Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with George Reiger of "Field & Stream" Magazine

November 01, 1976

[Editor's note: In July of this year, Field & Stream contacted Governor Jimmy Carter, requesting an interview that would deal with his thoughts on hunting, conservation, and related subjects. The exclusive interview took place at Carter's home in Plains, Georgia, mid-August. Field & Stream also contacted the White House in November 1975 and again in July 1976 requesting a similar interview with President Ford and received replies from Press Secretary Ron Nessen in January and July of this year, expressing hope that an interview could take place, but stating that no opportunity existed at the time. We wish to point out that what follows in no way constitutes an endorsement of Governor Carter by this magazine. However, we believe it is important that our readers have a chance to hear the candidates' views on subjects of importance to outdoor people. We regret that we did not have the opportunity to present a similar discussion with President Ford, but we assure you that Field & Stream did make an attempt to do so.]

We arrived in Plains, Georgia, the afternoon before our interview with Jimmy Carter. One of his informal softball games with the press was underway. Except for the inevitable scattering of Secret Service agents, the audience was "just folks"—mostly people from Florida, Alabama, or towns elsewhere in Georgia who had driven over for the day "to see Jimmy play." And play he did, with a fine delivery as pitcher and a strong arm at bat. His second time up he clobbered a triple to right field. Carter may play for publicity, for it is obvious he enjoys the spectators and inevitable autograph sessions with the kids. However, it is also obvious he plays for fun—and to win.

Next morning, Field & Stream asked him what his favorite form of recreation was. He didn't say softball.

Governor Carter. Canoeing on wild rivers. I had a kayak when I was governor and had access to the north Georgia streams. But I swapped it for a canoe when I came back to south Georgia. There's not much white water down here.

Q. Can you actually"Eskimo roll" a kayak?

Governor Carter. Well, I have been able to. [He laughs.] If I went out this morning, I'm not sure I could.

Q. What else does Jimmy Carter do to recharge his spirit in the outdoors?

Governor Carter. Starting right here, we have a 160 acre farm adjoining my house. After the harvest season and during the winter, I spend a lot of time in the fields looking for arrowheads. I have a collection of several thousand arrowheads I've found over the years. This simple activity gives me a chance to be alone.

In addition, the farm has good open woodlands and swamps where I like to wander. These are places I've visited ever since I was born. This land has been in our family since my daddy was a child, and one of our farms has been in the family since 1833 when the Indians left. Ever since I was a boy, the dirt roads and springs, fields and woods and creeks, have been an essential part of my life. We used to hunt almost everything—possum, coon, fox, rabbits, squirrel, dove, and quail. All this made a very important psychological contribution to my life. By the way, Field & Stream was always one of my favorite magazines and did much to shape my philosophy toward the outdoors and conservation. In campaigning all over the country, you can lose touch with reality. Coming back here and walking the land again gets my feet on the ground, literally and figuratively. I see things more clearly.

Lately though, when I leave the house, all three TV networks and 30 or 40 reporters follow me to the farm. That's why Rosalynn and I have a pond nearby we don't let newspeople visit. We go there every couple of weeks and can usually catch between 25 and 30 bluegill in a couple of hours' fishing.

Then all the time I was governor—and I hope this can continue—I liked to get out quail hunting. This is probably the most enjoyable form of hunting or fishing experience I have.

Q. Many of our readers are concerned about the rise of anti-hunting sentiment in America. What are your thoughts on this?

Governor Carter. I believe this is a matter of education. If the average person in America could understand that proper management and harvesting techniques are actually good for both the quality and populations of wildlife we'd have no anti-hunting movement.

Furthermore, if the people in this country realized that the protection of endangered species and the improved condition of many other species of wildlife were paid for by those who do enjoy hunting, we'd have no ' problem.

When I was a boy, we had very few deer in Georgia. All the time I was growing up on the farm, I spent a great deal of time in the swamps and isolated fields, and over a period of 18 years, I saw only two deer. Nowadays, we have a great supply of deer, and even in the small counties of the state, we harvest as many as 3,000 per year. This is a result of enlightened game management.

Another species that has been helped is the wild turkey. When I was governor, we initiated a major program to replenish turkey stocks in the state; and in recent years, I have killed two.

There is really an inadequate education of the public about how much people who hunt, love wildlife, protect it, work for increased populations through improved habitat, and are by and large very meticulous about obeying game and fish laws.

Even before I was Governor of Georgia, I wanted to see produced a simple book on quail culture. There had been some good scientific books written on the subject, but I wanted something that was not too technical for the average farmer, something he could purchase at a reasonable price to see how to increase quail populations. I also wanted the book to include sections on hunting techniques and ethics as well as bird dogs and their training. As you know, our Department of Natural Resources filled the order perfectly. Prince of Game Birds: the Bobwhite Quail, by Charles Elliott.

Another book I sponsored as governor is Wildflowers of the Southeastern United States by Wilbur H. Duncan and Leonard E. Foote. I even provided money for it out of my emergency fund. There's such a crying need for public education in subjects like this.

Overall, I see a good future for sportsmen and for the enjoyment of hunting, fishing, and all other forms of outdoor recreation. Yet it is increasingly important for sportsmen to be aggressive in demanding that the government protect the outdoors and preserve unspoiled areas. They are precious possessions for us now, but they'll be even more precious in the future.

Q. Yotfve had more than your share of run-ins with the Soil Conservation Service and the Corps of Engineers.

Governor Carter. The Soil and Water Conservation Service has been an important part of my life. When I was 12, I joined in a Soil and Water Conservation project to assess and increase wildlife populations on my daddy's farm. Since then, however, I've been in opposition to some of their programs I for draining freshwater swamps and channelizing streams. We can have an I adequate amount of flood and erosion control without destroying the natural habitat of our wildlife. As for the Corps, I feel they have an excessive yearning to build dams that are not needed, and they pay inadequate attention to the habitat needs of wildlife.

Q. As Governor of Georgia, you took an odd assortment of natural resource, environmental protection, recreation, and land trust agencies and combined them into one, more streamlined Department of Natural Resources. Any thought of doing the same thing with the various federal resource and environmental agencies?

Governor Carter. Yes, that would be one of the things I'd be sure to consider. We had 36 different agencies in the Georgia government—24 of them were separately budgeted—which were combined into one. There's a close interrelationship between fish and game management, protection of environmental quality, recreation in state parks, and a host of other activities relating to natural resources. Combining these concerns into one agency not only cuts down on duplication of effort, it provides a central clearinghouse for people who want to ask questions, register a complaint, or volunteer work. I believe the combined agency has greatly enhanced the concern of all Georgians for protecting the outdoors.

I thought that my veto of the Spewrell Bluff Dam on the Flint River would be heavily opposed by the majority of Georgians, and I made my decision figuring that it would be a severe political sacrifice on my part. But the aftermath was overwhelmingly favorable. Even the people who lived in the region involved responded favorably 10 to 1. On a nationwide basis, the reaction ran about 35 to 1, and thousands of letters came in praising my decision. This indicates to me that the majority of people who seldom write a letter or join a delegation to see the governor are much more interested in the protection of what we have than any temporary economic advantages in building a dam or other major projects that are not needed.

Q. The conventional wisdom still holds that the public favors most any kind of development. Yet from an editorial point of view, we see a great and growing disgust with the handiwork of independent minded public agencies.

Governor Carter. Yes, the dam I vetoed had been in the process of design for 15 or 20 years. The people involved were full time, very dedicated civil servants who had never worked on any other project in their professional lives. To see it all suddenly terminate was a severe blow to them. However, I resented deeply their falsification of data. The Corps exaggerated the benefits and underestimated the costs. When I, as an engineer, got my slide rule and tried to confirm their figures, there was no way to confirm them because they were not accurate. Subsequent to my analysis, the Government Accounting Office confirmed that I was right, and the Corps was wrong.

But this was just one experience. Throughout the country there are projects that have been approved for 25 or 30 years which are still in the process of being designed. Some might be necessary, but many are not Quite often, Corps projects are a pork-barrel deal where some very powerful Member of Congress, in order to get attention at home and to get votes, will say, "I got $250 million allocated to build a dam on such and such a river," when that dam would best not be built. Such construction not only destroys wildlife areas, it's a tremendous waste of taxpayers' money as well. I would like to see all such projects closely scrutinized, and the only ones that should be approved are those with a natural cost-benefit ratio that is both obvious and substantial. There are many useful projects the Corps can participate in. But I'm going to see this policy of compulsive dam building changed if I'm elected.

In our total national budget, less than 1 percent is spent on the protection and enhancement of the outdoors. Even city dwellers who rarely visit the woods react adversely when a natural area is destroyed. In one way or another, we're all tied to the land. Outdoor recreation is a precious part of our lives, whether we're conscious of that fact or not. We all want access to wild areas, and we want that access protected for our children.

When I was governor, the Georgia Heritage Trust spent about $17 million to acquire, at greatly reduced cost, areas of our state that were in danger of being destroyed forever. They were archeologically, geologically, historically, or naturally, important areas. When our first settlers came into Georgia, they chose the most advantageous locations. Now builders want to take these historic sites, commercialize them, and make a lot of money. Through families that had control of ancestral lands, we were able to make the state a good repository either through gifts or by providing a modest payment. The first year, we surveyed approximately 2,000 different sites throughout the state—some larger, some only a few acres—and out of those we identified about 35 that were the most in danger and the most valuable and acquired those. This ought to be done nationwide, and the cost is so very slight.

Q. Every 10 years, we take a human census in the United States, Yet we've never made a similar county-by-county inventory of our fish and wildlife resources. States say they don't have the money; the feds say they don't have the personnel. What is the chance that President Jimmy Carter would convene a White House Conference on wildlife conservation to initiate such a plan?

Governor Carter. The project appeals to me. This is one area where volunteers could play a major role. In bird census efforts, volunteers do almost all the work. This is coordinated through scientific agencies to make sure the identification and tabulation procedures are standardized to insure accuracy. A similar census for all fish and wildlife resources would involve a small expenditure of state and federal moneys, yet return such rich dividends. It would also give sportsmen's organizations an opportunity to participate in a worthwhile volunteer project. The census might become an annual event just as is done in the field of ornithology.

Q. The next administration will be the first charged with implementing the 200 mile fisheries limit. Would you anticipate any problems in this area?

Governor Carter. Yes. There are going to be some very sensitive international negotiations on catch regulations and on mechanisms by which those catches can be confirmed. In addition, I imagine there will be a great deal of argument with our domestic fishermen about seasons and limits for different species. The Coast Guard and other sea-interested agencies will be enlarged, and this will at first create administrative difficulties. Thus, the increased patrol responsibilities and possible international and national conflicts will make this new law a difficult one to enforce. However, I am determined to see that it is properly enforced.

Q. Do you feel we're moving too fast on offshore oil leasing?

Governor Carter. Yes, I do. I don't see any reason to lease oil areas either on the outer continental shelf or in the interior except to supply anticipated oil needs. Under the Nixon-Ford Administration, there has been an effort to lease 10 times more area than was necessary. This creates an absence of competition, because when you have too many leases being sold at one time, the oil companies, in effect, divide the territory amongst themselves. I favor legislation that has made a good bit of progress in the Congress to separate exploratory lease rights from production lease rights so that we'll have a better assessment of our potential oil supply before it is exploited. This would also make the leasing process more orderly, permit smaller companies to participate, and increase actual income.

Q. Do you think, if and when whale stocks are restored to safe levels, the United States should resume whaling?

Governor Carter. That's a long way in the future and would probably not occur in my own administration. However, I would presume that once we restore whale stocks, as with any wild species under thoughtful management, good and orderly harvest procedures could be reinstituted.

Q. There is a growing controversy over who has the responsibility for managing wildlife on federal lands: the states or the feds. Any thoughts on this?

Governor Carter. My philosophical inclination is to let state and local governments do as much as they are capable of. The federal government can cooperate by establishing minimum standards and a degree of supervision to insure uniformity. However, so long as the states comply with those standards, I would prefer to see the states do what they can.

Q. Do you favor restrictions on the use of pesticides?

Governor Carter. Yes. This is a subject I face from both viewpoints: first, as a farmer trying to get a maximum return from every acre of land that I manage; next, as someone who is concerned about the long-range consequences of using dangerous chemicals. We need to face the entire question of toxic materials, hazards versus benefits. One of the causes I advocate is that all test data on new toxic materials be made public, while at the same time permitting the manufacturer to protect his patent rights.

Q. Do you think a national land use law is possible in the next 4 years?

Governor Carter. Yes, it's possible. However, it has to be designed from the beginning by those most directly affected. I think if our farmers, ranchers, and other landowners could understand it is for their protection; if they were involved in the initial stages of legislation; if we could remove the false concept that the federal government was going to let everybody use our land; if all these criteria can be met, land use legislation can be passed.

Q. One last personal question: If you were limited to one dog—a covey dog or a singles dog—which would you choose?

Governor Carter. [Carter broke into his famous grin.] "Oh, I think a man could get by with a good singles dog."

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 with George Reiger of "Field & Stream" Magazine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347737