HELP PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
by Whit Gibbons
November 11, 2007
If you hunt
wild animals, you are in a minority of the country's population. And according
to the most recent government survey the numbers of hunters have declined
steadily for more than 30 years. Some people may find it ironic that this
trend could be bad for the environment, but hunters are among the strongest
proponents and financial supporters for protecting and maintaining natural
five-year intervals since 1955, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has
sponsored a survey to assess how involved people are with wildlife. The
latest National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation,
taken in 2006 and released in November 2007, provides estimates by category
of how many people fish, hunt, and watch wildlife. Wildlife watching includes
observing, photographing, and feeding wildlife. The survey also gives
information on how much time and money people who are engaged in these
activities spend each year.
71 million people watched wildlife one way or another. Almost 30 million
people fished. But only 12.5 million hunted. 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,
the increase in hunters has not kept pace, going from 11% in 1960, to
8.3% by 1990, to about 6% in 2001. The recent survey puts the percentage
down further, to 5%.
trend to hunters is that the actual number of Americans who hunt is declining
at an even steeper rate than the percentage. One explanation is that the
number of young people who hunt decreases every year and cannot keep pace
with the number of old hunters who quit hunting. This is equivalent to
a deer herd having more individuals die or leave the population each year
than are added to it. Recruitment is too low to result in a sustainable
population. An additional issue is that as urban areas expand, people
are farther removed from habitats where they might conveniently go to
hunt. Consequently, hunting advocates diminish in number.
hunting revenues are substantial. The amount of money paid by hunters
in pursuit of their craft was about $23 billion last year. These include
economic benefits to communities through the sale of guns, ammunition,
and other hunting supplies, plus various travel expenses and accessories.
In addition to local and state taxes that benefit the public, federal
excise taxes on hunting equipment contribute directly to the support of
land purchases, habitat protection, and wildlife management programs.
In addition, migratory waterfowl hunters are required to purchase a federal
Duck Stamp, some of the proceeds going to purchase land for wildlife refuges.
Taxes from hunting activities also go for 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 is
the decline in hunters potentially bad for the environment? The answer
is that hunters contribute financially to benefiting natural habitats.
The hunting community pays to ensure that wildlife populations of game
species are sustainable from one generation to the next, which 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.
should support hunters. 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 along with non-game wildlife
has become increasingly important. Some hunting clubs are exemplary models
of private ownership of land contributing to the preservation of natural
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 where most native wildlife does poorly.
hunt but am sorry to see the steady decline in the number of hunters because
it means fewer high paying participants are working to keep America wild.
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