Hunters: America’s Great Conservationists

Fall has arrived, which means, for 12.5 million hunters across the country, hunting season has arrived.  October brings the annual beginning of a number of season openings including waterfowl (varied specie of duck), small game and upland birds (varied specie of rabbit, pheasant, and quail), and also larger game such as deer.  Though hunting is still prevalent in parts of the United States, as a whole, hunter numbers are dwindling, which ironically hurts the overall well being of the species hunters are trying to kill. 

While the previous statement may seem hard to believe, consider that since the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1934 and simultaneous invention of the duck stamp (which is a required purchase for any hunter wishing to hunt waterfowl), hunters have directly provided the necessary funds to create 5.2 million acres of wildlife refuge in the United States.  Every year, U.S. hunters collectively spend millions of dollars on licenses, tags, and permits, which, through allocation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, go directly toward the conservation of the land they use and animals they hunt.  Additional funding comes from gun sales in the form of excise taxes on the guns themselves, ammunition, and other equipment.  In addition to funding conservation efforts, these monies also go toward fish and wildlife surveys performed by state authorities.  These surveys help with game population counting and age and sex ratio analysis which ultimately determine mandated bag limits for hunted animals.

However, even with all of the funding hunters provide towards conservation efforts and wildlife surveys, many people in the environmental community do not understand the common hunter.  The reason for this?  Poachers and non-law abiding hunters receive a disproportionate amount of publicity, which casts a bad light on hunting as a whole; but while they only make up a small demographic of hunters, they do pose a threat to the overall longevity of U.S. game animals.   Studies show that for every animal killed legally in the United States, another will be killed illegally.

To address this issue, state departments of fish and wildlife receive hunting conservation funds and apply them to catching and prosecuting poachers.  One method for doing so is the use of robot animals.  State fish and game authorities set up sting operations with robot animals where poachers are lured into shooting out-of-season or protected animals.  Violators are assessed hefty fines or jail time.  But while poaching is fairly easy to recognize, hunters not adhering to bag limits, is not.

The responsibility of catching overzealous hunters falls on state hired game wardens that monitor public hunting grounds and perform routine checks of hunter’s harvested animals.  Hunters caught with excess harvest are heavily fined; but for every violator who is caught, many go free due to the lack of state funding for hiring game wardens.  This brings us back to the original point: dwindling hunting numbers. 

Because of the large amount of funding hunters provide towards conservation efforts and preventing poaching and overharvesting, environmentalists and hunters alike should hope hunter numbers are restored to those of previous decades.  This should be viewed as an opportunity to teach new generations of hunters the value of an animal, not just as a harvestable form of sustenance, but as an irreplaceable part of an entire ecosystem; an opportunity to show new hunters that if you want to eat meat, you should understand the work that goes into harvesting, preparing, and cooking it; but that through that work, you garner a respect for the animal and the land that raised it.  This is an opportunity to teach new hunters that hunting is, not about shooting an animal, but about conservation and getting in touch with nature; and lastly, an opportunity to teach that hunting laws are there to ensure that future generations will have something to hunt.  This is an opportunity to teach hunters about sustainability.

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/huntfishguide/5906967513/

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