Chris D’Angelo, Huffington Post’s environment reporter, recently tweeted: “GOP Sens. Cory Gardner and Steve Daines, who have backed Trump's anti-conservation agenda at nearly every turn, are now fighting to shore up funding for public lands. Both face a tough road to reelection in 2020.”
This statement is problematic and visibly inaccurate.
First, regardless of your personal feelings about President Trump, his Department of Interior has advanced true conservation policies. Of the agency’s many accomplishments thus far, opening over four million acres of federal public lands for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities is chief among them.
Second, Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Steve Daines (R-MT)—while up for re-election— shouldn’t have their conservationist credentials questioned. The former has sponsored close to 100 conservation bills since entering Congress in 2011, while the latter was dubbed a “Conservative Conservationist” in 2015.
I rebooted this column to help showcase how conservatism and conservation aren’t at odds with one another. In fact, the two actually work in sync.
Don’t Confuse Conservation With Preservation
Make no mistake: today’s environmentalism, with its anti-capitalist fervor and progressive tendencies, isn’t rooted in conservation. It’s rooted in preservation. These two contrasting views on stewardship and natural resources management need to be distinguished.
The National Park Service (NPS) helps clear the air: “Conservation is generally associated with the protection of natural resources, while preservation is associated with the protection of buildings, objects, and landscapes. Put simply conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.”
Many preservationists openly oppose the balanced use or multiple-use management of public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) defines multiple-use as “supporting an all-of-the-above energy approach through environmentally responsible development; promoting conservation through shared stewardship; managing our borders effectively; promoting jobs on working landscapes; and serving the American family - which includes being good neighbors and recognizing traditional uses of public lands (i.e., hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities).”
Conservatives Are Inherently Conservation-Minded
Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich appeared on my podcast, District of Conservation, a few months ago to discuss whether or not conservatives can be conservationists.
“Conservatives can be conservationists,” Pavlich said. “I think this is where language really matters because I think that conservatives often get accused of not caring about the environment just because they don’t believe in big government solutions or global solutions.”
Pavlich added, “Hunters are the largest conservationists in America that are crucial to keeping the majority of public lands clean and properly managed.”
While not every hunter or angler is conservative or Republican, Pavlich is correct: most participants in hook and bullet activities identify as conservative.
In the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) 2012 National Survey of Hunters and Anglers, the majority of respondents polled identified as Republican (42 percent), followed by Independent (32 percent) and Democrat (18 percent). In terms of ideology, 50 percent of respondents identified as conservative compared to those who identified as moderate (37 percent) and liberal (10 percent).
Caring for the Environment Through Limited Government, Market-Based Solutions
While many in academia are dismissive of conservative views on the environment, several researchers have explained how our side is inclined to the issue.
In 2012, a University of California—Berkeley study determined conservatives are “more responsive to environmental arguments focused on such principles as purity, patriotism and reverence for a higher authority.”
In 2014, Dr. Aaron Sparks, PhD, then a graduate student at UC-Santa Barbara, said, "Conservatives can be persuaded to accept the environmental argument if [it] is pitched in a way that is consistent with their morality, which tends to emphasize the sacredness of nature and a focus on local, community-building issues."
Conservatives care about their surroundings—especially if they manage ranches, own large tracts of land bordering federal lands or are avid hunters and anglers. It’s unsustainable to frame this issue as a binary choice between protecting the environment or encouraging a vibrant economy. Rather, Americans—conservatives included—can support both notions. And they should.
Our philosophy is rooted in stewardship, where government is best when it governs least and free-market solutions are viable alternatives.
In many cases, federalism comes into play delegating management duties to states and localities—from states overseeing delisted, or successfully recovered, imperiled species to aligning federal hunting/fishing regulations with state regulations. Moreover, if environmental problems persist at the hands of the federal government, market-based solutions can correct errors without burdening the American taxpayer. Stakeholder relations are noticeably improved when true conservation practices are employed, leading to less friction between individuals and the government. Added bonus: our surroundings and the climate benefit too!
I’ll be blunt: the conservative movement shouldn’t have ceded conservation to the Left. What a colossal mistake that was. While some Republicans argue we must go carbon-free by some arbitrary deadline or repackage radical environmentalism with a shiny G.O.P. bow, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Organizations like CFACT and PERC, among many, are leading the way to counter radical environmentalism which pushes preservation to the detriment of our biodiversity, public lands, and natural resources. Lawmakers like Senators Gardner and Daines are leading the charge, articulating the conservative vision of conservation and sponsoring good bipartisan bills, a rarity these days, like the Great American Outdoors Act.
There is a principled conservative approach to conservation available. It’s time we make a moral case for it.