The Importance of Conservation
One of the more contentious issues between those who hunt and those who do not is the conservation of wild animals. Conservation in the United States started at the end of the 19th century when vast herds of animals had been wiped out. Following that time period when certain species were hunted to extinction people came together to protect animals. Now, more than 100 years later hunters and non-hunters alike agree on the importance of saving wild things and wild places. The need for conservation arose from rampant destruction of animals from the abundance of market hunting.
It may be difficult to believe that the “good old days” of hunting are happening right now. A little more than 100 years ago hundreds of species were on the brink of extinction due to over hunting, mostly as market hunters scoured the woods looking for meat to sell to the people on the eastern coast of the United States. Another issue that arose from this time is the over hunting of the American Bison, in the post-Civil War era hides and hunting of the bison was so common that the species was nearly wiped off the map by the US Army and others who skinned the animals and left the carcass to rot. The Range Rider, President Theodore Roosevelt, came to the rescue with the inception of the Boone and Crocket Club, whose goal was then and is now to preserve the species people hunt. Roosevelt also started the campaign to have the federal government control huge swaths of land across the west with the inception of the National Park system and the naming of Yellowstone as the first national park.
Out of this time period a model was developed to help bring these species back from near extinction to the place they are at today. It was through the efforts of groups like Roosevelt’s Boone and Crocket club that the Western Model of Wildlife Conservation was developed. To fund this effort hunters banded together and passed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, better known as the Pittman – Robertson Act, which enacted an 11% excise tax on hunting related equipment and did all of this during the Great Depression when money was already scarce. That money is deposited into an account that states can apply to get money from the fund for habitat improvement projects only. The states hold the wildlife in trust for the citizens, so all management decisions come from the states and all money for the enforcement comes directly from hunting and fishing license sales. This holding of wildlife as a commodity for use by everyone is one of the major benefits of the Western Model because it assigns value to each animal and by selling hunting permits raises money to fund habitat improvement projects that benefit all animals, not just the game species being hunted. Many of those projects are funded with money from conservation organizations and volunteers from those groups help with the manpower.
Conservation in the modern world, or the 21st century, is under attack because of the dichotomy between hunters and anti-hunters. It is with the help from groups like: Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Safari Club International, Back Country Hunters and Anglers, and the Sierra Club, just to name a few of the groups whose members spend millions of dollars annually for the conservation of wildlife and their habitat. The majority of that money goes toward projects on publically owned land, that is land owned by the federal government and by extension the citizens, this is managed by groups like the Bureau of Land Management and the Forrest Service to name a couple. These lands are where a majority of hunters, especially in the western United States, are able to hunt without gaining additional permission from the land owner. All of these efforts are funded, in part, by hunting and fishing through the sale of licenses and tags as many of the state run game and fish agencies receive no tax funding. All of their work is to provide a sustainable resource for all citizens to enjoy, either through hunting and fishing or simply watching.
It is through the efforts of those people who hunt and fish that the citizens of the United States and the innumerable visitors here have the charismatic megafauna to enjoy watching. After the near extinction of the large mammals on North America with the abundance of market and hide hunting in the 19th century leaders arose to bring the plight of the wild animals into the forefront. Near the beginning of the 20th century a model for how to manage wildlife that would be self-sustaining was adopted and that allows for the abundance of wild game that exists now, so much so that there may be more white tailed deer than at the time of Columbian contact. It is through the efforts of the many conservation organizations that keeps this model alive and working. Hunting is conservation, it is the motto of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation because it is the simple truth as to why wildlife exists in the United States.