Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mark Dayton, the pro-hunting candidate, Emmer, the anti-hunting candidate who loves hunting

A recent story in the Star Tribune stated that no candidate in the upcoming governor's election has a lock on the "outdoor vote", although it offered no scientific polling, and reiterated the common belief that the hunters' votes are largely conservative and Republican. It did quote a number of leaders of hunting organizations stating the group is "up for grabs".

If there is really a shift going away from the Republicans on the part of hunters, it reflects that we have a truly pro-hunting candidate in Mark Dayton. Dayton is personally connected to our activity, he continues to like bird hunting, a pastime he grew up with. He owns firearms, and supports the right of private firearms ownership while rejecting the extreme gun politics of the NRA.

These personal connections are helpful, but a long history of support for conservation and environmental measures, as well as a commitment to fund the DNR, unwavering support for the Legacy Amendment "seals the deal". Dayton, unlike some liberals, understands our concerns and the fact that outdoor activities, including hunting, motivate people to give time, money, and political support to conservation. An abstract commitment to the environment doesn't necessarily translate into boots on the ground resources.

Some of Dayton's positions should raise concerns amongst conservationists, such as his unwillingness to directly defend the DNR's new lakeshore protection rules which were nixed by Pawlenty. Dayton instead talks about the need for the DNR to listen to what the community wants. This was a case of just that - advocates of environmental protection and regular lakeshore owners demanding the government take action to protect lakes from a small group of wealthy owners who were destroying shorelines and hurting aquatic life by destroying the natural cleansing of rainwater that shoreline vegetation performs. To his credit, Independence party candidate Tom Horner did defend the lakeshore rules at a forum held at the Game fair in August.

Dayton also has close relationships with many Northeastern MN legislators who often take positions at odds with conservation and the hunting lobby. This includes the support of Bob Lessard, who to his credit, was a driving force behind the Legacy Amendment. However, he is part of the hunting community that sees wilderness protection and hunting and angling interests as conflicting. In talking about his political career, Lessard told the story of his first campaign for public office, where his opposition to putting a river under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation was his primary motivation.

However, the overall package that hunters get with Dayton is very good. His main opponent, Tom Emmer is an avid hunter, whose main appeal to sportsmen and women is "I'm one of you", is actually the anti-hunting candidate. Contrary to the position of every hunting organization in the state, Emmer not only opposed the Legacy Amendment, he tried to repeal it after the voters passed it. His extreme anti-government views will adversely affect hunting in many ways. He will oppose other conservation measures and the aquisition of more public land. Since he wants to balance the massive budget deficit with no tax increases, that will lead to further attacks on PILT, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes that local governments get from the state when land gets aquired by the state. This will put in overdrive the anti-public land aquisition movement that is gaining traction in both parties. Given his allies, especially the NRA, Emmer will push for more unfettered ATV access and use on public lands.

Most importantly, Emmer's tea-party politics would accelerate social trends that are adversely affecting hunting. His attacks on working people will lead to less income for average families, and research complied by Ducks Unlimited from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that when family income drops below $40,000, families are very likely to quit hunting. He will weaken trade unions, which will lead to less time off for workers, and hunting is a time-intensive activity. I can say for a fact that my good vacation benefits as a unionized worker have made it possible for me to participate in great hunting opportunities.

No matter who the governor is, lots of hunting organizations internal politics in Minnesota will be influenced whoever that is. Emmer will approach hunting as a question of cultural warfare, with extreme gun rights politics and likely emphasis on animal rights organizations as a main threat to hunting. This will make it much more difficult for us in the hunting community to have the kind of conversations that we need to be having but aren't. Children and their families today are under heavy pressure to participate constantly in activities that are part of an "achievement ladder": sports, band, arts, and other organized activities that will lead to better education and career prospects. This trend is negatively affecting what is often called "quality family time", a rising concern of many, and a movement to stop and/or contain this trend is being lead by prominent family social scientist Bill Doherty and other family advocates. Hunters and their organizations need to be acting in alliance with these advocates, as hunting and other outdoor activities are great ways for families to spend uninterrupted blocks of time together. Under a Dayton administration, such discussions and alliances would be possible and even likely, as his support for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities would be about the benefits to society - family, health, and conservation. Such discussions would be alien under a tea-party, cultural warrior governor like Emmer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jensen Family Rocky Mountain National Park Backcountry Trip

Looking grubby after hiking back down Forest Canyon

In early September, our family took a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which included two days of car camping and two days of backpacking. The backpacking part required almost two miles of a rugged canyon hike to get to our camping spot. Our backcountry stay included fishing the upper Big Thompson River. The trip was successful on pretty much every measure.

In the lead-up to the trip, my wife Paula and I wanted to make sure our twin daughters, Theresa and Natalie, didn't have bad experience, that it wouldn't be too much. We started with non-car camping two years earlier, at age three years and twenty months, but that was much more tame: a half-mile walk on an old logging road to a yurt in the Porcupine Mountains wilderness in the Michigan's upper peninsula. We could carry them for short stretches. For this trip, they would have to carry their own packs 1.7 miles.

I called the backcountry office of Rocky Mountain National Park many months in advance, asking where to take two almost six-year olds in area that included some fishing. They gave me a few options, the Big Thompson sounded the best, so we reserved that early.

Wilderness writers have said this about kids on backcountry adventures: even fairly young children act more mature, not less, once they are out on the trip. That is due to the fact that they have a role, or a job, as well as some freedom to explore. Our experience bore that out.

The main challenge for the girls was that even the smallest packs on the market that I could find, Deuter Fox 30, were a little too big for them when loaded. The packs weren't totally snug to their back the way they should be, but at least they'll be able to grow into these packs. We did lighten their load some on the way down, carrying some heavy rain jackets and other items for them. The way back they carried only their sleeping bag, their plate, utensils, and stuffed animal. Still, even on the way up, in between complaining about the weight of their packs, they said things like "I feel big", "I feel like I'm ten [they're sixth birthday was October 9th]". Of course we stopped in the canyon and they played in massive boulder formations where the girls saw favorable fairy habitat.

Our family overall worked better on the trip. My wife Paula noted that we had only had one argument the entire vacation, and that was on the drive home. We experienced no child meltdowns that we sometimes experience at home.

When we first arrived at our Moraine Park car-camping site, the girls talked about the views, the steepness, which they had never seen before. The second night, as we were getting to bed, I heard what I thought was a bull elk bugle, over the ridge. Then another, I was sure, and it was closer. He came over the ridge, with a cow, finally stopping fifty yards from the campground to tear up the ground with his antlers.

Theresa and Natalie had seen this many times on elk hunting videos, but now saw it actually happen, which they can describe in detail.

They asked to go fishing at a river near our campsite. The second time out, they were successful, and each bagged native cuttthroat trout, fish you have to release in Rocky Mountain National Park. Their only disappointment was not being able to catch a trout that they could eat, such as a brook trout. The water is so clear, Theresa was able to observe this beautiful fish rising from the bottom to snatch food and resume resting in slower current.

Natalie handling her first cutthroat

It is true that kids get homesick after awhile, so it's a good idea to not make the trip too long. However, when we returned home, one of their teachers called at the end of their first day back, to say that they talked about their trip all day, and that it was all positive. My wife Paula prepared a small booklet of pictures for each of them, which they enthusiastically showed to their classes.

Theresa fishing the Big Thompson with her dad

A really important foundation has been built - the seed for future outdoor adventures, the idea of enjoying oneself without the luxuries that even car camping has to offer, the skills and knowledge for hunting and fishing in more difficult places to get to, places that hold bigger fish and more game, the knowledge of topography and climate and how it changes with the landscape. Confidence and self-reliance. An appreciation of quiet places and their value whether one is pursuing a huge elk or trout, cross-country skiing, or just walking through and enjoying beautiful country.