Habitat management approaches generally come from one of two schools of thought: conservation or preservation. Preservation advocates the saving of a natural resource, while conservation advocates for the wise use and management of renewable resources. Both work in tandem. In example, preservation takes precedence when protecting endangered species (no hunting). Conservation measures include bag limits and hunting seasons. Hunters play a role in controlling populations under imposed regulations driven by science. Conservation is incredibly important as it allows for the present-day use of natural resources in ways that sustain them for future generations.
In 1937, hunters agreed to an excise tax with the passage of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act. This act provides conservation funding through a tax on the sale of all firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. The monies from this tax go into a fund that supports wildlife restoration, basic hunter education and safety programs, enhanced hunter education and safety grants, and multistate conservation grants. Hunters and anglers also support conservation by purchasing licenses and tags every year.
Hunters play a significant role in conservation beyond taxes on relevant purchases. Firstly, responsible hunting helps keep game populations in check. Overpopulation of any species places stress on the food and water supply and increases possibility of illness. The story of Isle Royale is perhaps the most well-known study of prey and predation. Isle Royale is a remote island in Lake Superior, home to populations of wolves (predator) and moose (prey). Over the years the population of each group has fluctuated drastically and in cycles. When there is an overpopulation of wolves, there is not only a limited food supply but also a greater risk of disease. Wolves die from illness and starvation and moose begin to make a comeback. The environment can’t support the abundant population of moose and they begin to die. Hunters help prevent such drastic swings and help manage populations of game like deer and predators like coyotes. Hunters also provide information through surveys and other means that researchers need.
Contrary to what some believe, hunting isn’t a free for all. Sportsmen and women must adhere to hunting and angling regulations as well as specific seasons built around wildlife breeding cycles. Some things come down to judgment. Conservation-minded hunters will choose to remove a clearly ill deer from a herd, for example, rather than take a trophy buck to preserve the health of the herd. Hunting ethics are stressed in mandatory hunter education programs and across many other platforms. Unethical and illegal harvesting of game is poaching, a deplorable practice that hunters are encouraged to report.
The North American Conservation Model is the most successful conservation model in the world. Hunters have saved popular species from near extinction through conservation work and money collected through licensing fees and taxes. In 1907, only 41,000 elk lived in North America. Today the elk population is over 1 million. The wild turkey population dwindled to 100,000 in 1900. Over a 100 years later that number is over 6 million.
Every hunter has his or her own personal reason for hunting, but there are several common themes. For many it’s a combination of enjoying the great outdoors, harvesting natural, lean meat to feed a family, and helping preserve wildlife populations for the future.