The great American president Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” The Bull Moose was as much a lover of nature as he was a powerful figure in the White House. Some may believe he had a strange dichotomy about him being both the grandfather of American conservation and an avid hunter. However, it was precisely his love for hunting that spurred his decision to create new national parks, game refuges, and ultimately lay the groundwork for modern conservation.
It was no coincidence that Roosevelt’s new conservation measures came at the turn of the century when animal populations were being driven to near extinction. Animals such as the passenger pigeon and the eastern elk had been hunted into extinction. Hunters had no bag limits, and ridiculous numbers of animals were being slaughtered to be sold at market.
The average anti-hunter might still believe this to be the case in modern America, but the reality could not be further from the truth. With the creation of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the issuance of hunting licenses, modern hunting has contributed far more to the conservation of America’s wilderness and has brought some animal populations to pre-1900 levels.
How is this even possible when the very act of shooting animals reduces their population? The difference between modern hunting and its turn-of-the-century counterpart lies in regulations. Hunting licenses and bag limits have saved the populations of multiple species of animals from the whitetail deer to the pronghorn antelope.
Hunters contribute to around 60% of the funding for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Taxes on the sale of firearms, bows and ammunition as well as the sale of hunting license are apportioned to state wildlife agencies which are then used for conservation efforts. The millions of hunters who take to the fields and creeks every hunting season contribute immensely to the preservation of the very areas they hunt in through their hunting license fees.
The money that comes in from hunters helps preserve 95 million acres of land and 760 million acres of submerged lands and waters across all 50 states. Without the financial contribution of hunters and the efforts of conservationists, the wilderness areas of this great nation would long ago been converted into farms or pastures the same way the Brazilian government has allowed corporations to denude the Amazon in the name of financial gain.
Beyond the act of financial help, the act of hunting itself can often be beneficial to the environment. Texas is overrun by hogs. Deer are a greater threat to the environment than even climate change. In Argentina, an explosion of the dove population has led to black clouds of ravenous birds filling the sky and descending on farmers’ crops like locusts.
When a species overpopulates, they typically have a negative impact on the local environment, devastating not only crops, but also endangering other species. For example, too many deer will eat away at the low-lying foliage many songbirds make their nests in, reducing habitats for them, which in turn will lead to an overabundance in insects which the songbirds normally feed on. These insects will lead to wood rot and further degradation of the ecosystem.
To further illustrate the problem of animal overpopulation, we can look at India, a country where hunting for sport is banned by both religion and law. In southern India, farmers whose crops are decimated by wild boar are demanding for the animals to be culled. These feral hogs are not only destroying village crops, but also entering cities and even killing people. The Indian Ministry of Environment, however, claims that indiscriminately killing the boar would upset the ecological balance of the forest, since many large predators like tigers rely on boar for sustenance.
Forbidden from purchasing guns to hunt, farmers have resorted to making small food-based IEDs called avittukai which explode in the mouths of any animal that eats them. This has led to unfortunate collateral damage, as animals other than wild boar such as cows and elephants, both of which are sacred to Hindus, have consumed avittukai meant for boar and have died of starvation after having their jaws blown off. This method is inhumane, indiscriminate, and inefficient. A single hunter with a rifle could humanely kill more boar on a good night than an avittukai, and there would be no collateral damage in the process.
When hunting is done within proper limits and done in support of conservation efforts, the environment can thrive. Mankind has been given stewardship of nature, and if our resources and skills can be used to preserve the lush forests and prevent creatures from breeding out of control, then it is our responsibility to do so.