In recent years regulated hunting has become a scapegoat for so-called conservation organizations.
These groups often claim that hunting is not an effective means of preservation and seek to paint sport hunters as villains when wildlife populations decline.
And while it is true that wildlife faces increased threats around the world—primarily a result of habitat loss in the wake of burgeoning human populations, unsustainable agricultural, mining practices and a growing black market for the trade of animal parts—regulated hunting has proven to be an effective means of protecting wildlife and, most importantly, the habitat they require to survive.
Statistics don’t lie, though, and there is plenty of evidence that hunters do more than their share when it comes to the preservation of wildlife and wild places.
Statistics Don’t Lie
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, America’s twelve million hunters pump almost $25 billion dollars into the U.S. economy annually, more than a billion dollars of which goes towards licenses, tags, and fees for conservation.
Conservation groups funded by hunter dollars have preserved millions of acres of vital habitat in North America. But the positive economic impact of hunting isn’t limited to this continent; the market research, statistics and economic firm Southwick Associates found that hunters inject more than $426 million into the African economy each year and support 53 million jobs on that continent.
There are hundreds of relevant cases where regulated hunting has helped protect wildlife populations and dozens of outstanding hunter-based conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited, SCI Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that are on the front lines of wildlife preservation, but here’s a look at six instances where hunters and the funds they help generate have preserved habitat and protected wildlife.
Some, like the case of the whitetail deer, will be familiar to many hunters. Others, like the current situation with Bukharan markhor in Tajikistan, are relatively unknown to many and underreported by the world press. So, the next time that someone claims that hunters are bad for wildlife preservation you can present them with the facts, and the facts show that regulated hunting and funds generated by sportsmen and women help protect game.
The first settlers to Canada’s wide-open central prairies stated that there were so many ducks and geese that the birds “blacked out the sun,” but in the decades that followed things changed.
By the 1930’s much of the prairie pothole region of Canada had been drained for agriculture. America’s greatest waterfowl breeding habitat was shrinking and so were waterfowl numbers.
A group of hunters combined their efforts and finances and started an organization that became known as Ducks Unlimited, and with money generated by waterfowl hunters the group began funding aerial surveys, preserving marshlands and raising international awareness about the need to protect waterfowl habitat.
Dozens of species of ducks and geese have benefitted from these efforts—and so have generations of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts. To date Ducks Unlimited has managed to preserve more than twelve million acres of valuable waterfowl habitat in North America, proving that hunter-based conservation works.
Never heard of the Bukharan Markhor? You’re not alone. This rare mountain Caprid (goat) lives in the remote and rugged mountains of Tajikistan. In the early 2000’s residents of poor mountain villages were afraid these wild goats, with their magnificent shaggy coats and spiral horns, would eventually be killed out by poachers.
Word reached conservation organizations including IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Conservation Force, CIC (International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation) and Panthera, and funds were made available to conduct camera trap surveys, monitor populations and fight poaching operations in the area.
As a result, markhor numbers increased dramatically (a two to three-fold increase in just five years) and in 2013 it was determined that six hunting permits would be issued.
The funds generated from these hunts provided significant capital for poor rural communities and money to help fight poaching rings. Most importantly, the funds have helped show local people that sustainable hunter-based conservation works.
Africa’s cape buffalo has a reputation for truculence, but these wild bovids represented a very different kind of threat to farmers. Buffalo carry diseases that can effect domestic cattle—most notably rinderpest, which is fatal to livestock.
As a result buffalo were extirpated across wide ranges of the African continent to make way for cattle. In addition, buffalo were slaughtered commercially for meat or killed in the midst of bloody wars in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Angola. But the funds generated by hunters have made buffalo a very valuable species, and these animals are far better adapted to the fragile African landscape than domestic stock.
In Mozambique’s Coutada 11 hunting area alone buffalo numbers have increased from 1,200 in 1994 to more than 20,000 animals today thanks to anti-poaching efforts funded by hunter dollars, solid proof that hunting is a valuable tool for protecting African wildlife.
The whitetail deer is the most widespread, most popular and most valuable big game animal in North America. When the first Europeans landed in North America it is estimated that there were around thirty million whitetail deer, a number that dropped to between three hundred and four hundred thousand by 1900 in the wake of unregulated market hunting.
The precipitous decline of the whitetail deer was accompanied by a nationwide call to preserve our wild resources in the face of industrialization. Theodore Roosevelt helped start the Boone & Crockett Club and hunters began crying out that the preservation of natural resources we would require a balance between consumption and conservation.
After seasons and bag limits were enacted whitetail numbers rebounded sharply to an estimated fifteen million animals today and this species help generate a large portion of the over one billion dollars that hunters invest into our nation’s economy every year.
Like the whitetail deer, wild turkeys were abundant and widespread when the first Europeans came to this country, but habitat loss and unregulated hunting spurred a decline in turkey populations.
In the 1970’s hunters formed the National Wild Turkey Federation which raised funds to preserve and restore valuable turkey habitat and to help reintroduce birds into areas where they had been extirpated.
When NWTF began there were an estimated one-and-a-half million turkeys in the United States, and thanks to the conservation efforts and the funds generated today there are more than seven million birds. NWTF also provides education for young hunters through their Jakes program and the increase in turkey populations has made these birds a valuable game species.
In the 1800’s wild bighorn sheep were common from Mexico to northern Canada, but by the 1960’s those populations had declined dramatically. There were multiple causes for this decrease including unregulated hunting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as die-offs that were the result of wild sheep populations contracting diseases from domestic animals that shared the same habitat.
In 1974 a group of sheep hunters decided that if sheep populations were to rebound it was critical that conservation efforts must be put in place immediately. That group of hunters established the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep and funding was provided to monitor and protect remaining bighorn populations.
Today, their efforts along with those of state and provincial wildlife agencies have helped sheep populations to increase three-fold. Other hunter-based organizations have also stepped up to help protect sheep as well; in 2014 SCI partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to reintroduce sheep back to the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson.