Hunters – Single Greatest Asset for Preserving Wild America?

I can see your eyes roll, a gasp come out your open mouth, or “No way,” escape your lips. But it’s true. I’ve seen it. I’m living it this week at my husband’s hunting camp in middle Georgia and during a visit to a nearby wildlife management area (WMA).

How Do Hunters Preserve the Wild?

Quite simply, hunters are a large group of mostly men, who spend a lot of money to hunt close to home, in nearby states, or thousands of miles away from their homes. They pay for hunting leases, hunting licenses, hunting outfitters and guides or buy large tracts of virgin land for the sole purpose of maintaining acreage to hunt deer, elk, bear, mountain goats, caribou, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn. Then there are the birds; turkey, quail, dove, ducks, geese… the list goes on and on. And those hunting license fees are earmarked for parks and other state lands we all can enjoy.

The desire to have wild game available to hunt drives hunters to spend big bucks to keep wild areas wild. They fork over thousands for annual hunting leases from farmers who grow slash pine as one of their crops. Slash pine stands provide cover for deer and turkey, while the edges between crop fields allow hardwood to flourish, their acorns and fruits littering the ground. And unfortunately for the farmer, deer graze in their crop fields. I don’t know who loves soybeans more, deer or hunters.

Does Harvesting Wildlife Benefit the Herd?

You better believe it does. Any wildlife management program requires a method to thin the herd. When the number of animals become too large, sick or less robust males have the opportunity to breed, diminishing the overall health of the herd.

A Real Life Example of Hunters Preserving Wild Lands

One person that comes to mind is a botanist, Patrick Lynch, who was working on his Masters Degree in Athens, Georgia. Here is my interview with him:

Dawn: Hi, Patrick. Thank you for sharing your experiences with land preservation and the role of hunters in Georgia.

Patrick: You’re welcome. It changed the way I viewed hunters by 180 degrees. I’ve never worked directly with hunters in the field, but what I can say from experience is that astute hunters understand the necessity of preserving and maintaining a variety of habitat for wildlife and not just game. This includes both actively managed lands and more pristine, natural environments, which often harbor rare and/or endangered plant species. So while hunters and conservationists approach land preservation from different perspectives, our ultimate objective is more or less the same.

Dawn: Could you give us an example?

Patrick: Several colleagues and I spent years conducting research in an area of central Georgia containing a suite of unique and imperiled floristic associations and numerous rare and endangered plant species. Despite years of pleading, we, and several other interested parties, could not convince the state to purchase the property. It was not until the hunting lobby began to actively promote its preservation that the state finally saw the wisdom of permanently acquiring this property. Now there were some pretty heavy handed politics involved in the purchase as well, but without hunters advocating for preservation, this property would likely be a housing development, and all of the unique flora and fauna, some of which occurs nowhere else in Georgia, would be permanently lost.

Dawn: That’s an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

Patrick: I’m happy to.

Who Else Benefits from Hunting?

Anyone interested in the environment prefers the preservation of wild lands. There are a number of ways this happens; local or federal agencies procure or maintain lands for the public good, private non-profits buy wild lands or create land trusts that save agricultural lands from future development. All these require money from individuals in the form of taxes, lottery funding, or charitable contributions.

Hunters don’t ask for your money. Yes, they are self-motivated, but they are saving these lands nonetheless. Next time you catch yourself judging that person decked out in camouflage, reflect on Patrick Lynch’s story and consider the hunters who make this world a bit better for all of us.

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