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One of the goofier gaffes Mitt Romney made on this year's campaign trail occurred when he mentioned a recent Montana hunting trip but couldn't seem to remember whether he had pursued elk or moose.

Dig deeper, though, and that hunting trip reflects something more sinister than a slip of the tongue. President Theodore Roosevelt left America a rich legacy of abundant wildlife and millions of acres of public lands. But influential and well-heeled hunters are stabbing Roosevelt in the back by trying to recruit Mitt Romney to undermine TR's legacy.

Roosevelt championed a simple idea that is the foundation of all conservation and wildlife management in North America. That is the idea that wildlife belongs to all of us — not just to the rich or the land-owning elite. This is the linchpin that holds together America's national parks, forests and wildlife refuges and inspired the successful effort to rescue game animals like whitetail deer, turkey and elk, from near-extinction, as well as attempts to save endangered species like peregrine falcons and bald eagles.

This is a uniquely American commitment. In Europe, wildlife has traditionally been considered the property of the landowner or nobility. Hunting and fishing — the little that remains — is entirely in the hands of the elite. The idea that wildlife belongs to all citizens and should be managed by professionals using sound science is called the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Most all hunting and conservation groups, including conservative, venerable hunting-gun organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, embrace the model.

But not everyone. In particular, meet Don Peay and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife. SFW was founded in Utah and has spread throughout the West. One state at a time, it is dismantling the very idea of a public wildlife resource, and replacing it with special privileges for the privileged.

In Montana, SFW is pressuring county commissioners to circumvent the state wildlife commission on predator management. In Arizona and Idaho, it is lobbying legislatures to allow landowners to own and sell hunting privileges, independent of the rules all other citizens have to live by.

In Alaska, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife worked to have its state president, Corey Rossi, appointed head of the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Rossi had no professional credentials, but loads of political connections. Today, Rossi stands accused of violating game laws he was sworn to defend. That's gotten a bit of press, including a recent interview where Don Peay spelled out SFW's radical agenda.

Speaking to the Anchorage Daily News, Peay dismissed Roosevelt's legacy as "socialism" that needs to be "revisited."

"We understand the North American model where wildlife belongs to the people, but we're also seeing dramatic reductions in game populations in the Western United States under that model," he said.

This twisted reading of history puts Peay and SFW in some pretty lonely company. But lonely company can include the powerful, and in Alaska, that company included then-Gov. Sarah Palin. It also leads to Romney, the most likely Republican nominee for president.

Just who took Romney on that almost memorable moose — or was it elk? — hunt in Montana? Don Peay, who bragged of this political connection in an email to SFW members.

Romney hails from Massachusetts, a state severely lacking in wildlife and wildlife habitat. Recently, he revealed how little he knows about the nation's public land. "Unless there's a valid, legitimate and compelling public purpose, I don't know why the government owns so much of this land," said Romney.

I suppose Romney could crack a history book and read why Theodore Roosevelt and others created this public estate that fills most Westerners with pride. Instead, he listens to Don Peay. Something tells me they're talking about big bucks, but not the ones with antlers.

But what can sportsmen do? Here's a suggestion: Before you give a dime to a "conservation organization" or give a vote to a political candidate, make sure they answer this question: Do you believe the wildlife of North America belong to all of us, equally, or do you think wildlife should be sold to the highest bidder?"

If they don't answer, or answer wrong, keep looking. They aren't looking out for you.