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  • Patrick Durkin

Leaders’ Letters from Past and Present Seek Our Votes

Updated: Oct 8

Family, friends and colleagues have shared several open letters the past month endorsing Donald Trump because he supports my gun rights, or Joe Biden because he frets freely about clean air, healthy wetlands and other conservation matters.


Many impressive people signed these letters. In most cases, their support or opposition to Trump or Biden is predictable, which probably packs little persuasive power for the few folks who haven’t long locked in their Nov. 3 votes. Some such letters differ little from those of previous elections. The candidates’ names change, obviously, but their claims, positions and accusations remain fixed.


Meanwhile, I keep watch for a candidate resembling most hunters, trappers and anglers I know. That is, someone complex enough to own several rifles and shotguns, a bow of some sort, a semi-functional boat, a boat trailer with faulty tail-lights, and a garage spewing fishing tackle. This mythical candidate also donates to conservation efforts and wildlife organizations; and opposes risky mining projects in Alaska’s, Minnesota’s or Ashland County’s most delicate nether regions.


All those attributes won’t fit on a bumper sticker, but maybe that’s why so many bipartisan groups are pooling their thoughts and signing their names to open letters for this election. Maybe they’re tired of shouting slogans at each other, and wish to set good examples for hyper-partisan politicians.


We have the Lincoln Project, for example, a crew of castaway Republicans whose eight founders collectively spent “over 200 years electing Republicans.” This year, however, they intend “to defeat Donald Trump and Trumpism.”


We also have “Sportsmen and Sportswomen for Biden,” a coalition of over 50 prominent hunters and anglers nationwide who formerly served as elected officials or government administrators. Among them is Bill Rustem, who served as policy director for former Michigan GOP governors William Milliken and Rick Snyder; and Keith Creagh, who recently directed Michigan’s DNR for Snyder. The group also includes Democrats like Wisconsin’s Scott Hassett, who served five years as Gov. Jim Doyle’s DNR secretary.


The group says Trump “zeroed out” the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in his 2020 budget by slashing its funding by 90%. GOP lawmakers in Michigan persuaded Trump to restore the GLRI’s full funding during a campaign rally earlier this year, but the Senate has yet to act on it.


The Obama-Biden administration launched the GLRI in 2010 to address the Great Lakes’ environmental challenges, including fish contamination, invasive species and habitat destruction.


Hassett also criticizes Trump for his administration’s anemic attention to chronic wasting disease, now present in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa deer herds. Congress sent $5 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year for CWD, but reserved $1.5 million of it to compensate private farms whose deer or elk tested positive. Only about $2.4 million went toward research/surveillance for wild deer nationwide, even though CWD now infects at least 23 states.


Meanwhile, biologists in The Wildlife Society note that the Trump administration has yet to have Senate-confirmed directors run the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This marks the first time since its 1916 founding that the NPS has not had a confirmed director at any point during a president’s administration.


Perhaps the most damning message, however, is the Sept. 24 “open letter to America” co-signed by 489 retired ambassadors, admirals, generals, senior petty officers, noncommissioned officers, and national security officials who publicly endorsed Biden. This group of independents, Republicans and Democrats wrote:


“The current president has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office. He cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. … Climate change continues unabated (and) … the president has ceded influence to a Russian adversary who puts bounties on the heads of American military personnel.”


Granted, Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law in early August, and in early September touted himself the nation’s top environmentalist of the past 100 years: "Number 1 since Teddy Roosevelt," Trump said. "Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist? I am, I am. I believe strongly in it."


But at least one prominent Republican warns no one should be fooled by a president “greenwashing his abysmal conservation record” by comparing himself to America’s conservation icon.


That critic, Theodore Roosevelt IV, is a great-great grandson of our 26th president. TR-4, 77, is also a New York investment banker and former Navy SEAL who fought two years in Vietnam. He wrote last week that he is “a proud, lifelong Republican” who has never before endorsed a Democrat for president. And yet he’s endorsing Biden.


TR-4 criticizes Trump for gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, completing plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plan to oil drilling, and pursuing an “energy dominance” strategy to maximize fossil-fuel production on public lands without balancing ecological costs or pursuing collaborative solutions for managing wildlife.


“Not since the opposition to Galileo’s and Copernicus’ views that the Earth circled the sun have we seen a government so opposed to science,” TR-4 wrote. “His administration has demonstrated the least interest in conservation or the environment of any prior administration.”


TR-4's open letter ends: “Ensuring our natural resources are enhanced and not impaired in value is essential to building an equitable, just and resilient future. President Trump does not get this. America needs a leader who does.”


The 26th president, of course, got all that. TR also left a small library of “open letters” to inspire Americans still “asleep in the womb of time” while he created national parks, forests, monuments, wildlife refuges and other publicly owned treasures. After all, TR humbly realized a nation’s work and obligations to science and nature outlive any man or woman.


A few TR quotations inscribed in marble on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C., make the point: “Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character. … I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender. Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. … The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”


Let’s recall those words while deciding which candidate can most capably honor them in the years ahead.

The words of President Theodore Roosevelt still inspire the nation’s conservation ethic a century after his death in 1919. — Patrick Durkin photo

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