NATIONAL HUNTING AND FISHING DAY IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

by Whit Gibbons

September 21, 2014

I’m not sure who first stated the following concept: People who hunt and fish are the nation’s foremost conservationists. However, I do know that Teddy Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to strongly support the concept, and in 1972 Richard Nixon endorsed the idea with a signed proclamation. With the unanimous approval of Congress, Nixon designated the fourth Saturday of September as National Hunting and Fishing Day. Some people do not accept the idea that killing animals in a forest or removing fish from a lake is good for wildlife. And for the individual animal that is shot or caught, the experience is clearly not beneficial. But here’s the irony: Hunters and anglers remain among the staunchest supporters of flourishing, thriving natural ecosystems. You cannot hunt game or catch sport 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 for maintaining sustainable use of game fish and animals.

The issue of animal rights often puts hunters and sometimes even anglers at odds with certain parts of society. Antihunting campaigns are rampant nationwide, and the conflicts are often bitter, sometimes political, and rarely if ever have an outcome that satisfies both sides. Somebody is going to be unhappy no matter what the outcome. Not surprisingly, one of the most vocal opponents of NHF Day is PETA, the uncompromising animal rights organization. They petitioned President Obama in the first year of his presidency when he signed the presidential proclamation designating NHF day, the way each president, Democrat or Republican, has done since Nixon.

The conflict between PETA and the hunting and fishing community will never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. PETA and other animal rights activists have various reasons for launching antihunting campaigns that are directed toward particular species or areas, but they cannot assert that hunting is bad for the environment. Because hunters and anglers want to be assured that their target species are still around in the future, they support protection of natural habitats.

To ensure that fish and wildlife populations are sustainable from one generation to the next, a diversity of natural habitats must be kept intact, unpolluted, and undisturbed. Hunters and anglers support these efforts with their attitudes about natural habitats and with their pocketbooks. Federal excise taxes on hunting equipment contribute directly to the support of land purchases, habitat protection, and wildlife management programs. Likewise, anglers throughout the country contribute significant amounts to public and private environmental protection enterprises by buying fishing licenses and equipment.

According to the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, “hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145.0 billion on wildlife-related recreation in 2011.” That’s a highly significant contribution toward environmental protection, although it should be noted that the survey includes other wildlife-related recreation besides hunting and fishing. According to USFWS these other outdoor pursuits include “wildlife-watching activities such as observing, feeding and photographing wildlife.” Nonetheless, the hunting community, although a small proportion of the national population and getting smaller every decade, continues to have a major impact on environmental protection and preservation. Hunting revenues are substantial.

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 do poorly. In many states, hunting clubs preserve more natural habitat than 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 Saturday, September 27, 2014, 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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