HUNTERS STILL GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
by Whit Gibbons
November 13, 2005
should support hunters. Sound paradoxical? Not really, when you consider
that in many states hunting clubs preserve more natural habitat than do
most environmental organizations. Although their agenda may be directed
toward management for deer, quail, ducks, or other game species, their
role in protecting habitats has become increasingly important. Some hunting
clubs are exemplary models of private ownership of land contributing to
the preservation of natural habitats.
natural habitat is critical for all wildlife, not just game species. The
major threat to most natural ecosystems and wildlife species today is
habitat degradation and destruction. Irresponsible commercial development
is a leading culprit when natural habitats are destroyed and replaced
with artificial ones. Most of our native wildlife does poorly in strip
malls or housing complexes that could have been more judiciously located.
I am not
against creating places to shop or for people to live. But a little more
responsibility by some developers would be refreshing. When a forest is
destroyed just down the highway from abandoned buildings, one has to wonder.
Something's amiss with our economic structure. Should we really have laws
and regulations that make it economically more feasible to destroy woods
and wildlife than to use areas we have already destroyed?
standpoint of the health and collective well-being of wildlife and natural
environments, hunters are among the nation's staunchest protectors. But
hunters have a problem. For almost a half century, the proportion of hunters
in the general population has steadily declined.
The highest number of U.S. hunters ever recorded was in the mid-1980s,
almost 17 million people; about 9% of the population. But as the nation's
population has grown, increases in hunter numbers have not kept pace,
going from 11% in 1960, to 8.3% by 1990, to about 6% in 2001. The proportion
this past year dropped another tick, to about 5%, according to the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2004 National Hunting License Report.
Even avid hunters admit that the proportion of the U.S. population that
hunts is declining.
is that fewer young people start hunting each year than the number of
old hunters who quit hunting. The formula, which is also used to assess
game species, is simple: recruitment is too low to replace mortality and
does not result in a sustainable population. But hunting revenues are
not going down. The total paid for hunting licenses, permits, and other
state or federal requirements was more than $700 million, an increase
of more than 3% from last year. These costs borne by hunters do not include
the billions of dollars in economic benefits to local communities through
the sale of guns, ammunition, and other hunting supplies, plus the taxes
at local, state, and federal levels.
three-quarters of a billion dollars in annual hunting fees is only a starting
point in support of habitat protection and wildlife management programs.
Taxes from hunting activities go for such purposes as enhancing wildlife
habitat, managing and maintaining parks and wildlife refuges, and conducting
surveys and research to determine the status of not only game but also
some nongame species.
So why do
I say hunters are good for the environment? Because the hunting community
speaks out and pays out to ensure that wildlife populations of game species
are sustainable from one generation to the next. This requires that a
diversity of natural habitats be kept intact, unpolluted, and undisturbed.
Hunters support these efforts with their attitudes about natural habitats
and with their pocketbooks.
bird-watchers, and wildflower viewers also prefer habitats that are uncontaminated
and full of wild things and also contribute to the economic base. But
the most recent surveys indicate that these forms of outdoor recreation
are also declining in some regions. Also, a survey four years ago found
that about $70 billion was spent each year for hunting and fishing compared
to $38 billion by wildlife watchers. Neither of these sums is trivial
but hunters definitely contribute more than their fair share. I don’t
hunt and don’t plan to take it up. But I’m sorry to see the
steady decline in the number of hunters because it means fewer high paying
participants are working to keep America wild.
you have an environmental question or comment, email