Hunting is embedded in the history and culture of our nation. For obvious reasons, early settlers in the United States hunted to survive. As our country grew, the need for conservation of our natural resources was recognized. Game numbers declined and some species were hunted nearly to extinction, but the need for species and ecosystem management is not new.
More than 12,000 years ago, inhabitants of North America hunted wooly mammoths, giant armadillos, and camels to extinction. In modern times, we realize the need to protect and conserve our natural resources.
Laws like the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and others laid the foundation for wildlife conservation and environmental protection. The FWA ensures wildlife conservation receives equal consideration and is coordinated with other programs like water-resource development programs.
The ESA establishes the federal program to conserve and restore threatened and endangered species and their habitats. The MBTA was passed to ensure the sustainability of populations of protected migratory birds. These and other laws laid a foundation for protection of the environment for all of us, including hunters.
Because of hunting regulations, hunters cannot hunt any species to the point where the population is damaged. But laws are not the only reason hunters protect species and the environment. When you think about it, hunters want a healthy environment as much as anyone else and maybe more. The last thing a hunter wants to do is damage the environment.
Is Hunting a Tradition or Management Tool?
Today, hunting in the United States is not only a tradition, but also a wildlife management tool. According to recent research, hunting is more popular than ever, especially due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With access to grocery stores limited and supply chains interrupted, hunting has served critical roles. It ensures food for our human population and helps people relax and thrive in outdoor environments.
The realist knows that there are natural population checks caused by humanity. As urban and suburban areas expand and habitat is reduced or eliminated, wildlife moves to areas more suitable for their survival. When this happens, some populations can grow to a point where the environment cannot support them.
States regulate hunting, allowing hunting of certain species but placing restrictions on the number and type of animals that are hunted. This is especially true in areas where natural predators no longer exist. It is vital to the ecosystem to keep animal populations at healthy numbers so they do not overpopulate a region. For these reasons, hunters are often more aware of conservation than the general public.
What Does “Good for the Environment” Mean?
Essentially, something is good for the environment if it supports or promotes the health of the plants and animals that live there. Maintaining wildlife populations seeks to improve habitat and species survival and provides for healthy populations.
High populations of plant eating species (like deer) impact the growth and survival of plants, including endangered plants. Balance is the key. Hunting is one way to help maintain the population of species in a healthy balance.
Hunters Help the Environment
Hunters help the environment in many ways, from funding obtained from hunting fees, permits and excise taxes, to donating their time and money to environmental causes.
Fees, Permits, and Excise Taxes
From the earliest days of active fish and wildlife management, fish and wildlife conservation was funded by a user-pay, user-benefit model, meaning the funds from licenses and excise taxes on equipment and ammunition help fund restoration and conservation initiatives.
Hunting fees are a force multiplier for funds available for conservation. Sportsman-derived funding sources (including guns and ammunition) help buy and set aside millions of acres for wildlife in the United States. In addition, funding from sportsman-derived funding sources makes up between 60 and 90 percent of State fish and wildlife agency budgets. Without hunting, a major source of funding would be eliminated.
Funds raised in this way support wildlife research, management, hunter education programs, and environmental and wildlife conservation organizations. Fees can be quite high depending on the species, even into thousands of dollars, so it is easy to see the positive impact hunting has on the environment.
Donating Their Time and Money
Simply put, many hunters get involved. Hunters often give their time and money to preserve and enhance the environment, and conservation organizations rely on volunteers and fundraising to do important environmental work.
For example, hunters are major supporters of Ducks Unlimited, a conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and thousands of local chapters across the United States and Canada. Ducks Unlimited is the world leader in wetland and waterfowl conservation, managing over 15 million acres.
Ducks Unlimited protects lands through direct acquisition, conservation easements and planned gifts, and supports restoration of grasslands and replanting of forests among other things.
Sources of revenue for Ducks Unlimited include federal and state habitat reimbursements, conservation easements, sponsors, members, major gifts, donations, royalties, and advertisement. You can count hunters in almost every revenue source from sponsors, to gifts, to donations, to field volunteers and more.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is another example. The goal of this foundation, established in 1984, is to ensure the future of elk populations, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. The Foundation’s first project raised funding for a prescribed burn in Montana to help restore the natural habitat in that area.
Land acquisition for conservation purposes is also a priority with more than 100,000 acres of protected or enhanced elk country credited to this Foundation. The organization now has more than 200,000 members who have helped complete more than 13,000 conservation/hunting projects that enhanced more than 8.2 million areas of wildlife habitat. Think hunters don’t help the environment? Think again.
The environment must be balanced to be healthy. Today, most Americans do not rely on hunting for food, and this can result in overpopulation of species (particularly deer) in some areas. Deer overpopulation, for example, reduces the amount of forage (food) available. This degrades the environment, which further reduces the amount of forage for the animals. It is a cycle that left unchecked can degrade an entire area.
Food shortage creates stress on the animals and weakens their immune systems, which can lead to the spread of disease within the population and to other species and populations. Overpopulation also leads to higher animal related accidents on our roadways as animals search for food due and move into urban areas. Hunting in these areas helps rebalance the environment.
Although it is not the entire picture, hunting it is an important tool for promoting and even enhancing the environment. Money from hunting-related expenses, donations of time and money, and population control are just three of the ways hunting helps the environment.
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