Looking for Bipartisanship? Head Outdoors

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Published on November 2nd, 2012  |  Discuss This Article  

Fly fishing for trout on the Moose River in Maine.

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek and find more of his writing on The Huffington Post.

These days, it’s sometimes hard to remember what bipartisanship looks like.

Look hard enough, however, and you’ll see glimmers of hope — sometimes in unexpected places.

Take Alabama, for example, which is on the front lines of the biggest untold story this election season. On the ballot there, and in sixty other places around the country, are conservation measures that receive bipartisan support — hopeful examples that both sides of the aisle can come together to recognize the importance of investing in our lands and waters for people and wildlife.

This story may have escaped your notice, because America’s outdoors has received scant attention from our candidates this year. There was not one mention in the presidential debates of protecting our lands and waters.

Conservation should have been a hot topic this election season. Strong and healthy natural systems are the very underpinning of our well-being and economic prosperity. Indeed, conservation offers significant financial opportunity for many Americans. Investments in natural infrastructure, in sustainable agriculture, fishing, and forestry, in lower carbon sources of energy, and in leveraging the power of nature to adapt to and reduce the risks from natural hazards and a changing climate are integral to creating long-term and resilient economic growth.

The importance of healthy lands and waters is a point that most Americans agree on — and one they’ve showed their support for at the ballot box. Since 1988 voters have approved more than 80% of state-wide conservation measures put before them, beating the average for all ballot initiatives by nearly 20%.  What candidate wouldn’t want to be tied to an issue with an 80% approval rate?

Alabama’s “Forever Wild Program,” on the ballot this November 6, is a perfect example of why these measures tend to succeed. First, the program protects clean water and a wide variety of outdoor places — places that provide public recreation opportunities like hiking, biking, fishing, hunting and much more. Second, money for this program does not come from personal tax, but rather an interest from fees paid by companies to drill for natural gas in the state.

These first two points offer insight to the third, most important reason why these conservation ballot measures tend to pass: they are bipartisan. The benefits of Alabama’s Forever Wild Program are shared by soccer moms in Birmingham as well as duck hunters in Mobile Bay. Strong supporters of the ballot initiative include strange bedfellows such as the National Rifle Association and local Sierra Club chapters, along with 200 other groups in between.

This bipartisan approach to conservation is found elsewhere this year. In Garfield County, Colorado, residents are looking at a measure to protect ranchlands and recreation areas. The Metropolitan Park District of Toledo, Ohio, is looking to provide more healthy open space for city dwellers. In Maine and Rhode Island, voters will also have a say on funding to protect their natural resources.

Not all of these 60-plus measures will pass. But behind all of these outdoor initiatives, whether they pass or fail, is a simple truth that goes beyond politics.  As a nation whose prosperity and well-being has always been tied to natural resources, Americans love the outdoors. A poll this past July found that 80% of us even believe that conservation is downright patriotic.

Of course, Teddy Roosevelt, who as our greatest conservation president put aside more public lands for citizens than any other, did not need a poll to know what Americans have known since our country’s founding:

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Around the country, millions of Americans will be doing their part on election day to show we are worthy of this good fortune. I hope our politicians elected to office on November 6 will do their part as well.

[Image: Fly fishing for trout on the Moose River in Maine. Image source: David McLain Scott]

 

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