Each year Congress and state legislatures must decide how to best allocate precious tax dollars. Moreover, as worthy as each critical need is, there is simply not enough money to adequately fund them all. As such, proponents of each cause lobby to convince that their particular cause is worthy of receiving a share of these precious monetary resources. Wildlife conservation is one of the critical needs facing our country.
For decades, hunters have played the prominent role in promoting wildlife conservation in the United States. Hunters have proven to be very successful in promoting the need for state and federal tax dollars to fund wildlife conservation initiatives. However, it is clear with each passing year their ability to do so is eroding.
One of the reasons for this is the number of Americans participating in hunting has declined. With fewer people engaged in hunting-related sports, it becomes increasing more difficult for wildlife conservation advocates to convince lawmakers their cause deserves funding.
Since 1955 the United States Department of the Interior has conducted a survey to determine how many Americans participate in wildlife-related activities, such as hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. According to the latest study (published in 2018) the number of Americans that hunt has dwindled to 11.5 million, folks that fish surged to 35.8 million, while wildlife watchers topped out at a whopping 81.1 million. As amazing as it may seem, the number of people that watch wildlife (principally birds) by far exceeds the combined total hunters and anglers.
This is already having a tremendous impact on federal and state wildlife experts. For example, The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was adopted in the 1980s to restore dwindling populations of North American waterfowl. While is has proven to be highly successful, much has changed during the past 30-plus years.
Since the beginning, waterfowl hunters have been a key stakeholder in the plan. Nowadays, in spite of the plan’s success in increasing these game birds, the number of men and women that hunt ducks, geese and swans has continually dropped. During the same time frame, birders have dramatically increased to the point where they outnumber duck hunters 20:1. Those folks that do not hunt waterfowl do not believe the international initiative should be totally based on providing more game for hunters.
Due, in part to the growing number of nonhunting conservationists, the needs of those folks that enjoy viewing waterfowl and the other forms of wildlife that occupy wetland habitat, and an expression of the realization that wetlands provide critical habitat for a far ranging number of other animals, the plan was revised in 2018. This action represents an important step in bringing together two key groups of the public interested in wildlife.
A research group headed by Dr. Caren Cooper, Assistant Director of the Biodiversity Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, launched a study to determine if hunters and birders share a common ground.
The study was conducted in rural New York. The survey team interviewed hunters, birders, folks that consider themselves birders and hunters, as well as a group that do not engage in nature-based recreation. The study revealed hunters and birders were the groups more likely to participate in conservation activities while hunter-birders were most apt to be involved in these behaviors.
According to Dr. Cooper, “This reinforces the notion that we protect what we’re familiar with and what we care about. . . This means there’s all the more reason to support activities that foster that appreciation.”
The study also uncovered the fact that hunters and birders were oblivious to the others’ deep-seated interest in conservation. While the individuals that both hunt and bird watch were aware of this interest, by and large, birders and hunters are much alike when it comes to conservation. Cooper also reported, “Bird watchers were often put off by hunting, and hunters don’t seem to see the knowledge that goes along with birdwatching. But after learning about the study, both groups realized that they share a common passion for wildlife conservation. Bird watchers and hunters engaged in more hardcore conservation, like donating money and enhancing land for wildlife.”
The results of this study hammer home the need for state and federal conservation agencies, as well and private conservation groups, to promote better understanding between the two groups. Can you imagine how powerful and unified a force of hunters and wildlife watchers would be when it is vying for wildlife conservation’s share of state and federal appropriations? Such collaboration would ensure the preservation of wildlife lands, the animals that live there and the perpetuation of the wildlife-related activities we all enjoy.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.