Conservation in America won a major victory recently with the House’s passage of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, or H.R. 803.
The package passed in a 227-200 vote, with eight Republicans helping to move the measure into the upper chamber.
Now the bill waits for the Senate to take up the debate, where it will need every Republican vote, it can get in order to make it to the White House. This bill not only embraces the spirit of conservation that forms a core pillar of the GOP’s heritage, but according to recent polling, is also hugely popular amongst conservatives across the country.
This package, which would protect more than 1 million acres of public lands and over 1000 miles of wild rivers, would signify a return by the GOP to its roots as the party of Teddy Roosevelt, the father of modern conservation policy in our country. It’s thanks to Roosevelt that we have vast national parks for our children and future generations to enjoy, and modern Republicans can learn much from his example.
After all, like Roosevelt there are millions of conservatives who enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. But more than that, conservatives, and the country as a whole, care deeply about preserving our beautiful lands and maintaining clean rivers and drinking water for future generations.
Last December, the esteemed Zogby Strategies conducted polling in Washington State, California, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon. Each of these states have some of our country’s most striking and beautiful geographic features. The Owyhee Canyonlands, the Great Smoky Mountains, the beautiful ranges of the San Juan and many places in between. These are all jewels in the crown of America’s magnificent, continental landscape. And conservatives in all five states want to ensure these jewels keep their shine.
Zogby’s polling found that in each state, nine in ten voters want strong protections for essential rivers, while four in five said they would “like to see their representatives in Congress take action” on legislation relevant to conserving public lands and waters. In every state, agreement among self-identified conservatives, born again and evangelical voters, and Republicans ranged from 70 percent to 90 percent. Republicans and conservatives in each state declared in droves that they supported the idea of protecting drinking water while allowing for reasonable economic development.
And it’s not just the broad strokes of H.R. 803 that conservatives support; river protections in each of the polled states received overwhelming conservative support. For example, in California, 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of “very conservative” voters supported the PUBLIC Lands Act. Likewise in Colorado, 77 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of evangelicals, and 82 percent of conservatives supported the passage of the CORE Act. Legislation protecting North Carolina’s rivers as Wild and Scenic was backed by a staggering 72 to 84 percent of Republican constituencies.
These numbers paint a clear and obvious picture. They leave no doubt as to the mood of America’s grassroots conservatives; conservatives want America’s natural beauty protected. This is about protecting the water we drink, the land we hunt and fish on, and the hiking trails, mountains, and streams where we take our children to teach them about American greatness. Many of these voters are deeply religious and believe with conviction that it is their God-given duty to be good stewards of the land.
The numbers are clear — conservatives in these key fives states support conserving our public lands and waters, and I would expect if we looked across the country, we would find these high levels of support in state after state. The GOP is looking for a direction post-2020, and a good starting point would be to help the Senate send this public lands package to President Biden’s desk.
Sensible environmental conservation is a winning issue for all sides. The voters are behind it, and the arc of history demonstrates that those who preserve our lands are remembered favorably. More than anything, we remember Teddy Roosevelt as a president of consequence not because of his battlefield achievements, but because he had the courage to define what it means to be a conservationist in our country.
Roosevelt paved the way for the conservation-oriented Republican, and his political descendants have a chance to continue his legacy by leading the vanguard of the next great conservation movement.
• Craig Shirley is the author of four books about Ronald Reagan including “Rendezvous with Destiny” and “December, 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World.” He also is the Visiting Reagan Fellow at Eureka College.
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