DALLAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An unlikely lobbying group is pressing the U.S. Senate to curb greenhouse gas emissions: American hunting and fishing groups who fear climate change will disrupt their sport.
Hunters and anglers are mainly a Republican Party constituency representing tens of millions of votes in the U.S. heartland and could help swing crucial votes as the Senate tries to pass legislation to cut carbon output.
Twenty national hunting and fishing groups urged senators in a letter last month to ensure "the climate legislation you consider in the Senate both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and safeguards natural resources."
Among those calling for "comprehensive" legislation were groups not usually associated with liberal causes, like the Dallas Safari Club, the National Trappers Association and Pheasants Forever.
One of their worries, for example, is that the fowl they hunt might not migrate as far south if northern U.S. states become warmer.
"If you go out and hunt at the same time in the same season and the same place every year, then you understand the changes that are happening," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for conservation at the National Wildlife Federation, which claims a membership 420,000 sportsmen in 46 states.
These groups will be going up against powerful Washington lobbies -- the coal and oil industries, for example -- that are pushing hard to soften any mandatory pollution controls.
Legislation to reduce U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, which scientists link to global warming, is one of President Barack Obama's top domestic policy priorities.
He has urged fellow Democrats in Congress to send him a bill before December's international climate summit in Copenhagen. But the effort has bogged down in the Senate, where most Republicans and some moderate Democrats are loathe to talk about the prospects of higher energy prices that could result.
Hunting and global-warming activism usually mix about as well as oil and water.
Former President George W. Bush, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin are the most prominent on a long list of hunting and fishing Republican politicians who have cast doubt on the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change.
But hunters and anglers spend a lot of time outdoors and notice changes like shifting bird migrations or earlier spring run-offs in rivers from melting snow.
Republicans are mostly skeptical of any move to "cap and trade" U.S. carbon emissions that result from burning coal and oil, decrying it as a massive job-killing tax by forcing the use of more expensive wind and solar power.
The NWF estimates that 42 million Americans hunt or fish and that those sports and other wildlife-related activities contribute around $172 billion to the economy.
A nationwide survey the NWF commissioned in 2006 found that half of all licensed hunters and anglers counted themselves as "evangelical Christians," a heavily Republican group.
A 2008 NWF poll of over 1,000 hunters and fishers found that over half classified themselves as "politically conservative." The respondents were mostly white, male and middle-aged -- classic Republican demographic.
Even so, 85 percent agreed with the statement: "We can improve the environment and strengthen the economy by investing in renewable energy technologies that create jobs while reducing global warming."
Lindsey Graham, a conservative Republican senator from South Carolina, broke ranks with his party and outlined a compromise to limit carbon emissions in a New York Times opinion piece he co-wrote with Democratic Senator John Kerry.
That won him praise from national hunting groups and local ones in South Carolina, which has a robust outdoor sports culture woven into its rural fabric.