Hunting Is Conservation and Here Are the 3 Reasons Why
- 01 Oct, 2018
Here are 3 reasons why hunting is conservation.
In today’s highly polarized world there are very few things on which people can agree, and even a casual conversation can turn into a verbal brawl fit for TV. The topic of hunting is no different.
Now, when I say hunting I’m referring to the deliberate culling of animals from their natural habitat. Encapsulated within this definition are hunting, trapping, and fishing - all topics that can get folks’ bristles up. However, each is actually a value-adding endeavor that - net, on the species level - makes life better for the animals it targets. In a very real way, hunting is conservation.
At first this statement seems contradictory. Can you really be working to save an animal you eventually will kill? Many people seem to hear the claim, disregard it as rhetorical, and never contemplate it further, but after learning more one can begin to see the truth in it.
In case you have ever heard the claim that “hunting is conservation” and didn’t quite understand or agree with the concept, below are the reasons why it's true. For simplicity's sake, we’ll take a look at hunting and conservation efforts only in America.
Ecosystem stability and restoring natural predation
First, hunting helps stabilize ecosystems disrupted by the reduction of apex predators in the wild. Study upon study have shown the reduction in apex predators such as wolves have led to explosions in modern day populations of deer, moose, and other large herbivores as well as so-called mesopredators such as raccoons which are both predators and predated upon.
In the past, all predators, prey, and natural forces worked together to balance the ecosystem. As history moved forward, humans began to play a larger role in their environment. For thousands of years people have been removing predator species. This occurs for many different reasons, but two seem to make the most sense. First, predators are in competition for humans for food sources. This relationship is very, very old, and not just something that happens between humans and animals. Many predators, wolf and coyote for example, are natural enemies for the same reason. In fact, in the past wolves routinely killed coyotes as a result of that competition. Some sources say wolves were the top factor that limited coyote populations in the past. Even today people are in competition with predators for access to prey animals. It is one reason why some hunters in western states are up in arms about the reintroduction of several predator species.
The second reason why people seem to remove predators is the safety factor. We don’t seem to grasp this as well today as humans did in the past. Upon reading primary sources of even moderately old history, you can tell that large predators were certainly a threat to people. For example, one major cause for death among the American mountain men was attack by grizzly bears. These predators were a real threat, so they were eliminated in order to keep people safe. Not only were predators eliminated to keep people safe, they were eliminated to keep animals under the care of people safe. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and dogs are all potential targets for predators. These animals have all been domesticated by people and are now in our care. By removing predators, people in rural areas still protect these animal’s lives every day.
Where is this all going? Well, although people have removed predators, predation is a normal part of nature. Every day life dies to feed other life. In the real world this isn’t always a calm homeostasis we picture, but it does seem to balance over time. However, with many predators removed humans have become the primary apex predators in America. If we do not remove prey species their populations will exceed the carrying capacity of the area they live in. If left alone these species will overpopulate and eventually outstrip their area of food resources. Many animals would starve as a result. Another potential outcome is the outbreak of diseases to bring the population down. These are basic principles of ecology that most people are familiar with. Without predators in the picture, people take the lead role.
Hunting is conservation because it also improves the habitat where animals live. Pretend there are raccoons living in your local woodlands. Each and every day those raccoons are eating. Maybe its crayfish from the stream, berries from the woods, or a snake they stumble on. Over time the raccoon will begin to reduce the amount of food available. When that raccoon is removed that allows more crayfish to swim, more berries to grown, and more snakes to slither. When the next raccoon moves in there will be more food available for them. This can lead to higher winter survival rates and higher birth rates. So by removing the animal from the area, you actually can help create better habitat for the next one.
Economics & funding conservation efforts
The second major reason that hunting is conservation lies in the economics of the sport. In a world where money talks this may be one of the most important contributions hunters make to conservation efforts. Each time a hunter buys a permit, a share of that money goes toward conservation efforts. According to one source, every year hunters contribute more than $796 million from license fees alone. This money goes to support research projects, develop habitat, and pay conservation officers who uphold necessary game laws.
In addition to money raised by licenses, hunters contribute money toward conservation efforts in other ways. When outdoorsmen buy their equipment, a share of that money is also directed toward conservation efforts. The previously linked source estimates this tax earned over $370 million in one year for conservation efforts. Between licenses and gear tax that puts the conservation earnings at over $1 billion. That is $1 billion people contribute to the animals they love, but love to chase.
Not only do hunter dollars go to support conservation, but they keep many conservation organizations running. Organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and Pheasants Forever all need support from hunters. These organizations all develop habitat, support population growth, and support the conservation of animals. They wouldn’t be in business without hunters and hunters’ economic contributions. To learn more about the contributions of any one of these organizations you can simply go to their website to see all the great things they do.
Historical evidence of sustainability
The final, and most convincing, reason hunting is conservation is its proven history. Prior to conservation laws, hunting was used to provide food for the family and resources for a growing nation. As firearms became more accurate and dependable people’s needs hadn’t changed. These factors combined to lead to wanton killing. Animals like the bison, elk, whitetail deer, wild turkey, and others were hunted to dangerously low numbers. Animals like the passenger pigeon were hunted to extinction.
Even during the dark days of the late 1800’s people were beginning to realize they needed to change their course if they wanted animals to survive. The early 1900’s saw big changes in the way governments regulated their animal populations. Theodore Roosevelt’s contributions have been well documented, but really did set the stage for the conservation triumphs of the 20th century. He set aside more land for conservation efforts than anyone else in history ever had. Like hunters today, Roosevelt himself was a hunter and outworked everyone else to support the animals he loved. History seems to be repeating itself in that regard.
Although conservation efforts of the 20th century were not a straight road to conservation success, the gains were there. A big part of the success was the development of the North American Model of Wildlife conservation. This model has been remarkable in its ability to allow wildlife species to bounce back from low numbers. As mentioned, whitetail deer who were once thought to have a population as low as only 500,000 in North America, now boast a population of over 15,000,000. Wild turkey populations also dipped dangerously low, perhaps as low as 30,000 (note: source states this number is the lowest estimate and a more reasonable estimate is 200,000). Today there are estimated to be over 6 million wild turkeys in North America, which is another success story. Animal populations of mule deer, elk, black bears, and bighorn sheep have all undergone similar transformations.
The thing that should be noted about these transformations is they occurred right alongside with hunting and harvesting of animals. One key component of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is the belief that hunting should remain as part of the model. Anyone who disagrees with hunting as part of conservation will have a hard time explaining away the past 100 years of success for this model. If hunting was not conservation, either our model would not be working, or hunting would have been eliminated. Neither can be said to be true.
At the end of the day there are lots of reason why hunting, trapping, and fishing are good wholesome activities. One of those reasons is the conservation benefit they bring. Not only do they help us fulfill our obligation as the new top predator, but they also generate income that helps protect habitat and animals. Animal populations have seen booming populations when hunting has been regulated and wanton waste laws enforced. Although some groups may have you believe differently, history is a very good indicator that hunting is indeed good conservation.