In popular culture, the term “hunter” and its portrayal throughout media has been demonizing at worst and unflattering at best. Yes, it is true that poaching is one of the major causes for the decline of megafauna (large mammals) and rare species across the globe, but it seems that legal hunting is vilified an unequal amount. Hunting plays a critical role in wildlife management, conservation and ecological health.
In my last article, I wrote about our war against wolves that led to massive problems with diminishing biodiversity. After centuries of rampant harvesting, many species were on the brink of extinction. The other side of the coin was America’s entrance into the industrial age, in which great societal leaps forward meant annihilation of rivers, prairies, forests and mountains. It was only around the turn of the century that early wardens and biologists began to understand that the natural world was steps away from being extinguished.
Rather than completely banning hunting, biologists and lawmakers quickly realized that hunting had to be closely monitored. Sponsored by Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Robertson, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, was voted into existence.
The act places an 11% tax on all hunting equipment which is then given directly to the Secretary of the Interior who allocates accordingly to each state. The funding is strictly for research, restoration, purchase and leasing of land and wildlife management. As stated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the program has generated $2 billion worth of revenue, enabling research and protection efforts which would have been impossible otherwise. The act was so successful in its ability to support management that in 1950 the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, known as the Dingell-Johnson Act, sought to replicate the system for our scaly aquatic friends.
In highly controversial yet reputable cases, megafauna conservation in Africa has been aided by the purchase of hunting permits. In 2014, a single hunting permit sold for $350,000 at the Dallas Safari Club in Texas. The auction was protested with claims that a species could not be conserved if it was being hunted. The decision to sell the tag was made by Namibia, a country revered for its amazing wildlife conservation. The tag was not issued for just any Black Rhino, but instead a post-breeding male who was unable to contribute to the gene pool. Male Black Rhinos are territorial animals which may attack and kill younger individuals who have yet to help with population growth, therefore acting as a possible barrier to their recovery. This large sum of money, although gained in a questionable way, was fed back into the country’s wildlife programs.
I by no means am someone who respects trophy hunting, but I do acknowledge that it is, in a small number of cases, a tool to help conserve the natural world around us. Rather than alienating the global hunting community, we should instead focus our effort towards fighting poachers, animal parts trafficking and other illegal activities which pose a huge threat to our global ecological systems.