Six Ways Hunters Can Contribute to Wildlife Biology and Management – Foundry Outdoors
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Six Ways Hunters Can Contribute to Wildlife Biology and Management

“Hunting is conservation!” This has become a popular phrase for sportsmen and women to repeat as a very true and meaningful expression about what hunting means for the greater good of wildlife and the places they live. Hunters who use this phrase are not entirely wrong. Just by purchasing a license and gear, hunters contribute money that funds wildlife research and conservation activities throughout the United States.

As with any activity, there are different levels of involvement when it comes to the “conservation” side, buying a license being the minimum. Hunters often spend more time in the outdoors, connected to changes in habitat and wildlife populations, than anyone else. Being active in conservation nonprofit groups is another way to support the preservation of valuable habitat that keeps huntable populations healthy. There are many ways to become involved, whether with your time, talents or financial contribution, you can become to contribute to conservation work.

Most hunters today know about the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (the Pittman-Robertson Act), which takes an 11% excise tax on sporting goods and ammo and allocates the money to wildlife management agencies for approved conservation projects. Just by buying the gear we use to hunt, we contribute to habitat acquisition, wildlife research, hunter education, wildlife introductions, surveys, and creation of public access sites for hunting and fishing.

While you can rest easy knowing the funds from the excise taxes attached to hunting gear is going to support wildlife conservation projects, wildlife researchers rely on hunters and trappers in more tangible ways, as well. Data collected from hunters gives wildlife management agencies the information they need to establish harvest goals and allocate tags to different regions. These data also help inform wildlife disease research and management strategies to keep populations healthy. How can you help contribute to ongoing wildlife management in your area? Here are a few examples:

Check Stations

In some areas, bringing your harvested animal to a check station is mandatory. In others, it’s optional—but consider checking your animal anyway, even if you aren’t required to do so. Biologists gain lots of data from having recently harvested animals in hand. Information like age, body condition, and health status like prevalence of CWD or bovine tuberculosis in deer can be recorded at a check station. Check station data can also provide data on environmental contaminants that could be affecting wildlife on the individual or population level.

An antlered doe is aged and sampled for Chronic Wasting Disease at a white-tailed deer check station. M.P. Photo. 

Hunter Surveys

There’s a good chance that you have received a hunter survey card in the mail at the conclusion of a season, or while checking in harvested game online or at a remote check station. Answering questions like “Have you seen any wild pigs?” or “How many bobcats have you seen this year?” can assist biologists in collecting data on presence of various species in a given location, starting the process for further study and potential management decisions. If you hunt migratory birds, the questions asked on your HIP survey also provide valuable data. Wildlife managers sometimes design surveys to collect data on hunter opinions. Were you satisfied with how your season went? Hunter opinion matters and providing honest answers in these surveys will help guide future management decisions.

Band Data

Reporting data from banded wildlife is an excellent way to learn something cool about the animal you have harvested as well as provide important data on animal movement. Band data provides information on age, survival and migratory behavior of birds. Some agencies host days for the public to assist in capture and banding of birds, as well!

The author holds a live banded wood duck to be released. M.P. Photo. 

Notable Findings

Spending lots of time outdoors usually means finding interesting things. Hunters finding and reporting an abnormal quantity of dead animals can alert biologists to a disease outbreak or possible environmental contaminant to be dealt with. On harvested animals, reporting interesting oddities such as antlered does, unique tissue growths, or signs of past trauma can help build our overall knowledge of the natural world. Interesting trail camera photos are another excellent way to provide real-time data of natural occurrences—rare species or animal behaviors caught on camera area always of interest to biologists.

Studies on Hunters

There have been multiple studies looking at hunter movement in conjunction with their target species by providing both the animals and hunters with GPS trackers. These studies help biologists understand how hunted populations respond to hunting pressure in relation to many factors such as calling and distance from roads. Volunteering for hunter studies can contribute to our understanding of hunter behavior and might teach you some things about your own hunting habits to make you a more effective hunter in the future.

Trapper Contributions to Wildlife Biology

Many biologists seeking to study wildlife populations will partner with trappers to collect study animals. Studies on furbearers such as bobcats, wolves and gray fox will often use animals live-captured by trappers to collar and study. Additionally, data such as age structure of furbearer populations can be studied by biologists visiting trappers and other people involved with the local wild fur market.

Trappers can help biologists collect study animals for furbearer studies. Here, a sedated raccoon is measured and ticks are collected off of its ears. M.P. Photo. 

The phrase “hunting is conservation” is what you make of it. Buying a license and presenting hunting in a positive, ethical light is a great start, but there are many ways that your outdoors activities can contribute to conservation. Next season, consider providing data that will help biologists make management decisions and make your voice and knowledge heard.

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