By: Joe Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States and States Program Assistant
“Why are people still hunting when they can just buy their meat from the grocery store?” Sadly, this type of question is being asked more and more as our society becomes increasingly urbanized and disconnected from nature.
Having been born and raised in the northeastern United States – a generally densely-populated area that arguably sees more anti-hunting sentiments than any other region of the country – I have unfortunately been asked this question countless times. To many individuals who are either misinformed or lack the interest to dive deeper into the issues, hunting is often seen as an antiquated and cruel practice, rather than a necessary and time-honored tradition that deserves respect for the many benefits to hunters and non-hunters alike. This flawed thinking often portrays hunting as “depleting our wildlife,” despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
In reality, hunters are who we have to thank for today’s abundant fish and wildlife populations and the laws and regulations that ensure harvest remains sustainable and populations continue in abundance. Likewise, hunting is a key ingredient needed to drive both state and federal fish and wildlife conservation efforts; it is a quintessential element of the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), a “user pays – public benefits” structure, in which those who consumptively use public resources pay for the privilege, and in some cases the right, to do so.
It’s unfortunate that there are countless elected officials and activists in our communities who seek to impose anti-hunting laws and regulations, ignoring the indispensable role that hunting has played in funding and supporting on-the-ground conservation for both game and non-game species of wildlife. These critical conservation dollars benefit members of the public – whether they hunt or not – through enhanced fish and wildlife habitat and populations, recreational access to public and private lands, shooting ranges and boat access facilities, wetlands protection and its associated water filtration and flood retention functions, and improved soil and water conservation.
What many anti-sportsmen do not realize – or aren’t willing to consider – is that America’s sportsmen and women took it upon themselves to craft this system of state-level fish and wildlife agencies and regulations for the same reasons today’s armchair anti-hunters claim to oppose hunting – for the long-term benefit of people and the environment on which they rely. The difference is that hunters actually have the track record needed to back up their claims.
Throughout the mid-to-late 19th century, the United States experienced a period that saw the exploitation of various wildlife species to meet increasing consumer demands. Those involved in the early days of the conservation movement – many of them hunters – understood that unregulated market hunting, coupled with an increasingly urban, non-agrarian society that was largely out of touch with wildlife in wild places, would ultimately spell disaster for much of the country’s wildlife. Recognizing this, these luminaries sought to regulate their own for the betterment of the still relatively young country’s fish and wildlife resources.
A few decades into this undertaking, early American conservationists came to realize that regulation alone wasn’t sufficient to meet the challenge of the day.
The financial-driver behind conservation efforts is the ASCF, which includes revenue from sporting licenses, and excise tax revenue from the Pittman-Robertson Act and the Dingell-Johnson Act – legislation through which excise taxes collected from sporting goods manufacturers are directed back into conservation. This money funds an array of activities, including but not limited to fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat conservation, hunter education, shooting range development, land acquisition and easements, wetlands restoration, carbon sequestration, and angler access.
For example, leading up to black bear season, I made several visits to the shooting range, sighting in my rifle in preparation for a hunt and purchased the necessary license and permit to legally harvest a black bear in Maine. Under the Pittman-Robertson Act, a portion of my expenditures are ultimately returned to state fish and wildlife management agencies where they are matched with revenue from my hunting license, ultimately contributing financial resources that are the lifeblood of state-based conservation. Something else to keep in mind is that this does not account for the money I then spend supporting the local economy by purchasing multiple meals, coolers for storing said food, fueling my vehicle, paying tolls, and lodging. Hunting truly is a driving force for conservation and the rural economies that facilitate outdoor opportunities.
At this point, it should be painfully obvious that hunting protects and supports – both financially and through regulations – our nation’s fish and wildlife, and their respective habitats. This now begs the question, “What does anti-hunting legislation have to do with any of this?”
The wide range of anti-hunting laws varies so immensely, referencing all of them would be unimaginable, though some include prohibiting Sunday hunting, trapping bans, taxing firearms and ammunition further without a tie to conservation, modern sporting rifle bans, excessive discharge distances, and prohibiting hunting with crossbows, to name a few. Overall, the effects of anti-hunting laws are measurable by the ways in which they thwart sportsmen and women from pursuing their respective passions, subsequently undercutting the management authority of state-level fish and wildlife departments, while simultaneously reducing much needed conservation funding.
The hunting community often finds itself subjected to nonsensical, emotion-driven proposals and laws solely intended to prevent the legal, regulated harvest of wildlife that cannot be justified by the principles of scientific management. As anti-hunters push for laws that restrict opportunities and access for sportsmen and women, our nation’s hunter participation trend will continue to fall. If this trend continues, less funding is directed into the ASCF, meaning state fish and wildlife departments are not receiving the critical conservation dollars that are necessary to carry out essential projects that ensure strong wildlife populations in perpetuity. This negatively impacts both game and non-game species.
Contrary to what anti-hunting activists might lead you to believe, hunting is, and always will be, a keystone element in the conservation of our nation’s fish and wildlife and their habitat – something that benefits all of us, regardless of whether we are hunters, anglers, bird watchers, or wildlife enthusiasts in general.
In the event you encounter someone asking why you hunt as opposed to relying on the grocery store, take a deep breath and say the following: “The money I spend in my hunting pursuits ensures the conservation of our state’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for generations to come.”