WHY IS HUNTING GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
by Whit Gibbons
November 17, 2003
I still run into people who think that sports hunting is antienvironmental.
Consequently, I want to restate that when the overall picture of wildlife
and natural environments is taken collectively from the standpoint of
their health and well being, hunters are among the greenest people in
the nation today.
But first, consider the plight of the hunter. The proportion of hunters
in the general population has declined steadily over the last four decades,
going from 11% in 1960 to 8.3% by 1990 to about 6% in 2001. Almost any
statistic you can find about hunting reveals that the U.S. numbers are
Another disturbing demographic aspect about hunters is that the actual
number of Americans who hunt is declining at an even steeper rate than
the percentage. One explanation is that the number of young people who
hunt decreases every year. In other words, hunters are getting older;
young hunters are not joining the ranks. This is equivalent to a deer
herd or duck species having more individuals leave the population each
year than are added to it. Recruitment is too low to result in a sustainable
Do not get the impression that not many people engage in wildlife sports
activities any more. According to the most recent survey available to
me, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 82 million adults
participated in hunting, fishing, or wildlife watching in 2001. But
only 13 million of those were hunters. Yet people who hunt and fish
contributed immensely to the national economy, spending more than $70
billion in 2001. Expenditures included licenses, guns, fishing equipment,
and the costs of lodging, travel, and other goods and services. Wildlife
watchers, meanwhile, spent $38 billion.
But why do I say hunting is good for the environment? First, let me
define "good" as situations or activities that maintain wildlife
at current levels. In that case, hunting is good for the environment
because the hunting community ensures that wildlife populations of game
species are sustainable from one generation to the next. This requires
that a diversity of natural habitats be kept intact, unpolluted, and
undisturbed. Hunters support all these efforts.
The taxes from hunting activities go to the states or to the federal
government for such purposes as enhancing wildlife habitat, managing
and maintaining parks and wildlife refuges, and conducting surveys and
research to determine the status of not only game but also some nongame
species. So, hunters contribute in a big way to benefiting natural environments.
Keeping our wild habitats as undamaged, clean, and natural as possible
is a key aspect of having suitable places to hunt. But hunters are not
the only ones seeking such habitats. Ecologists
depend on them for research. Hikers, bird-watchers, and wildflower viewers
all prefer habitats that are uncontaminated and full of wild things.
Of course, these groups prefer habitats that favor their own interests.
Hikers want trails. Bird-watchers want a diversity of relatively quiet
habitats. And hunters want land management that favors their favorite
game bird or mammal. Also, hunters and the other groups do not like
to share the same habitat at the same time. But although time-sharing
may sometimes be a problem, a variety of wildlife enthusiasts have a
single common vision--healthy outdoor ecosystems.
Of course, what makes a "good" forest for a hunter may be
different from what other groups consider a "good" environment,
and compromises must be made to accommodate all of them. Nonetheless,
the time has come when hunters must become involved in partnerships
with other groups who have an equally fervent interest in maintaining
healthy habitats of forests, streams, and small wetlands. The time has
also come when these other groups must look to the hunting community
for what they can contribute to environmental prosperity.
Indeed hunters are entering into partnerships with research ecologists,
groups interested in wildlife recreation, and organizations that focus
on habitat protection. Although the ultimate objectives differ for each,
the primary goal of saving or restoring forests and other natural habitats
benefits all. Hunters depend on and help maintain sustainable populations
of their species of interest. Ironically, their own population is facing
a serious decline in numbers.
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