Interview in "Outdoor Life"
Q. We'd like to know something about your hunting and fishing background.
Governor Carter. Well, I was born and raised here around Plains, and grew up on a farm until I was about 17 or 18 years old. After college I came back here and lived mostly on the farm. I've hunted and fished all my life. My wife and I go fishing now and then. We've got a nice, isolated pond the news people don't know about. We spend a couple of hours there and catch maybe 25 or 30 bluegills, or shellcrackers, most any afternoon or early morning.
When I was a boy, I did a lot of all kinds of hunting—squirrels, rabbits, coons, possums, and fox, and of course, doves and quail. When I say bird hunting, I'm talking about quail hunting. [For me] that's always been the most enjoyable. I've killed a couple of turkeys in my life, and though I don't have any objection to other people hunting deer, I'm not a deer hunter.
Q. Do you recognize hunting as tool in modern game management?
Governor Carter. I do recognize the fact that hunters and fishermen and outdoorsmen are the ones I think are the most significant protectors of endangered species and endangered areas. I think there's too much criticism of people who enjoy hunting, because they are the ones who finance programs to increase duck and goose populations and to protect wildlife that has been almost depleted. The first 17 years of my life I saw only two deer that I remember, and I spent almost all of my time in the swamps and fields and isolated wooded areas. But we now have plenty of deer in most areas of Georgia. This has come about because of proper game management. When I was a boy I saw a lot of turkeys, but then they almost disappeared. During my administration as governor, I tried to rebuild the turkey population, and the financing of this came from hunting and fishing licenses and from voluntary contributions from sportsmen. Hunters and outdoorsmen are the ones who can protect wildlife. That's a fact that ought to be better understood by the citizens of our country who don't like to hunt.
Q. Do you favor federal hunting licenses for people who hunt on federal lands, such as national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands?
Governor Carter. I don't have any objection to this. I think we need to increase the allocation of money for the preservation of wild areas, for the increase in population of depleted species, and for better facilities for those who enjoy the outdoors. I've never found a hunter or fisherman who objected to a reasonable fee, if they felt the money was earmarked to improve the quality of the out-of-doors. I'm not too familiar with your particular question so I don't know what political ramifications there would be, but I've given you my present feeling.
Q. The worst problem facing game today is loss of habitat. Do you favor habitat-restoration programs at government expense?
Governor Carter. Yes, I do. I tried as Governor of Georgia to protect endangered areas, even when the political consequences were quite severe.
Q. Should western ranchers, with grazing rights on Bureau of Land Management lands, be allowed to fence and close these lands to hunting?
Governor Carter. Well, I think you could fence the land and have some restraints on hunting. That ought to be worked out ahead of time on an individual contract basis. But I couldn't make a blanket statement now because of the diversity of those lands and the changing circumstances that apply.
Q. Considering the crucial importance of open spaces, natural beauty, and recreation to the nation's health, how do you feel about wilderness preservation and the apparent need for setting up more wilderness areas?
Governor Carter. I strongly support both. I think we have been too little inclined to inventory wilderness areas. When I became governor, I was very concerned about the depletion of wilderness, and other areas that were significant archeologically, geologically, and historically. So we set up a Georgia Heritage Trust. We had a fairly good allotment of funds. When I could exert some political muscle, we finally appropriated about $17 million for the purpose. We analyzed about 2,000 or more tracts of land, arranged them in an order of priority, and tried to acquire those that were most significant I think we ought to do the same on a national basis. And a lot of those areas that are already controlled by the federal government—the ones that are wilderness areas—ought to be preserved in a wilderness state.
Q. What is your opinion of the present multiple-use policy in the national forests? Do you support the idea that fish and wildlife are as important as sawlogs, grazing leases, and mineral development?
Governor Carter. Yes, I do. There are some species of trees and some types of forest that are almost sterile so far as game production or wildlife production are concerned. I don't see anything wrong with clear-cutting procedures in these particular forest lands. But in most forest lands I think the multiple-use concept is preferable.
We've got a superb project going on here in the Piedmont area of Georgia, where a very good balance has been achieved between the goal of forest and timber production and the desire to increase habitat quality for wildlife I've studied that project carefully. Even before prices went up, the lumber people were deriving about $10 or more an acre every year from timber sales, [while] the populations of deer, turkeys, quail, and other wildlife were growing. So, my answer is—"Yes." I support multiple-use concepts. The) are very important.
Q. I’d like your opinion of the Soil Conservation Service's channelization program, which seems to be converting every beautiful stream in the nation into a straight, muddy ditch. How far should this program be allowed to go?
Governor Carter. Though I got my start in game preservation when I was about 12 years old while working with the Soil and Water Conservation Service. I'm opposed to some of their projects like the channelization of streams, and the draining of wetlands. I think we ought to be very careful about that The political pressure put on the conservation service people sometimes influences them to do things they know might be wrong. I would play a leadership role in that respect.
Q. What is your position on federal as against state control and management of wildlife resources?
Governor Carter. I favor state management (on federal lands) where it can be done in a uniform way that's compatible with overall federal policy. I think this could be done through contractual commitments. The federal government can lay down the perimeters within which wildlife and land management can be completed. If states are willing to comply with those strict federal regulations, I see no objection to states having that responsibility. I also see no objection to the federal government monitoring states' performances.
Georgia, for example, has a very good relationship with the federal government in the production of turkeys and other game. Blackbeard Island is controlled by the government; Sapelo Island by the state. This kind of cooperation is advantageous because it lets the state play a role in management, and also forms a close relationship and understanding between the two levels of government. In other areas where the state and federal governments sharply divide responsibilities, there's often competition and an absence of communication and cooperation. Even animosities develop that I think in the long run hurt our country and the status of wildlife.
Q. Do you believe that our water problems can be better solved with nonstructural measures such as flood plain zoning, rather than dams and stream channelization?
Governor Carter. I've had a running battle with the Corps of Engineers that, in my opinion, has been much too inclined to flood areas that ought to be kept as they are, and dam up free-flowing rivers that ought to be kept free-flowing. [They do this] just in order to carry out some boondoggle, porkbarrel project that might have been approved 15, 20, or even 30 years ago. I feel very strongly about this.
Q. Do you see any way in which hunting and anti-hunting sentiments can coexist in the years ahead, or do you believe that one faction will eventually triumph?
Governor Carter. I believe they can coexist. As I said earlier, if the American people could be made to understand that the sportsman is the major protector of land and wildlife, and that the sportsman has an enduring interest in reestablishing endangered species and enhancing the populations of wildlife, then hunting and nonhunting can continue to exist compatibly. I think this is one role the President can play. He can acquaint the American people in a very strong voice with this fact.
Many people don't understand that hunting and fishing license fees, duck stamps, and other charges—paid voluntarily and eagerly by sportsmen— have been the mainstay in financing programs that have preserved our wildlife areas and our wildlife populations.
Q. Do you foresee tougher enforcement of federal water and air quality standards?
Governor Carter. If I'm elected President, the answer is yes.
Q. Do you advocate the abolition or registration of hunting rifles and shotguns?
Governor Carter. No.
Q. All handguns?
Governor Carter. No.
Q. Saturday Night Specials?
Governor Carter. Yes.
Q. Do you know of any cases where gun controls have reduced the crime level?
Governor Carter. I can't answer that. I don't know the statistics. I think that in some parts of the world where gun control is very strict the use of firearms and the murder rate are low. Whether this derives from a national attitude, such as in England or Japan, or whether it derives from an absence of guns or weapons, I can't say.
Q. Morris Dees has announced a strong anti-gun stand. How closely will he figure in your administration?
Governor Carter. I don't have any idea what role—if any—he would play in my administration. I don't agree with him, by the way, on his strong anti-gun stand.
Q. Lewis Regenstein is the most outspoken advocate of stopping all hunting in the United States. A member of your staff has advised that he is serving as your environmental adviser. How close will he be to your administration?
Governor Carter. Well, I am not in favor of stopping hunting in any degree. I have literally hundreds of advisers, and I don't even know Mr. Regenstein personally. I may have met him, but I don't remember him. But the fact that I have someone advising me who might have a strange or unique attitude isn't significant at all. I like to get different viewpoints expressed to me from all people, and then I make up my own mind. I think this is a good thing for a potential President to do rather than just get advice from those with whom he agrees.
NOTE: The APP used November 1 as the date for this document. The original source stated that this appeared in the "November 1976" issue.
Jimmy Carter, Interview in "Outdoor Life" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347581