Bent Christensen, AP
I have long been an outdoors writer telling stories of hiking and backwoods adventures. To this day the focus of my best work is always on nature, conservation and the organizations dedicated to maintaining our natural heritage.
Yet, like so many other conservatives, I ignore my invitation to join Sierra Club every year when I get it in the mail, and I shy away from joining most national environmental political causes. Isn’t it strange that so many farmers, hunters, fishermen and others that live and work closest to nature, so often leave the politics of nature for the city dwellers to figure out?
And just how did the radicals make environmental issues their exclusive domain and then convince the rest of us to keep out? It wasn’t always that way. Actually, many of the most influential conservationists in history have been either Republicans, conservatives or both.
Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th President, considered by many to be the father of the conservationist movement in America, was both a Republican and conservative when he formed the United States Forestry Service and then helped establish five national parks, four national monuments and protected a large portion of the Grand Canyon.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed by executive order under Richard Nixon — and only later confirmed by Congress.
It was George H. W. Bush that signed what many have described as the most effective environmental statute ever enacted — the Clean Air Amendments of 1990.
Conservation used to be a bi-partisan issue.
Who would you guess said this:
“There is an absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment, the bulldozer mentality. The past is a luxury we can no longer afford. Our roads and other public projects must be planned to prevent the destruction of scenic resources and to avoid needlessly upsetting the ecological balance.”
It was Ronald Reagan.
Barry Goldwater was a long-term member of the Sierra Club. Yet today, John McCain (one of the chief cosponsors of the Endangered Species Act) would likely be crucified by his own party for joining.
Why is that?
The problem is that the far left has hijacked the environmentalist movement and made it practically impossible for clear thinking and reasonable people to join in. It has become a false religion where the organization and obedience to dogma is supreme to the cause.
Comments from environmentalists like Al Gore who in “Earth in the balance” described our civilization as “deeply dysfunctional” and called for a “wrenching transformation,” is just one example of why clear thinking conservatives can’t bear to join the global warming bandwagon. Any reasonable discussion of the facts of global warming, fracking or how to protect the environment of the spotted owl gets you labeled a heretic, a flat earther or maybe even a bigot.
American hunters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts are too often demonized by the organizations that, at least on the surface, seem to have similar goals. And too many conservatives ignore important environmental issues for fear of being labeled tree-huggers or environmentalist wackos from their own political allies.
This is a big problem because there are important environmental issues that need to be addressed.
It is this “agree with our extreme views or stay home” attitude that has dropped American’s concern for the environment down to eighth place on a recent Pew poll measuring the top political concerns of Americans.
Perhaps we need to replace those national and international groups, those that put the health of their organization above the health of the environment, with grassroots groups found out here where the trail tire actually meets the fire road — groups that are actually making a difference.
Groups like the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club spend countless hours repairing and caring for the national treasure that is the AT. Boy Scouts clear and maintain hundreds of trails and participate regularly in environmental and conservation projects. The Rockbridge Area Conservation Council recently organized the 20th annual Rockbridge area community cleanup — and then there are the endless service projects by students from Southern Virginia University, Washington and Lee, and the Virginia Military Institute.
Environmental progress should not be held hostage to partisan bickering. We need to follow the old saying of “think globally and act locally” — the exact opposite of current political trends. After all, the environment is too important to be left in the care of radical environmentalists.
Hugh Bouchelle is an instructor of Journalism and Political Science at Southern Virginia University and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Buena Vista, Virginia He loves the outdoors and writing about environmental and conservation politics.