Thursday, December 9, 2010
Sarah Palin ... the huntress?
Sarah Palin, the ideal example of an American sportswoman?
Well, for clarity, let me just say she's not the complete package, anyway. And that's coming from a very casual hunter who appreciates the opportunity to get outside and chase game, but is more tuned into fly fishing the backcountry.
Take a look at the video above--it's a fairly accurate depiction of a novice sportswoman on a guided stalk-and-shoot hunt for caribou in Alaska. I'm certain Sarah and her hunting party were dropped in the remote tundra thanks to a TLC-funded helicopter ride (seems to be the preferred mode of transportation for the aspiring leader of the uber-conservative movement and the subject of that network's "reality" show focusing on Sarah and her family). And the hunt itself is probably not unlike any guided hunt for caribou in Alaska (save for the purists--and I know a few--who stalk and kill these noble animals with traditional longbows, not scoped rifles). Forgiving what looks to have been a poorly-sighted gun and the five shots Sarah takes to bring down the animal that showed virtually no fear of humans, I was actually moved by her father's exclamation when Palin finally connects with the caribou and kills it: "Der ya go, Baby! Der ya go!"
Having been on his end of the equation as my kids were able to connect with a wild trout using a fly rod, there is, indeed, a sense of parental pride that comes with the sporting accomplishments of a child. But part of that pride is also directed at the education I've tried to give my children. For instance, my kids know that catching wild trout in the Idaho backcountry is a gift to be appreciated, largely because here, where we live, we have the good fortune of excellent backcountry habitat that allows good populations of wild trout to thrive. In short, intact habitat translates directly into successful fishing (or, in Sarah's case, hunting) opportunity.
Over a century ago, our sporting forefathers understood this important equation, too. Men like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold--storied hunters in their own right--espoused the virtues of wild places and the connection those places had to successful hunting and fishing. These were great men--and in Roosevelt's case, a great politician--who valued the idea of keeping public lands in public hands and keeping the wide open spaces with which our country is blessed just as they were then, so future generations of hunters and anglers could enjoy them, too. They were, with apologies to the green movement, our country's first environmentalists.
That's where I think Palin is lacking. Her politics aside, she lacks one of the basic building blocks that makes up a quality outdoorsperson--the understanding that her success in the field is due most directly to the quality of the conditions of the land she treads in search of game. If she truly understood the "habitat equals opportunity" equation, she wouldn't have stood at a podium in 2008 shouting "Drill, baby, drill!" She also wouldn't have offered tacit support to a proposal that might one day put the world's largest open-pit gold mine at the head of the Bristol Bay drainage, home to the most prolific salmon run on earth.
I think her politics get in the way of her understanding of the natural world. The "Drill, baby, drill!" chant is the perfect example of that, particularly as it applies to the vast majority of our nation's public lands. Addressing the American consumption of crude oil should be the first step in solving our foreign oil dependency--we have alternative energy sources awaiting harvest, but because it's easier (and more politically convenient) to just tackle the supply issue, Palin and her political cohorts simply aren't interested. Due to the sheer volume of oil we burn every day in this country, there's just no possible way we can drill our way to oil independence. And natural gas? We already provide 85 percent of our own gas supplies--the remaining 15 percent is imported from that hostile foreign power to the north ... Canada.
And, here in the Rocky Mountain West, most of our recoverable energy reserves are in the form of natural gas. The "Drill, baby, drill!" mantra simply translates into trashing perfectly good public lands--and fish and game habitat--so a handful of energy companies can pad their quarterly earnings figures. By drilling for gas in Wyoming or Colorado, we're not doing one thing to "wean ourselves off of foreign oil."
Good for Sarah for getting to hunt with her dad, and congratulations on bagging a nice bull caribou. Hopefully, her outdoor adventures will soon be accompanied by a more fully developed conservation ethic. And, perhaps, after she bags her next big animal, she'll direct her thanks to Roosevelt or Leopold--not to Ted Nugent (as she did in the video), for crying out loud.