If you were a news reporter getting the man-on-the-street view about who is most responsible for restoring America’s wildlife, you’d end up with answers that were interesting, yet most likely wrong.
What you probably wouldn’t hear is the correct answer, which is hunters and target shooters.
We Americans love our wildlife, however, most don’t know who to thank for abundant populations of everything from white-tailed deer to wood ducks. Many people also don’t realize the story of this country’s wildlife populations is truly a riches to rags to riches tale.
When the Europeans first began colonizing America in the early 1600s, they must have been astonished by the number and diversity of wild animals. A couple of centuries later, when Lewis and Clark made their famous trek westward, they were clearly impressed with our vast wildlife resources. Had the famous duo lived to the end of the 19th Century, though, they would have been shocked at the changes. As early settlers pressed westward and the country’s population grew, we almost lost many of our wildlife species forever.
Unregulated market hunting, done to feed a growing nation, almost wiped out the American bison and other animals. Meanwhile, the ax and the plow also took their toll on wildlife habitat. On a massive scale, settlers felled trees for housing and industry, and cultivated the land for farming.
Fortunately, there was a group of people who saw and understood what was happening – men and women who cared deeply about wild turkeys, trumpeter swans, elk and egrets. Unlike those who were paid to provide wild game to East Coast markets, these people were driven by a need to experience the wilderness. A desire to feel connected to wildlife. And a passion to give back to the natural resources they treasured. These people were hunters.
This group of conservation forefathers included men such as President Theodore Roosevelt; Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service; George Bird Grinnell; and later, Aldo Leopold, who is considered to be the father of wildlife management. They pioneered a blueprint now known as the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.
The model is supported by seven tenets; however, its two most basic principles are what set it apart. The idea that fish and wildlife belong to everyone is vastly different from the centuries-old European model where only nobility and the very wealthy were allowed to hunt. In North America, federal, state and provincial governments are responsible for managing wildlife and their habitat on public lands. This public trust gives all citizens the opportunity to view, hunt, fish for and enjoy these natural resources.
In addition, the model calls for democratic rule of law, which means every citizen has the right to help create laws to conserve and manage wildlife. The goal of managing wildlife so their populations will be sustained forever is what set the stage for recovering our wildlife populations from the brink of extinction to the plentiful numbers we have today.
Another critical factor that contributed to this conservation success story was the creation of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Known as the Pittman Robertson Act when Congress passed it in 1937, it was designed to fund wildlife conservation. It placed an excise tax on hunting equipment, a move broadly supported by hunters, conservation groups, the firearms industry and state and federal government. While sportsmen and women do benefit from the excise taxes they pay on guns, ammunition and archery equipment, so do hikers, paddlers, campers and all who love wildlife. Hunters and target shooters have paid $6.8 billion in excise taxes since 1937.
In addition, hunters spend millions of dollars each year on hunting licenses. This money is earmarked for conservation work and is a critical source of funding for state wildlife agencies.
Another source of sportsmen funding comes from private donations, which total more than $300 million annually. Many sportsmen and women contribute their time, money and effort to conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Mule Deer Foundation and others.
More than 14 million people enjoy the time-honored tradition of hunting. They are dedicated not only to hunting but to ensuring wildlife populations flourish far into the future. Though the mainstream media doesn’t often report this fact, hunting is a safe activity enjoyed by friends and family throughout the country. Hunters just about everywhere must pass a hunter education course focused on safe hunting practices, hunting laws, safe firearms handling and more. These courses also teach the importance of ethics, fair chase and the hunter’s responsibilities to other hunters, landowners, wildlife and those who do not hunt.
You can receive a quality education at your convenience by taking an online hunter safety course at www.hunter-ed.com or www.bowhunter-ed.com. The training offered at these sites is approved by the state agencies responsible for hunter education.
By taking a hunter-ed.com or bowhunter-ed.com course and buying a hunting license, you’ll join the ranks of those who rescued wildlife populations and continue to support conservation today.
Kalkomey, parent company of hunter-ed.com and bowhunter-ed.com, is the official provider of recreational safety education materials for all 50 states. Our print and Internet courses have been providing official safety certification since 1995. We provide safety courses in boating, hunting, bowhunting, and off-road vehicle (ORV) and snowmobile operation. For more information, visit http://www.kalkomey.com/.