Last updated: February 19. 2013 12:57PM - 270 Views

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As a hunter, the Second Amendment is important to me -- but it isn't my priority.

Conservation – mainly protecting and preserving the outdoors -- is my biggest concern, and I'm not the only one who feels that way.

A poll released last week by the National Wildlife Federation asked more than 800 hunters and anglers what is more important, conservation or gun rights?

Turns out that most believe conservation is just as important as gun rights, 47 percent, and I couldn't agree more.

After all, in my opinion it's a lot easier for a developer to pave over my favorite hunting spot, an energy company to split a contiguous forest with a pipeline or a factory to spew greenhouse gases into the air than it is for someone to take away my Second Amendment right.

As one fellow hunter put it, Good habitat to fish and hunt is far more important to me than being able to buy an AK-47 or an Uzi.

I'm not saying we should totally disregard protecting our right to own a firearm, just that protecting wildlife habitat shouldn't take a backseat.

The poll yielded other interesting results when it comes to protecting public land.

Forty-nine percent believe protecting public lands should be given priority, even at the risk of limiting the amount of oil, gas and coal that the country produces. Also, 88 percent agreed that prior to the federal government entering into oil or gas leases on public lands, resources and uses such as hunting and fishing need to be considered.

The survey didn't address gas drilling on state lands, but I believe the response would be the same or even higher in Pennsylvania, where Game Lands and our state forests are facing increased pressure from the Marcellus shale industry.

The concerns of hunters and anglers aren't just limited to the land, it includes the air as well. When asked if global warming is occurring, 59 percent agreed that it was. I was on the fence with the global warming issue but there are recent indicators that are becoming too severe to ignore. The decline of the snowshoe hare, drastic die-offs of smallmouth bass in the middle Susquehanna River and ice fishing seasons that never materialize, to name a few.

Ed Perry, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist who currently is the Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the NWF's climate change campaign, offers some compelling evidence when it comes to smallmouth bass.

Since 2005, we've had repeat kills of smallmouth bass in the middle Susquehanna River, due mainly to high water temperatures, so severe that the fishery in 100 miles of the river has collapsed. It's no coincidence that fish started dying in the hottest year on record, and continues to this day, he said.

Perhaps the biggest concern of all is what these threats mean to the future generation of hunters and anglers – those who increasingly prefer video games or a computer over a deer stand or trout stream.

Wyoming County hunter Ed Zygmunt wonders what will happen if the quality of the outdoor experience declines, causing our youth to lose interest in hunting and fishing.

If America's young men and women don't have the opportunities to learn about wildlife and enjoy wildlife like I have, then they probably won't learn to care about wildlife like I have, he said. And if they don't care about wildlife, who is going to be in the forefront in the future to protect America's wildlife?

It's a good question. One that we have to address now so it doesn't need to be asked in the future.

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