midterm] election is we want less regulation, less government intrusion. We want to keep these lands open."

Herring jumped all over that one, and rightly so. There's nothing "closed" about any BLM land, anywhere. Sure, there are limitations to how you can access certain swaths of land. The really good stuff (wilderness or wilderness study areas) can only be visited foot or on horseback. The marginal stuff ... well, I'm of the opinion that that's where the snot-slurping, braindead goofballs on ATVs belong, mostly because they've already screwed it all up for anyone else but themselves.

Herring put together a cogent piece in response the to foam-at-the-mouth (there's my favorite phrase again) members of Congress, noting that protecting important landscapes does for more sportsmen and women in the long run than just about anything else. Keeping habitat intact protects hunting and fishing opportunity (where have I heard that before?).

Well, Heller responded. Or at least someone on Heller's staff responded. And Herring, to his credit, gave him free rein to make an ass of himself. Predictably, he did.

By falling back on the age-old, manipulative bullshit, Heller tried to tell Herring (who's probably forgotten more about public lands management laws than Heller will ever know) that increasing the amount of federal real estate protected as wilderness (even though Salazar's return to the status quo does not create a single acre of new wilderness) locks out the average sportsman. He also made some half-cocked comment that hunting elk is virtually impossible if you don't have an ATV or a horse (how's that for an endorsement for the morbidly obese slob who desperately wants to go outside but isn't about to earn the privilege by putting some wear and tear on a pair of hiking boots?) 

And then, Heller really stepped on his Johnson: "Outfitters and trappers may no longer have access because restrictions may not allow horses." 

Huh? Keep in mind, this a dude who claims to be a "lifelong sportsman" himself. He serves on the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, and is the policy chair for the Congressional Western Caucus. And he thinks Salazar's policy shift that enables the BLM to identify high-quality fish and game habitat as "wild lands" amounts to a ban on horses? 

Take a moment to spit the vomit out of your mouth. I'll do the same.

In a very polite and courteous response, Herring, who clearly has more class than I do, explained to Heller the real reason honest-to-God sportsmen applauded Salazar's move is because it was simply the right thing to do under the law that requires the federal agency to manage its lands for their assets. In doing so, the BLM will now get back to the business of identifying the best of what it has left within its vast inventory and nominating that land (read: HABITAT) for protection. Of course, you have to understand something that Heller has conveniently forgotten. Only Congress can designate land as wilderness. And that's odd, seeing as how Heller is in, um, Congress.

But I digress. I did say there was some good news. And that's in the slew of comments that appear after all three posts (the first from Herring, Heller's response, and Herring's response to the response). Most of the thoughtful hunters and anglers applauded Herring's fair approach to the discussion, and sided on the side of habitat. One sportsman actually pulled one of my favorite tricks–he followed the money, and reported that Heller's last campaign finance report noted donations exceeding $80,000 from the "energy and natural resources" sector. Nevada, you should know, is a mining state. It's pretty clear who Heller is really out to protect, and it's not Nevada's hunters and anglers. No wonder he's pissed at Herring.

My favorite response was from a sportsman who, after reading Heller's response from on high, said: "Hmmm, he (or rather, a junior member of his staff) took eight paragraphs to say absolutely nothing, address absolutely nothing and effectively refute absolutely nothing. Hell, I could have done the same thing by saying "blah, blah, blah" for eight paragraphs, and it would have made about as much sense..."

Alas, a little bit of my faith has been restored in the sporting community, thanks to Hal Herring and those who read his blog. God bless the informed sportsman, for he wields more than a gun and a rod. He wields truth, and Hal Herring put that weapon to the best of uses recently. Good on him for doing that. We're all better off as a result.


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