by Whit Gibbons

September 21, 2008

Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to strongly support the concept that people who hunt and fish are the nation's foremost conservationists. In 1972 Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that had been unanimously approved by Congress designating the fourth Saturday of September as National Hunting and Fishing Day. Nixon urged all citizens "to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in insuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations." This year National Hunting and Fishing Day is September 27.

Hunters and anglers remain among the staunchest supporters of flourishing, thriving natural ecosystems. You cannot hunt and fish if you do not have wild, undeveloped lands and clean, unpolluted waters. For the sportsperson who hunts or fishes, healthy habitats and clean environments are vitally important.

The issue of animal rights often puts hunters and sometimes even anglers at odds with other people. Antihunting campaigns are rampant in many parts of the country, and the conflicts are often bitter, most with no satisfactory resolution in sight. Somebody is going to be unhappy. What may seem ironic to some people is that most hunters and anglers support environmental efforts to maintain sustainable use of fish and game. Animal rights advocates are concerned about the welfare of individual animals whereas anyone who hunts or fishes cares about the welfare of all individuals in the population. Hunters and anglers want to be assured that their target species are still around in the future. An animal rights activist may have various reasons for supporting antihunting campaigns that are directed toward particular species or areas, but no one can say that hunting is bad for the environment. Collectively, hunters have arguably have done more to protect natural environments nationwide than virtually any other identifiable demographic group.

The hunting community, although a small proportion of the national population and getting smaller every year, has a major impact on environmental protection and preservation. Hunting revenues are substantial, the total amount of money being $23 billion in the last survey year. Among the states, Texas ranked first in number of resident hunters (979,000), and they spent a whopping $2.3 billion. Alabama was one of the highest ranking southeastern states, with 310,000 hunters (rank 9) spending $847 million. A midrange state like South Carolina had 159,000 hunters (rank 28) and spent $288 million. Federal excise taxes on hunting equipment contribute directly to the support of land purchases, habitat protection, and wildlife management programs. That's a highly significant contribution toward environmental protection.

But the trend does not look good for hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation released last fall was based on the 2006 survey. In 1960 more than 10 percent of the U.S. population hunted. The proportion has fallen steadily since, to about 9 percent in 1980, 8.3 percent in 1990, 6 percent in 2001, and to only 5 percent in the most recent survey.

To ensure that wildlife populations are sustainable from one generation to the next a diversity of natural habitats must be kept intact, unpolluted, and undisturbed. Hunters support these efforts with their attitudes about natural habitats, and with their pocketbooks. Fewer hunters means less revenue with its clear benefit to natural habitats. Shouldn't anyone interested in environmental quality support hunters?

Habitat preservation 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, then replaced with artificial ones where most native wildlife does poorly. In many states, hunting clubs preserve more natural habitat than do most environmental organizations. The focus of such clubs may be on managing selected game species, but nongame wildlife also benefit. Some hunting clubs are exemplary models of private land ownership helping to preserve natural habitats.

So on September 27, National Hunting and Fishing Day, if you know someone who hunts or fishes, take a moment to say thanks for helping keep America wild.

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