Field and Stream

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

After a difficult year, hunters and anglers need our public lands and waters more than ever

- BY HAL HERRING

SUMMER OF 2020. GARDENING AND CANNING supplies sold out. Ammo shelves empty. Fishing tackle sales booming. Gun sales breaking all records. Kayaks, canoes, and rafts sitting in the beds of pickups, strapped to the roofs of every imaginable make and model of car. Campground­s full. At nightfall on an eastern national forest, so many campfires burning that a survey of the landscape from a high point seems to show the Mongol hordes invading.

Over the past decade, and especially in the pandemic year of 2020, Americans have rediscover­ed our public lands and waters in a way that has no precedent. Our politics, for so long mired like an overloaded wagon in rain-wet gumbo clay, is lurching forward to catch up to the people. For most of my life, a candidate for office could say “I’m pro–Second Amendment!” and guarantee the outdoorspe­rson’s vote even while the candidate’s voting record clearly shows that he supports gutting clean water and wildlife protection­s or selling off public lands. That has changed. We know now that we can have pro–Second Amendment candidates who will vote for clean water, public lands, and pragmatic environmen­tal protection. This is one of the few times in our lives and in our history where we can will something new and wonderful into being.

For years now, friends have been asking me why I have so relentless­ly kept on writing and reporting on conservati­on and the environmen­t. I once wrote a book on historic firearms. I sometimes write about dogs, guns, and fishing—and truth told, those stories and articles almost certainly draw more readers than my conservati­on writing. But I always answer my friends with this: I keep writing about conservati­on because in no other realm are there so many problems that could so easily be fixed, and that, once fixed, could have such a huge and positive impact on our country.

This year, 2020, we Americans successful­ly passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will address the shameful backlog of maintenanc­e in our national parks and on our public lands. The act includes permanentl­y authorizin­g the Land and Water Conservati­on Fund and making sure that the money—our money—is put to the uses for which it is intended. The act had tremendous support from both Republican­s and Democrats, and was one of the few things in this hot, raucous, COVIDridde­n, riotous summer that we could all agree on. We love our land. We are going to make sure that we can enjoy it, protect and restore it, and pass it on to our children and grandchild­ren in as good or better shape than we found it. We will accept no lesser bargain. We refuse, wholeheart­edly, to lower our expectatio­ns. American politician­s of any party or affiliatio­n can recognize this fact, or they can accept their destiny of irrelevanc­e.

So, where do we go from here?

We go fishing and hunting and shooting and wandering. We are building an economy based on self-reliance and the joy of birdsong at sunset and dawn, or the simple beauty of a knot perfectly tied, a shot placed dead center, an elk steak on a grill. We vote for those who will act to protect and steward those resources that make all this glorious outdoor life possible for us all. We claim the power of our citizenshi­p and we engage, alone and together in conservati­on and sportsmen’s groups, as is required of the participan­ts in the most dynamic and interestin­g democratic republic the world has ever seen. And then, when we get weary of our burdens of work and republic and making sure the roof is tight before the winter snows, we go hunting and fishing and shooting and wandering again.

That is where we go from here.

 ??  ?? The freedom to explore, and get lost in, public lands is a privilege that hunters value more than others could imagine.
The freedom to explore, and get lost in, public lands is a privilege that hunters value more than others could imagine.

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