Survey: Typically conservative hunters, anglers support Democratic conservation policies

This item originally appeared in: The Bozeman Daily Chronicle


Laura Lundquist

 Hunters and anglers tend to be conservative but strongly support one Democratic issue in particular, according to a recent poll.

On Wednesday, a national poll of 800 hunters and anglers was released that shows sportsmen support conservation policies that protect and improve habitat and access to public lands.

Of those surveyed, 42 percent said they were Republican while one-third said they were independent. Almost two-thirds said they vote in every election, indicating that sportsmen are fairly politically active.

Bozeman angler Jim Klug is evidence of that political involvement; he was a Republican candidate for House District 64. Klug also owns Yellowdog Flyfishing Adventures and is the chair of the American Flyfishing Trade Association.

“The majority of sportsmen consider themselves to be Republican but they view conservation issues as important,” Klug said. “Republicans used to support conservation efforts, starting with Teddy Roosevelt all the way up through Nixon. It wasn’t always the Democrats.”

Around half of sportsmen agreed that protecting public lands should be a priority, even if it means limiting fossil fuel production. Almost 90 percent agreed that hunting and fishing uses and habitat conservation should be considered prior to issuing drilling permits.

Most sportsmen are vigilant about gun rights, but the survey showed that around half believed that conservation was just as important as gun rights.

“Guns are important, but if you don’t have access to public land or healthy habitat for game, it kind of missed the point,” Klug said.

Access to public lands was also highly favored with around 80 percent wanting to access public lands that have been unavailable due to lack of rights of way.

The high interest in the access issue is underscored by events in Montana.

Stream access via bridges has been repeatedly challenged since the Legislature approved bridge access three years ago.

Both gubernatorial candidates recently proposed plans to improve public land access. Also this week, Attorney General Steve Bullock sued to stop a landowner from blocking a public road leading to the Tenderfoot Creek land in Meagher County.

Around 80 percent said protecting water quality in streams and wetlands was important, with 73 percent of Republicans supporting Clean Water Act protections.

Around 60 percent agreed that the climate is changing. That wasn’t a surprise, said Bill Geer, climate change expert and former fish and game biologist.

“It would have been a surprise a few years ago,” Geer said. “But sportsmen are seeing the changes and they want to do something to solve the problem. But they question whether politicians realize how important it is.”

Hunting and fishing contributes around $537 million to Montana’s economy and supports around 7,000 jobs. So sportsmen have some monetary power, and politicians shouldn’t ignore the issues sportsmen value, Klug said.

“What I find interesting is that every candidate is quick to use photos of themselves hunting or fishing so they know it speaks to Montanans,” Klug said. “But then it’s frustrating when they turn around and vote against things hunters want.”

The National Wildlife Federation funded the poll, which was conducted by phone, including 15 percent cellphone calls. The margin of error was 3.2 percent.