What Is The Hunter's Role In Wildlife Conservation? | RenewMethod

Throughout much of the environmentalist community, hunting is a controversial sport in the pursuit of wildlife conservation.

If done properly, hunting can contribute to the population control of local habitats and can provide funding for conservation institutions.  On the other hand, hunting can also be abused through poaching, waste contribution, habitat destruction, unethical killing, and the endangerment of species.

Hunting is an American pastime rooted in the history of our nation and has been widely practiced for not only survival but the mere enjoyment of the sport.  This has retained this hobby as a regular practice among millions of people in the United States alone.  While hunting guidelines of any given area are quite strict and come with a hefty amount of oversight to ensure the protection of wildlife, this practice can often be abused in ways that are not beneficial to environmental conservation.

Wildlife conservation practices are enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  This government organization is responsible for placing restrictions on where a person can hunt, how much they can hunt, as well as monitoring and maintaining the health of local wildlife.

To understand the role a hunter plays in conservation, we must look at the different ways this sport can affect wildlife depending on how this activity is practiced.

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Positive Impact 

Hunting can sometimes get a bad rap from environmentalists and wildlife conservationists.  The immediate impulse is that the hobby is damaging to wildlife ecosystems and is a cruel and unethical practice.

Despite what many environmentalists think, hunting can have benefits for local habitat and its species.  To ensure that the impact is positive, it is the duty of the hunter to ensure that they carry out their practice in complete adherence to local regulations and restrictions set out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, that they are paying all required fees and meeting all requirements to continue their hobby.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways hunters can positively impact wildlife conservation.

Population Control

While many people often associate an abundant population of species with a healthy ecosystem, the opposite may sometimes be the case.

Since the westernization of the United States, a common approach taken by people was to associate predatory species as dangerous animals that need to be exterminated for public safety.  In addition, predatory species were popularly hunted down for sport and the economic value of their pelts.

This amounted to the mass slaughter of countless predator species, which created an imbalance in most of our nation’s ecosystems.  Since predators are at the top of the food chain and directly control the population of all species beneath them, their absence has led to an influx of herbivore species like deer and elk overpopulated in many regions.

Given that hunters primarily target such herbivore species, their contribution essentially replaces the traditional role of a predator by controlling the population of the entire food chain.  If done ethically and responsibly, this is a major help to the management and maintenance of wildlife conservation.

Funding

Around the United States, we have dozens of government organizations and private institutions backed by millions of donors that actively aim to protect our wildlife.  Despite that environmental initiatives are still greatly underfunded.

Given that hunters who play by the book must qualify and register for a hunting license, their affiliation with the sport does provide a significant amount of funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue doing wildlife conservation work.

On average, hunters contribute roughly $400 million dollars per year to wildlife conservation funding through their licenses and fees.  So long as the practice is carried out within the guidelines, this is a substantial amount of funding to aid our environment.

Less Dependency On Industrial Farming  

So much of our habitat destruction and our natural resource pollution have stemmed from the effects of large-scale industrial farming.  

We have jeopardized the livelihoods of countless species by destroying vegetated lands to plant food without consideration of how it may affect an entire ecosystem.  In addition, much of the utilization of natural resources, like soil and water, has led to land degradation and water pollution, which countless species depend on.

Much like the benefits of growing one’s own food at home, responsibly hunting down your meat provides a food source for millions of people that can bypass or lower their dependency on Big Agro and the meat industry.

At the end of the day, if hunting is done responsibly with consideration for the environment, it’s actually a highly beneficial practice for wildlife conservation.

Negative Impact

An unfortunate aspect of hunting is that it has had far more negative effects on wildlife conservation throughout our history.

An ironic defense that hunters often utilize when attempting to validate hunting as a conservation practice is that their sport helps protect wildlife. In reality, it has been one of the most destructive practices for wildlife and has led to countless extinct species, which sparked the very creation of wildlife conservation in the first place.

With that being said, as mentioned above, hunting can have significant environmental benefits for wildlife when approached very carefully and ethically.  The benefits, however, are outweighed by the negative implications due to the continued misuse of hunting practices and the long and damaging history hunters have had on our wildlife.

To fully understand the negative impacts of hunting on wildlife conservation, let’s take a look at some of the ways hunters have damaged this environmental practice.

Species Extinction & Endangerment (Poaching)

Whether the intention was for trophy hunting or the perceived threat to human life, hunters actively killed at-risk species with the intention of self-glorification or the deliberate pursuit to exterminate an entire species.

Since the colonization and expansion of the United States, incredible species were hunted down and driven to the brink of extinction.  Some extreme examples of this can be seen here:

  • California Grizzly Bear - a species that has gone extinct in the State of California due to hunting (despite the fact that it is still the animal on the official state flag).
  • Gray Wolf - we have practically exterminated our wolf population across the entire country due to abusive hunting.  Despite rehabilitation efforts, two-thirds of our wolf population resides exclusively in Alaska.
  • Bald Eagles - the very mascot that represents our nation was nearly hunted into extinction until extreme efforts were taken to revitalize the species.

While our nation has buckled down more on hunting restrictions, this sort of hunting is somewhat of an epidemic that continues to this day on much of our planet.  Poachers throughout much of the less developed world fly out to illegally hunt much of our planet’s most striking wildlife such as:

  • Tigers
  • Elephants
  • Rhinos
  • Snow Leopards

The continued extinction of our global wildlife demonstrates that the sport of hunting still has a long way to go until it becomes largely beneficial for global wildlife conservation.

Unethical Killing

Hunting is a sport that is challenging to say the least.  Taking aim and getting that perfect shot that ends in a 1-hit kill is not as common of an occurrence as a shot that leaves an animal wounded.

In this situation, it’s a hunter’s duty to track down the animal to finish the job in the most ethical way possible.  An unfortunate aspect of this is that the hunter is not always able to locate their prey in their pursuit.

It’s common for a bullet to simply graze the animal, which is often psychologically traumatizing for it and can cause serious repercussions on its livelihood permanently. Alternatively, an even worse and common occurrence is that the animal receives a non-fatal injury from which it is still able to escape, which leaves the bullet lodged inside the animal for life.

Regardless of the severity of the shot, the bullet will likely lead to a slow and painful death for the animal, as it will either slowly bleed out or suffer from lead poisoning.  The repercussions of this are even more damaging when the hunter does not trace down his prey, as it can sometimes happen that a wounded animal dies somewhere that can be harmful for the environment - like on the bed of a stream, which can cause contamination of a freshwater source.

Undesignated & Unregulated Hunting

When hunters (illegally) take their sport into their own hands, they often tend to do so with little or no consideration for wildlife conservation.  

Since it is the strict obligation and responsibility of hunters to adhere to the restrictions and guidelines put in place by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, individuals that pursue hunting without oversight will typically do so with the intention of abusing the rules.

Regardless of whether hunting is being done on private property or public land, criteria are set in place for how much game and what kind of game a hunter is allowed to pursue.  When operating outside the scope of wildlife conservation measures, this hobby can become especially destructive and damaging to our environment, which leads to habitat destruction and even species extinction or endangerment.  

In addition, hunters that practice illegal hunting activities are often doing so with the intention of trophy hunting.  When this occurs, a dominant, typically predator species is being directly targeted for a sense of glorification.  By killing these much-needed species, the entire ecosystem of the area is put at risk and the beneficial role hunting could have had towards wildlife conservation is contradicted.

About THE AUTHOR

James Parker

James Parker

James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.

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