August 17, 2007 – 6:25pm

By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush wants the government to look for more room for hunters to hunt and to step up efforts to conserve places where wildlife roam.

Bush on Friday ordered any federal agencies that manage public lands, outdoor recreation or wildlife to “facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and the management of game species and their habitat.”

In the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry both courted the so-called sportsmen’s vote of hunters and anglers, groups that include both gun supporters and conservationists.

“Clearly, he’s catering to a constituency, because there’s no biological or ecological justification,” said Jamie Rappaport Clarke, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, who directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Clinton administration.

“It’s selecting a group of species, only those that are hunted and fished, to give White House attention to,” she said. “I would have expected some executive leadership on things like global warming and conservation of all biological diversity.”

In the 2008 presidential race, Democrat Bill Richardson has made a point of calling himself a recreational hunter and aired a television ad with scenes of him hunting in the West.

Republican Mitt Romney said he hunted rabbits and varmints but has been criticized for calling himself a lifelong hunter, though he never had state hunting licenses where he lived.

Bush’s order mostly affects the Interior and Agriculture departments, which manage 700 million acres of land … an area slightly more than double the size of Alaska. They have now been put on notice to seek any chances for more hunting of wildlife, waterfowl, big game and upland game birds when considering state and federal land management plans.

“Outdoor activities, like hunting, can provide tremendous benefits to both individuals and to wildlife conservation,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the idea behind it was to perpetuate “a natural balance among hunter, habitat and wildlife.”

The president’s order raises the profile of the Sporting Conservation Council, which the agencies were directed to consult with “as appropriate” when looking to expand hunting.

The Interior Department created the 12-member council last year as an advisory panel. Its members include officials from hunting groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited and Safari Club International.


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