Report: Conservation Group, Unions Joining Forces

By Larry S. Moore

On January 16, the Washington Post reported 20 labor unions with nearly 5 million members are joining forces with a Republican-leaning umbrella group of conservationists -- the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership -- to put pressure on Congress and the Bush administration.

From the story:

    The Union Sportsman's Alliance, to be rolled out in Washington on Tuesday after nearly three years of quiet negotiations, is to be a dues-based organization ($25 a year). Its primary goal is to increase federal funding for protecting wildlife habitat while guaranteeing access for hunters and anglers.

    The unlikely marriage of union and conservation interests comes at a time when the Bush administration, with its push for oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountain West, has limited public access to prime hunting and fishing areas on federal land. This has triggered a bipartisan backlash from sportsmen and conservation groups, as well as from Western politicians in both parties.

    The strength of that backlash is making bedfellows of blue-collar workers and old-guard conservationists, who historically have shared little but suspicion and disdain.

    "We can make the union movement and environmentalism compatible and not antagonistic," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists. "As of late, an awareness has grown that our goals are the same. We want good air, clean water and access to the outdoors."

    Jim Range, chairman of the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which includes most of the nation's mainline hunting and fishing groups, said his organization forged an alliance with the unions in large measure because of their manpower, money and lobbying savvy.

    "It opens up a tremendous amount of territory for us to work on the both sides of the aisle," Range said. He predicted that the alliance will create a sudden and historically unique influx of millions of new people to the cause of land conservation.

At first glance this article and coalition between the Theodore Roosevelt group and unions sounds exciting. Perhaps hunters and sportsmen from the union ranks could be attracted into the conservation arena also. Upon closer examination and analysis, however, I think there are some serious questions to be examined.

Click on 'Read More' for the entire commentary.

I am always somewhat suspicious whenever a new group is announced. What are their real goals? Gun owners and hunters have seen many imitation groups formed to attract our money while misrepresenting their true ambitions.

Why do we need another conservation group formed for unions? Many of the union people I know are already involved with a group from a local gun or conservation club. Many others have joined local chapters of national conservation organizations that represent their favorite hunting interest, such as the NRA, National Wild Turkey Foundation (NWTF), Whitetails Unlimited or Ducks Unlimited (DU). Mainstream union leadership has not "gotten it" for many years that the union membership likes to hunt/fish/own guns.

The author displays a lack of historical knowledge about the conservation movement in America and seems to confuse the line between the true conservation movement and the environmental movement. The author notes there are strange bedfellows between blue-collar workers and old guard conservationists. The conservation movement, dating back to the early 1900s, was a blue-collar movement. It was not until the late 1960s that the upper-middle class professionals got involved to basically hijack the conservation organizations and lead the effort astray into the radical environmental anti-hunting and anti-gun groups we see today. I was involved in Ohio, during the state ballot issue on the leg-hold trapping in the mid-1970s. Believe me, there were plenty of union workers working to preserve the trapping heritage.

My Father was a union member from the 1950s through his death in 1987. When he was buried, there were four mementos in his coffin; his union card, a United States Navy pin, an American flag on his suit and his NRA membership card. It is interesting that the union leadership have found that 70% of their members hunt and fish. It was certainly like that when I was growing up as most all my Father's friends were union members and participated in hunting or fishing. This speaks volumes about how out of touch the union leadership became with their dues paying members.

So now they want a conservation organization of their own. I have to question is this sudden change in the true interest of conservation or is it another way for the union leadership to gather funds? The leadership does not like the NRA that works to elect pro-gun candidates because the pro-gun candidates are typically not union candidates. Maybe the union leadership does not realize that conservation, hunting, and guns go hand-in-hand. I can't hunt without good conservation and habitat. I also can't hunt without my guns or archery equipment. They are tightly linked.

I don't believe another conservation organization is needed. Rather than giving the conservation movement a boost, this may simply move membership from traditional groups (DU, NWTF) to the new group. The question becomes is their money better spent on this new partnership with new overhead or is an additional $25 donation to their current conservation organization more effective???

Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a Region Leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award.

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