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Point and shoot

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ORLANDO, Fla.  If one outgoing White House conservation policy adviser is right, Obama's outdoors will look like Bush's.

"For the last month or so, we've had a lot of detailed agenda-building going on between the outgoing administration and the incoming administration," said Greg Schildwachter, the Director of Agriculture, Lands and Wildlife at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"The serious people in government, behind the scenes, out of the lights and out of the spin zone, work very closely together on keeping (important) issues organized, and this is one of them."

Schildwachter spoke Friday at a news conference at the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show during the Bush Administration's final week in power  and thus his last week on the job.

For hunters, Schildwachter's assessment is probably good news. Under Bush, hunters and conservation groups' influence in the Executive Branch grew.

His optimism about the transition may allay the concerns of sportsmen and -women who view Obama as too detached from the outdoors to support their interests.

According to Schildwachter, the first questions Obama's transition team brought to the CEQ had to do with the 10-year plan for facilitating hunting heritage and wildlife conservation that emerged from last fall's White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy (viewable here).

That plan is, in short, a big deal. Born of a slew of collaboration from a bevy of organized species and sports group, as well as federal and state governments, it's the road map for the next decade of American conservation.

In introducing Schildwachter, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation president Jeff Crane praised the plan, which was released in mid-December, as the most comprehensive document of its kind.

"If we can achieve even some part of this, we're going to move the needle far off the mark," Crane said. "If we can get anywhere near half of it or more, we will accomplish things that are things that are Rooseveltesque."

Despite an environmental record that even a generous observer might describe as spotty, Bush had in his second term given a greater platform for hunters to contribute to conservation policy. In 2007, Bush signed an executive order calling for "the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat." That led to the creation of the Sporting Conservation Council, a 12-member advisory group to the Departments of Interior and Agriculture.

The SCC amounts to, in Schildwachter's words, an "institutional footing for hunters to constantly be in contact with government." The policy conference deemed it so vital that the very first point of the 58-point action plan calls upon Congress to re-authorize the SCC for the 10-year span of the plan.

"The American hunter has never been better-organized," Schildwachter said. "And that's saying something, because the American hunter, in the history of American sporting and wildlife conservation, has been a model of organization.

"We've coalesced now the attention at the White House level with the organization within the community and with a road map of where we want to go together with our shared interest."

Schildwachter offered three requests to the new Congress: make permanent the tax incentives available for landowners who open their land to hunting; make permanent a process for energy companies to get their permits; and make the SCC permanent.

"This should be easy to do right now," he said of the SCC extension.

Other points he urged policymakers to address quickly were No. 8  "establish a Blue Ribbon panel of experts on wildlife funding"; No. 9  "recommend funding arrangements that pool federal, state and private funds"; and No. 22  "establish shooting ranges in urban areas as part of urban centers for outdoor activities."

The last one addresses what Schildwachter called a dilemma of modern hunting. Whereas many hunters once accessed vast lands with depleted game populations, today few hunters have a hard time getting access to lands abounding with game.

He also stumped for points that seek to lessen restrictions on filming in federal lands and to require the effects on wildlife be considered during oil and gas exploration.

In an interview after his prepared remarks, Schildwachter said the greatest obstacle to the action points is simple inertia.

"The agenda, especially at a transition time, is so vast," he said. "There are so many priorities that the heroes of conservation have to make 10 phone calls for every call back they get, just to get the ball rolling."

His advice for those who would push for the points in the 10-year plan: write your representative, push with your conservation organizations, and advocate en masse.

Asked how confident he is that the Obama team will prioritize conservation, he replied: "I know they're thinking about it. But I also know what their life is like. They have a lot to do. It was hard when you had a hunter in the Oval Office and a hunter in the Vice-President's office. It was still very hard to do this."

For more information on White House environmental policy, visit http://wildlifeconservation.gov/

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