A History Lesson Concerning Fauna

by: Posted on: January 07, 2011

Editor’s note: This striking photo of Theodore Roosevelt has been brought to us courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Surprise Behind America’s Wildlife Conservation Success Story

By Tammy Sapp

If you were playing the popular TV game show “Jeopardy,” how would you respond to this statement?

“This group is most responsible for restoring and conserving North America’s wildlife.”

Would you tell Alex Trebek (in the form of a question, of course) “Who are hunters and target shooters?”

If you did, your answer would be correct. Good news for you if it’s a daily double! This fact is also good news for wildlife and everyone who enjoys this country’s abundant populations – from white-tailed deer to wood ducks.

When the Europeans first began colonizing America in the early 1600s, they must have been astonished by the numbers and diversity of wild animals. A couple of centuries later, when Lewis and Clark made their famous trek westward, they were certainly 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, to feed a growing nation, almost wiped out the American bison and other wildlife. 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, 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 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 know today.

You can learn more about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model and the principles of responsible hunting and fair chase at Orion – The Hunters’ Institute, http://www.huntright.org.

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 it was enacted in 1938, it was designed to fund wildlife conservation. It was an excise tax sportsmen and women not only tolerated, they requested this user-pay, user-benefit program. 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.

To this day, hunters and shooters continue to lead the way in funding wildlife conservation. An Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies report showed nearly $300 million in excise tax was collected in 2006. This money was used to fund wildlife management efforts and hunter safety programs. Plus, in 2006 hunters spent more than $725 million nationwide 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 18 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.

Hunting is a great way to relax in nature, develop your woodsmanship skills and spend time with friends and family. A new website, OutdoorRoadmap.com promises to provide the information and resources needed by new and experienced hunters, target shooters and conservationists. Set to launch in early 2011, OutdoorRoadmap.com will offer interactive maps and tools, event listings, training and licensing resources, and a wealth of outdoor information. For more information about this state-of-the-art platform, visit www.OutdoorRoadmap.com.

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