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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Gangbangers are conservationists

Published 09/19/08
By Monica Engebretson, Senior Program Associate

If I hear the words “hunters” and “conservationists” used in the same sentence one more time I’m going to scream.

AAAAAH! Guess I shouldn’t have read the article about the upcoming White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy to be held October 1–3 in Reno, Nevada.

This hearing is “a result of the Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation executive order signed by President Bush in August 2007.” (There those two words are again.)

The article notes that,

“The goal of the conference is to establish a 10-year plan to improve wildlife conservation and boost hunting opportunities on public lands. President Bush will address the conference, which is expected to include a wide range of sportsmen conservationists.” ... O.K., so technically the last one used the word “sportsmen” instead of “hunter” ... same difference.

Why am I so annoyed?

I’m sick of the hunters getting all the credit for conservation of wildlife. Shoot! (no pun intended) I just used those two words together.

The argument goes, that hunters conserve wildlife because by virtue of hunting they keep populations healthy, control disease, and prevent “overpopulation,” and that they fund wildlife conservation. In fact it’s oft said that “hunters were the first conservationist.”

Let me just use this forum to vent and refute each of these points.

Control of populations and disease:

I studied wildlife management in college and earned a degree in Wildlife and I can tell you firsthand that one of the primary goals of wildlife managers is to increase populations of “game” species to provide targets for hunters — not to control their populations in order to keep them in “balance with nature” as is so often claimed.

State wildlife agencies often argue that our cities and rural lands would be overrun with wild animals if hunting were disallowed. However, the biological truth is that animals regulate their own populations, based upon available food and habitat. In nature, unaltered by humans, there is no such thing as a “surplus” animal.

This is not to say that natural predators do not play an important role in the ecosystem, they do. What I am saying is that human hunters do not replace natural predators. Natural predators are opportunistic hunters and usually take the youngest, weakest and/or sickest animals. By contrast human hunters typically take the biggest and healthiest animals thereby weakening the gene pool over the long term.

Contrary to popular belief artificial human-induced population reductions can actually result in higher populations and increased disease. This happens due to the ecological principle called compensation. This phenomenon was summed up nicely in a recent study from the University of Georgia.

“When a portion of the animal population is reduced, those that survive are left with more resources such as food and shelter. As a result of the newly plentiful resources, the death rate decreases and the birth rate increases, compensating — and sometimes overcompensating — for the loss.

“Killing wild animals can also increase the proportion of the population that’s susceptible to disease by removing those individuals who have contracted a virus but have developed lifelong immunity as a result of their infection.”

And don’t even get me started on the impact the lead ammunition and fishing gear used by sportsmen are having on wildlife and the environment.

Now on to the next point, Funding:

In 1937, Congress passed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (formally called the Pittman-Robertson Act) to help finance state wildlife agencies by establishing an excise tax on guns, ammunition, and fishing gear. These funds are then distributed to state wildlife agencies based upon the state’s land area and the numbers of hunters in the state. The more hunting licenses sold, the more funds a state receives from this act.

But because the funds are generated from the sale of guns and ammo, every gun user, whether a hunter or not — contributes to conservation. (Of the 60 million gun owners in the U.S., only a quarter of these are hunters.)

Put this way, every gangbanger is a conservationist.

First conservationists.

Lastly, where do hunters get off thinking that they were the “first conservationist”? Certainly the passenger pigeon, heath hen, and Carolina parakeet, were they not extinct, would beg to differ.

Seriously, it’s probably because Theodore Roosevelt was a hunter and did great things to conserve wildlife and protect the wilderness. But he was far from the only one. John Muir was one of this country’s greatest conservation pioneers and was an inspiration to Theodore Roosevelt. Muir not only was not a hunter, he told Theodore Roosevelt that hunting was “childish” and that he should give it up.

And let’s hear it for the great female conservationist Rachel Carlson, best known for her book Silent Spring, which inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Did I mention Rachel was not a hunter?

The moral of my ranting is this, if you don’t think killing animals is fun, you can still be a conservationist.

Blogging off,


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