Conservation is just as important as gun rights, according to a new poll of sportsmen by the National Wildlife Federation.

Nearly half of those surveyed said those two priorities have equal weight in their minds.

And given a choice between prioritizing oil and gas production or protecting public lands, 35 percent chose the fuel and 49 percent chose the public lands.

John Gale, NWF regional representative, says he thinks the poll mirrors the views of more folks than just those who hunt and fish.

"Most Americans are reasonable people who value things like public lands, like fish and wildlife habitat," Gale said. "And while they understand the need for oil and gas and energy, they don't want to see that come at the expense of what public lands can offer them."

Forty-two percent of respondents said they are Republicans, 32 percent independents, and 18 percent Democrats.

More than two-thirds of the sportsmen polled said the U.S. should work to reduce carbon emissions, update the nation's mining law (which is 140 years old) and expand and strengthen the Clean Water Act.

The findings do not surprise Gale, who calls sportsmen "the original conservationists."

"We regard ourselves as stewards of the land, because we have such a strong connection to it," he said. "We understand at a fundamental level that if you take care of the land, then the land will take care of you. And if you take care of fish and wildlife habitat, the hunting and fishing will take care of itself."

In the Western states, maintaining and improving access to public lands ranked high on the priority list. NWF says millions of acres of public land are surrounded by private land, discouraging or preventing their use.

Last weekend, both Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley voted with the majority to consider the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 (S 3525) as one of the first orders of business after the November election.

The package of 19 bills focuses on conservation funding and public lands access. The U.S. House passed its version of the legislation (HR 4089) in April.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this story.