Hunters - A Force for Conservation

A survey done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that over 13.7 million people over the age of 16 went hunting in 2011. That is about 6% of the entire U.S. population. Hunters are not only concerned with the skill and tradition of hunting, but also carry with them an exposure and understanding of the species and habitat in which they hunt.
A recent National Geographic article explains that “[m]any hunters- both men and women- say their hobby is not just about food. It also creates a sense of intimacy and respect for both the animals and their habitats.” Moreover, “… in a regulated, well-managed system there is nothing inherently ecologically damaging about hunting. It can actually benefit the animals by preventing overpopulation, which can lead to starvation during winter months…”
Hunters may not have always been a driving force conservation, but in 1937 hunters and their affiliated organizations started to see a rapid deterioration of game and pushed Congress to pass the Pittman-Robertson Act. This act, also known as the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, places an excise tax on firearms and ammunition sales, which is given to state fish and wildlife agencies for the sole purpose of promoting conservation efforts. According to The National Shooting Sports Foundation’s report Hunting in America: An economic force for conservation, this program has contributed a total of $7.2 billion to state conservation efforts, which has risen to over $371 million annually.[1] However, that is not all. Hunters spend $796 million on licenses and permits, which go directly to their state wildlife agency, and $440 million in annual donations to conservation and sportsman’s organization that preserve habitat and wildlife. Add it up and you will see that hunters contribute about $1.6 billion to conservation annually.
Hunters and their affiliated organizations have not only promoted conservation legislation, but have also directly restored and conserved the habitat that wildlife relies on. Ducks Unlimited is an organization dedicated to bettering waterfowl habitat in North America. They have helped build and restore over 13 millions of acres of waterfowl habitat through restoring grasslands, replanting forests, restoring watersheds, and acquiring land and conservation easements. Working with landowners of forest, ranch, and farmland allows DU to create conservation agreements that work well for working landscapes, hunters, and the environment.  
Other organizations, such as the Izaak Walton League, have taken great strides to improve environmental stewardship among hunters and ranges. Members of the League take their responsibilities as stewards of the environment seriously by developing environmental stewardship plans for their ranges and educating fellow hunters on environmental issues.
One of the interesting facts about hunting and species management is that wildlife is considered public property. This means that it is held in public trust and managed by the state, mostly through state fish and game agencies that administer hunting permits and regulations.
States may also provide incentives for game management on private land. For instance, a recent PERC study showed the difference between game management on ranches in Colorado and Montana.  Colorado administers a program called Ranching for Wildlife through the state’s wildlife agency. The program gives landowners extended hunting seasons and transferable hunting permits if they take steps to improve habitat on their property for both game and nongame species. However, Montana does not have a program like Colorado’s and private landowners face the burden of providing habitat on their property for game species alone. Thus, many private landowners in Montana see game species as a menace and are not incentivized to help with species management.
Land and habitat conservation requires a broad range of interests to work together to create innovative and effective land management techniques. Hunters have the most to gain in supporting sustainable management plans for habitat and species conservation, since they enjoy the outdoors and the natural resources ecosystems provide. Thus, they should be touted for their involvement in conservation and encouraged to continue to help the health of our ecosystems and the species they contain.

[1] Some argue that 60-90 million people purchase guns and ammunition in the U.S., but only 13 million hunt. So, hunters are only contributing 15-20% of the total amount of funding through the Pittman-Roberson Act.