Who Pays for Wildlife?

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Throughout the 20th century a major effort was made to eliminate wetlands to create productive land. Today we know how critical wetlands are to the viability of wildlife and to our own water tables, and state game agencies play a key role in their restoration. This is just one example of how state game agencies benefit far more than hunters.  Photo by Steve Sorensen.
Throughout the 20th century a major effort was made to eliminate wetlands to create productive land. Today we know how critical wetlands are to the viability of wildlife and to our own water tables, and state game agencies play a key role in their restoration. This is just one example of how state game agencies benefit far more than hunters. Photo by Steve Sorensen.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Strangely, those of us who hunt spring turkeys feel as though we have lots of competition. I say “strangely” because here in the northeast, according to a study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, only 14% of licensed hunters target spring gobblers,. Compare that to 78% of the hunters who target deer. Obviously, deer hunting has many more devotees.

But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. When I’m spring gobbler hunting and I hear a hen calling, I wonder first if it’s another hunter. I listen closely to see if I can tell for sure from the cadence and the tone. Is it a real hen? Or some guy on a box call, a slate or a diaphragm call?

We often think about the competition. Are other hunters messing with the gobblers? Are careless hunters sending the bucks down into the swamp?
Competition normally makes us better at what we do, but competition from other hunters disrupts the movement patterns of the animals, making them less predictable. Competition from other hunters turns deer nocturnal and makes turkeys call-shy.

Hunters don’t like competition and almost universally want to get away from it. But it could be worse. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has examined hunting license purchasing patterns over multiple years, and finds that for every two hunters in the field this year, another one is taking the year off. Think about it – if all hunters hunted every year, the competition would be even greater. That’s the downside. The upside is that game departments would have better funding in the face of declining hunter numbers.

Most people might be surprised to learn that hunters, through the purchase of hunting licenses and payment of excise taxes on hunting equipment, contribute $1 billion annually to wildlife conservation. If all the lapsed hunters – hunters who take some time away from the sport – bought a license every year, those conservation dollars would increase by almost $100 million annually through hunting license sales alone – not including excise taxes on their gear purchases.

Nor does that $100 million include the money hunters spend at gas stations, diners, convenience stores, hotels and other places when they go hunting. Hunting makes an enormous contribution to our economy, benefitting every species, not just hunted species, from turtles down in the bog to the turkeys up on gobbler’s knob. No one else steps up like hunters do. Hunters are, first, foremost, and beyond all others, the ones paying for wildlife.

And that’s why lapsed hunters are a critical piece to conservation’s financial dilemma. More hunting license sales will bring more dollars to support the wildlife and provide places to hunt. Wildlife needs hunters’ money.

One way to solve the dilemma is for everyone to keep buying licenses, just to continue doing their part in supporting conservation. That would include hunters who are taking a hiatus and those phasing out of hunting altogether.

Another is for non-hunters to buy licenses. It would give them a greater stake in wildlife conservation. They would be supporting clean water, creating habitat, and providing law enforcement dollars. They would be helping all wildlife from salamanders to songbirds.

And they would be contributing to the only agencies that the public long ago charged with responsibility for wildlife. While the animal welfare groups extend their tear-jerking appeals, and while essential hunter-supported conservation organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation recruit volunteers to improve wildlife habitat, most people are doing nothing. But it’s the unsung and often criticized – but critically important – state game agencies that must consider every viewpoint from the various factions of society, all in the interest of their primary duty to ensure wildlife thrives.

Non-hunters buying hunting licenses would be a low-cost way for them to learn how important hunters are, and collectively to make a huge contribution to the whole system of abundant wildlife populations in America. And it would put hunters and non-hunters on the same team for the sake of wildlife.

I know that’s a crazy idea. I know it’s not going to happen. But if it did we, and all wildlife, would be better off.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. To read more of Steve Sorensen’s thoughts about hunting, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).