Hunters are the Best Conservationists

  • Connor Fitzpatrick ’21

You would think that if you wanted to be a conservationist the first thing to do would be to convert to veganism. Obviously, as a vegan you are part of the solution (not eating animals) and not part of the problem (people who eat animals). Then, once you’ve been binging on mung beans, seeds, and tofu, you can flog everyone you know with all the great things that come with not eating animals. You would immediately reap the psychological and social rewards of being vegan such as gaining the confidence that you are saving the world and wildlife, one meal at a time. It makes sense and you can’t argue with the logic. Or can you?  

While there’s nothing wrong with veganism, the idea that those who want to conserve wildlife should storm Whole Foods and satisfy our edible seaweed needs is wrong. If we really wanted to do something for the environment and wildlife in particular, we would be better off flocking to Cabelas.

That’s right. Prepare the pitchforks and the and tar and feathers because yes, it turns out, the first conservationists are the best. The stubborn fact is, if you want to save wildlife, become a hunter. Hunters truly are nature’s best friend, but such an irrational position be correct?

Following his cousin’s lead, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped pass the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937 (a.k.a. the Pittman Robertson Act). Think of the Pittman Robertson Act as a “pay to play.” The act, lobbied for and supported by hunters, created excise taxes on guns and ammunition to fund wildlife conservation and habitat preservation. Each year, 760 million dollars is generated from taxes under the Pittman Robertson Act. The monetary impact of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation alone exceeds 1 billion dollars. 80% of the money collected by fish and wildlife agencies comes from hunters. In 2014, 1.1 billion dollars was distributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service from excise taxes. Nobody gives more. In 2017 the US Government has collected over 2.3 billion dollars from excise taxes.

The model that we use for conservation is called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation which has 7 principles for conservation:Wildlife is a public resource, Markets for game are eliminated, the Allocation of wildlife by law, wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose, wildlife species are considered an international resource, science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy, and the democracy of hunting (following democratic principles, the government grants access to land and resources regardless of wealth, status, or land ownership). We use this model because it works and it is the most successful model for conservation and preservation.

Hunters make up only about 5% of the US population but 78% of the population supports hunting—highlighting how many green conservationists are supporting hunters conservation movements. As Catherine Semcer, COO of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants stated using its definition, conservation is “the protection, care, management, and maintenance of ecosystems, habitats, species, and populations within or outside of their natural environments in order to safeguard the natural conditions for their long term permanence.” Using this definition, “a scientific consensus has emerged through the IUCN (the largest network of conservation scientists in the world). There is a consensus that hunters conserve wildlife.” We need to recognize and use this definition and consensus. 

Without knowing about the impact of legislation like the Pittman Robertson Act, or the work of organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and other laws and movements that support conservation and wildlife in the US, many people criticize hunters, claiming they are immoral selfish killers that cause animal extinction. They point to, for example, the exponential drop in bison populations in North America in the 1800s and that is where their argument fails. That was not hunting. That was an industrialized slaughter also known as “market hunting” for economic gain. It was shooting, not hunting and that is why such market hunting is why our laws eliminate markets for game. 

Also, it is not because people stopped eating bison that bison populations rebounded. It is because of hunters. Thanks to hunters and other conservation movements the wild buffalo population has jumped from fewer than 600 in 1890 to over 500,000 today. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has credited the Pittman Robertson Act with rebuilding wildlife populations, saving both prey such as elk, deer, turkey, and duck, as well as predators like bears, wolves, and coyotes.

Humans have been hunting for about two million years. As Steven Rinella, founder of the MeatEater podcast, puts it, modern humans have been around for about 75,000 years and in North America alone humans have been hunting for about 15,000 years. Therefore, to not hunt is historically and genetically “off the mark.” 

As we become more virtually connected with each other, more urbanized, and more global, we become less connected with nature. As humans, a part of us still lives in the cave and longs to be in nature. We have an innate desire and a virtual need for nature. As we lose our connection with nature, the ties that are created by hunting are the best hope in creating future generations of conservationists.

Photo from PBSLearning Media

By Axel de Vernou

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