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The Hunter's Role in Conservation

The Hunter’s Role in Conservation

Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. President from 1901 to 1909, was an avid hunter and a champion of nature conservation, initiating the National Park system and the establishment of hundreds of wildlife preserves around the country.

He once said, “The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as the enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality, the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.”

From Roosevelt’s time onward, hunters and anglers have played an important role in the conservation of natural resources in the U.S., and too often, this fact is overlooked or ignored.

How a Hunter Began the U.S. Conservation Movement

Roosevelt’s work creating the modern U.S. conservation movement came on the heels of a time when hunting contributed significantly to the destruction of land and animal populations.

In the century before Roosevelt, hunting was not a recreation or sport, it was a way of life and a means to livelihood. Meat, pelts, and other animal products were sold for profit, creating a financial incentive for over-hunting. Many animal species, such as the carrier pigeon, were hunted to extinction, and others, such as the bison, to near extinction.

As a sports hunter, Roosevelt saw the need for laws and conservation policies to make the pleasures of hunting available to all Americans in the future. Along with Roosevelt, other Americans joined forces to develop the principles of the modern conservation movement, including zoologist George Bird Grinnell, forester Gifford Pinchot, and naturalist and writer John Muir.

These pioneers of conservation were helped by hunters, anglers, and other citizens who simply enjoyed the outdoors for camping, hiking, and wildlife watching. Ultimately, the vision of all of these people resulted in the creation of The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, a unique set of guiding principles underlying the modern American conservation movement and protecting American’s right to hunt.

Hunters Continue Aiding Conservation

In 1937, federal legislation was introduced to secure a source of funding for the preservation of wildlands and management of the animals living there. This law, called The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act and more commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, requires states to collect fees from hunting licenses to fund wildlife management programs.

The Pittman-Robertson Act also requires an 11 percent tax on guns and ammunition, sending these funds to state wildlife agencies for the protection of habitat. Similar legislation soon broadened these taxes to include angling gear and Duck Stamps. Since its inception, this legislation has raised over 14 billion dollars to fund state agencies managing fish and wildlife and preserved many thousands of acres of land.

Thanks to these taxes on hunters and anglers, over half of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget and more than 60 percent of the funding for state fish and wildlife agencies is secured each year. The once nearly decimated species of wood duck, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer have rebounded dramatically as a result of these funds.

Another way hunters help conservation is by controlling animal populations which otherwise cause harm to the environment by over-grazing. The Nature Conservancy reports that overpopulation of white-tail deer in eastern U.S. is among the worst threats to native plant species and reforestation efforts, and hunting helps keep deer populations in control. 

A Decline in Hunting Threatens Wildlife Populations

Hunting as a sport is declining rapidly across the U.S. Fifty years ago, over 10 percent of Americans hunted, but that number is now down to only 5 percent. With fewer hunters, funds for conservation have decreased dramatically, leaving some departments understaffed and unable to adequately monitor and manage wildlife and habitat.

Responsible hunters who follow laws and regulations, pay excise taxes on guns and ammunition, and who pay for hunting licenses play a crucial role in preserving populations of wildlife and their habitat. By passing on your skills and knowledge of hunting to your children and grandchildren, or by taking up the sport of hunting, you help preserve American wildlands and wildlife for the benefit of everyone.