COLUMN: If we’re voting for the future of our public lands and natural assets, there’s only one Presidential choice

On March 21, I published a column titled “Nature is our final safe haven” as it pertained to the COVID-19 pandemic, and today as I write this I can’t help but think how integral the public outdoor space has been during this health crisis.  

You see, today – Saturday, the day I’m writing this – is National Public Lands Day and National Hunting and Fishing Day. By the time this publishes in the Sunday edition of The Dominion Post, the day’s titles will be gone but the message will still be ever-present. 

When I wrote that column back in March, I had just gotten back from a hiking trip through Dolly Sods. We had traveled into the mountains to escape the craziness the first few weeks of the pandemic brought us – stocks were falling, people were rushing to Kroger to buy all the toilet paper they could, cities were locking down, places of business were either closed or transitioning to a work-from-home model, high school sports around the country were being stopped in their tracks and many people were dying. I’ll never forget those first few weeks, although now it seems like it was years ago. My point of that column was to remind folks that we had an abundance of outdoor recreation assets at our disposal in West Virginia and to take advantage of them. 

While that column didn’t spark a movement, I did notice that more people were in fact getting outdoors. Thanks to Gov. Jim Justice, we had two months of free fishing; I saw more people out hiking or biking at Coopers Rock; I saw Instagram posts of people camping around the state; and I talked to small business owners who provide gear for these adventures, thankful that they were still in business.

Further, in the midst of all of this, the U.S. Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act that will be crucial in supporting our public lands for generations to come. Not to mention, there’s a list of other pro-public lands and wildlife bills in the works right now. On this day, I hope that we can take things seriously and get some – if not all – of those through. 

But that’s a piece of it – we aren’t taking things seriously. Sure, President Trump was instrumental in getting some movement behind Senate Republicans to get the GAOA on the table, but it was Democrat Joe Manchin who was the architect behind it. Don’t forget that, just because we had one major victory this year, that the current administration has been one of the worst when it comes to protecting our public lands and the environment as a whole. 

There are so many examples like this ongoing list from National Geographic, but a few are: Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, rollback after rollback of Obama-era protections, going after the Clean Water Act, trying to drill the shit out of anything and putting critical species in danger like the Greater sage grouse, shrinking two national monuments so they could be opened for mining and drilling and, last but not least, telling a scientist on national television during one of our worst fire seasons to date that, “It will get cooler, you just watch,” and when pushed back with, “I wish science agreed with you,” rebutted, “I don’t think science knows, actually.” 

The boardwalk on Bear Rocks Trail, the main trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. (Andrew Spellman photo)

I am unabashedly a follower of politics and will happily debate anyone if I see fit. Growing up in a moderate-to-liberal family, I somehow emerged as a moderate conservative. It wasn’t because I hated my family’s politics, I actually agreed with some of it which steered me towards the middle of the political spectrum. But when 2016 rolled around, I became increasingly disappointed with the Republican Party and how they bent a knee to the soon-to-be president. When he won and I saw them go all-in, not publicly questioning him on his reckless behavior and worshipping the ground he walked on, it wasn’t hard for me to switch my affiliation to Independent. I still hold many of my conservative views, but they’re the old conservative views. Not those of today’s Republican Party that would put themselves above the rest of us. And while I am increasingly seeing my views shift me more left than right, I can’t say I’m complaining. 

I will likely never write another political piece for The Dominion Post. It’s not my style. But on this day that we’re celebrating our public lands and our history of hunting and fishing, I can’t help but think of what we need to do as a country if we wish to continue this legacy of protecting our public lands and natural resources. We need to make sure we keep our water clean and try to begin cleaning up the damage climate change has done to our planet, while simultaneously working towards implementing new practices so we don’t continue down this deadly spiral. And to do that, we need to vote in a new administration that will take this stuff seriously. 

To close, I want to share part of a conversation I had with a colleague of mine. To maintain privacy, I won’t share their name.

We talked about a lot of topics. We talked about shifts in the hunting community we liked and disliked. We surmised that even as major proponents of the Second Amendment, the current shows by militia groups and vigilantes around the country could actually hurt our gun rights. We even touched on the companies within our industry that are doing great things despite facing criticism from other members of our community. And then we talked about what is at stake in the next election.

My colleague essentially said that people are worried about a Brady Bill 2.0 or another Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act (the assault weapons ban of 1994) under a Joe Biden administration, but fail to realize that in a few years it would be overturned or allowed to die like the last one. They said that instead of worrying about something as fruitless as that, we should be concerning ourselves with which administration will protect our country’s public lands and the environment. And to me, it’s clear the Trump Administration isn’t going to do that. After everything they’ve done in the last four years, I don’t want to see what they will do in another term.

I don’t like Biden or Trump. In fact, I think Democrats really dropped the ball with who they chose to lead the party ticket. But I do love our country and know that a lot is at stake in this upcoming election. We’ve heard Trump say some pretty crazy stuff the last four years, and maybe a lot of it can be chalked up to him trolling – it’s what he does best – but it’s still unbecoming of the President of the United States.

I’m sick and tired of seeing the Trump Administration try to gut our public lands so they can make a dollar. If I was a single-issue voter, this would be enough for me to vote Biden. So if you’re a single-issue voter and want one to take to the ballot box, make it this. The fate of our country is at stake under another four years of Trump – if you truly love our country, our public lands and access to them for hunting, fishing or any outdoor pursuit, then there’s truly only one good candidate. 

Once that person is in office, we can begin to argue the finer details.  

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