Elections Have Consequences

By Beacon Staff

In case you missed it, the Great White Hunter Ted Nugent is apocalyptic over the recent election results. The morning after President Barack Obama’s victory, Ted proclaimed his lack of rationality when he tweeted this: “Goodluk America u just voted for economic & spiritual suicide. Soulless fools.”

Ted, you need to calm down. I realize things didn’t go your way on Nov. 6, but I know quite a few folks who felt the same way back in 2004 when we re-upped W for a second term. Guess what? Those end-of-days predictions didn’t come true either.

That’s not to say that elections don’t matter. For hunters and anglers the two major political parties both offer something compelling. The GOP is unwavering in its support of the Second Amendment; the Dems offer up a commitment to habitat protection. In other words, one party will make sure you have your guns, and the other will make sure you have something to shoot with them.

That may be overly simplistic, but it serves as a useful reference. More recently we’ve seen a different kind of political schism develop regarding another issue in the West: access.

I remain convinced access is now the most important issue confronting hunters and anglers. While skirmishes continue regarding conservation, that battle is now fought almost solely on the grounds that conservation is a good thing, and we’re just arguing about how to do it. Not always, and Astroturf tactics still allow opponents of conservation to disguise their true intentions, but the big battle has largely been settled.

Not so with access. And for now at least, Montana Dems have it over the GOP on access issues. On the biggest stream access battle of the last two decades, the Mitchell Slough fight down in the Bitterroot, it was Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer who reversed the decision of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Judy Martz, allowing the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department to intervene in the legal fight. The Mitchell Slough case was mistakenly discounted by the organized angling community, at least initially, as a local pissing match between wealthy part-time landowners and old school Bitterrooters (i.e. trout killers). But the Montana Supreme Court, in overturning a lower court ruling that upheld landowner efforts to block access on the Slough, made clear this was actually a direct assault on Montana’s Stream Access Law.

A simple “Dems good, GOP bad,” analysis on access doesn’t tell the full story here either. One of the locals who led the Slough battle was Jim Shockley, a longtime Republican state legislator from Victor. Shockley was a candidate for the Montana attorney general in 2012, but lost in his party’s primary to eventual winner, Tim Fox.

Fox is a proponent of property rights. From a public land hunter’s point of view, that coded language is bad news. In fact, that’s the language that was used for decades down in the Bitterroot where landowners tried to eviscerate the Stream Access Law.
Fortunately Montana’s new governor Steve Bullock is a hardcore access advocate. That’s a good thing for hunters and anglers, as the governor can serve as a firewall for any nonsense served up by the Legislature, vetoing bad bills that harm the rights of hunters and anglers to get outside and use public lands.

These days I’m living south of the border in Wyoming, a state where the “property rights” mantra found a home. In Wyoming you can be cited for trespass for dropping your anchor in the wrong place. That’s a reminder that with Montana’s Stream Access Law a continuing target for property rights types, Montanans need to be very careful about who is sent to Helena.

I realize the election results were hard for some to take. In Uncle Teddy’s fervid mind these are nothing short of the end times. But for hunters and anglers things went just fine. We’ll need to stay vigilant, but if we do we will win.

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