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GOP Conservation Cuts Rile Sportsmen

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The following is a reprint of an article that originally appeared on POLITICO.com 
by Darren Samuelsohn

House Republicans fighting the Obama administration’s environmental agenda are finding themselves making decisions that threaten the party’s carefully nourished relationship with the hook and bullet crowd.

Anglers and hunters once courted by President George W. Bush don’t like what they’re seeing in the GOP’s mad dash to cut spending and have made their feelings clear in meetings this month with top aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

As the Republican leaders no doubt know, this is not a crowd to mess with. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation estimates that nearly eight in 10 hunters always vote in presidential elections, while six in 10 go to the polls in off years.

The outdoorsmen typically lean Republican, but Democrats say they could capitalize with a constituency that’s also known to be pretty independent minded.

“That’s a very powerful group,” said Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz. “They bring in a pretty diverse voice. I think you have to be really careful with this because I think the American public, while they want spending cuts, certainly don’t want to decimate the environment for the long run.”

Bush routinely fought with mainstream environmental groups. But the Texan, who loved to clear brush on his Crawford ranch, worked hard to court the outdoor crowd.

Bush won accolades from conservationists for his handling of the Healthy Forests Initiative to diminish forest fire risks and for creating farm bill programs to promote wetlands and wildlife habitat. The Adirondack Council, which focuses only on the New York state park, also backed Bush’s Clear Skies Act, which skirted reductions for global warming pollution but tried to make inroads on acid rain, a big problem in the region. “There was definitely a feeling in the hunting and fishing community that the Clinton administration had not shown the level of respect [it deserved],” said H. Dale Hall, a Bush-era director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who leads Ducks Unlimited. “Whether it’s true or not, the perception was there that they were a secondary thought. We believed it should be a primary thought.”

Back in power, House Republicans may have poisoned the well with their austere spending strategy, including the fiscal 2012 interior and environment spending bill that is on track for approval Tuesday in the Appropriations Committee.

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