Why do hunters and conservationists dislike each other? It wasn’t always that way. In fact, the modern American conservation movement that appeared in the 1880’s was started by hunters, chief among them our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. In the many books and articles that he authored about hunting and wilderness, Roosevelt tried to find a balance between conserving wilderness to protect animal habitat, while also allowing economic development of the frontier to move ahead.
But the world has changed and so have the battle lines between hunters on the one hand and conservationists on the other. Or have they?
For a moment, let’s put aside the vitriol and passion surrounding the proposed legislation in California to ban all lead ammunition, a bill that that is on its way to Jerry Brown’s desk and will shortly become law. There are arguments to be made on both sides. The environmentalists have data to prove their point of view; likewise the hunting lobby can roll out their set of facts.
The problem is that nothing in nature is that easy to understand; nothing can be reduced to a simple take-it or leave-it explanation, no matter what proponents on either side would like you to believe. And Roosevelt keenly felt the need to unite both sides, as he said in a letter written in 1902: “the lover of big game and wilderness [is] an instrument against, instead of in favor of both.”
The degree to which hunters and conservationists should be fighting the same battles is remarkably underscored by the data found in the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation newly published by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Department of the Interior.
In 2011, more than 90 million Americans either fished, hunted, watched wildlife or did all three. Of the total, 26 million went hunting and fishing, 64 million looked at birds or animals either near their own residence or by taking a trip. Together, all three groups spent $144 billion.
Three-quarters of the people who went fishing engaged in fresh-water angling, bass being the catch of choice. For the hunters, 60% went after big game: deer, elk, bear and wild turkey. As for the wildlife watchers, three-quarters did it primarily around their home, but more than 25 million took trips away from home. Both groups primarily watched (and fed) birds.
When we break down fishing, hunting and wildlife watching by size and location of community, all of a sudden the three types of activities blend into one. The highest proportion of residents engaged in fishing, hunting and watching are found in rural locations. Break it down on a state-by-state basis, the north-central and deep-southern states have the highest proportion of people who do all three.
You can discard the stereotype that hunters are blue collar and birders are the educated, upper-class elite. The same communities where hunting is most popular are also the communities with the greatest number of people who enjoy wildlife. When you stop to think about it, why shouldn’t this be the case? After all, people closest to nature tend to get out into nature.
Hunters and conservationists would do everyone a big favor if they would sit down together and figure out what they have in common, rather than always arguing about what keeps them apart. There may be competing claims about what to do with natural spaces but these spaces belong to all of us.
- Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission votes for Sandhill crane hunt (timesfreepress.com)
- Hunters worried about fires’ impacts (ktvb.com)
- Frye: Doves numerous, hunters aren’t (triblive.com)