Commitment to the Outdoors: Why Conservation Matters
By Craig Gillock
Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the idea of conservation has grown and evolved into a full-blown cultural movement. It has drawn the attention of people from all walks of life. It crosses political and socioeconomic lines. It even ignores international borders. But why is this important to a company that makes rifle casings and ammunition? Why would we take the time to write about it or concern ourselves with where the movement is headed? The answer is simple, those who came before us in this industry were there at its inception and it is now our duty to ensure that the legacy of those early pioneers is protected, and their goals passed on to future generations.
John F Reiger, in his book American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation, states, “Conservation in the United States, as a movement, began with the American sportsmen who came to the realization that wonton waste of wildlife and their habitat had led to the extinction of some species, while other species were at risk. John Muir and the Sierra Club started the modern movement, but history shows that the Boone and Crockett Club, formed by Theodore Roosevelt, spearheaded conservation in the United States.”
Conservation’s Founding Fathers
In May 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, and naturalist John Muir, embarked on a three-day camping trip through the Yosemite Valley. It has been called the most important camping trip in U.S. history and the results of this excursion have influenced our laws and public policy for over a century. These two historical giants spent their weekend together discussing the importance of America’s wild places and the animal and plant life that lives there. Their biggest concerns were the commercial hunting and logging that was occurring at this time, and the negative impact these activities would have on America’s natural resources.
The conversation between Roosevelt and Muir can only be described as a resounding success. Roosevelt returned to Washington, D.C. and pushed to add Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the Yosemite Grant that Abraham Lincoln signed into law in 1864, expanding the park into its modern-day form. More importantly, the three days spent with Muir inspired Roosevelt to lobby for the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act would authorize the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments. He would sign the bill into law on June 8, 1906. It has served as the basis for all conservation efforts and legislation that has followed.
In a speech given in August of 1910, in Osawatomie, Kansas, Roosevelt said, “There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
During their trip through Yosemite, Roosevelt and Muir discussed what they would like to see in a government agency to oversee the well-being of these resources. Their ideas and the steps they set in motion became law in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act. This Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and instructed federal land management agencies, including the National Park Service, to manage wilderness areas and preserve wilderness character.
How Sportsmen Affect Conservation
It can be argued that the group most likely to participate in and engage themselves with conservation efforts are American sportsmen and sportswomen. They pursue the game that roams the forests, mountains, and plains. They paddle its waters and pull fish from its depths. They set up camp sites and enjoy the beauty the natural world provides. They understand that protecting the lands and wildlife of this country goes hand in hand with enjoying all that it has to offer.
To ensure that future generations can enjoy these same activities, sportsmen have adopted the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. While this model has no direct legal authority, it does serve as the basis for policies developed by NGO’s and conservation groups.
There are seven core principles that make up this Model:
- Wildlife as Public Trust Resources
No one individual owns our fish and wildlife. It is held in public trust by state and federal governments.
- Elimination of Markets for Game
Outlaws the commercial hunting or sale of wildlife to prevent detrimental declines in the species.
- Allocation of Wildlife by Law
Wildlife is allocated to the public by law, not market demands or land ownership. Wildlife access is kept fair and equitable through democratic principles and public input in policy making.
- Wildlife Should Only be Killed for a Legitimate Purpose
Killing should only be done for food, self-defense, and protection of property. The taking of wildlife without making all reasonable effort to retrieve and make use of the resource is unlawful and unethical.
- Wildlife is Considered an International Resource
Management of these resources must be done internationally through treaties and management agency cooperation.
- Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy
Most of the basis for this principle is drawn from the writings of Aldo Leopold. It calls for science as the basis for decision making and should include studies of population dynamics, behavior, habitat, adaptive management, and national surveys of hunting and fishing.
- Democracy of Hunting
Inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, it supports the idea that open access to hunting would be beneficial to society. It also supports access to firearms and the hunting industry, which is where much of the funding for conservation is derived.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, sportsmen and sportswomen generate nearly $1 billion in excise tax annually. This tax, created by the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, places an 11% tax on hunting, shooting, and fishing equipment and boat fuel. These funds are then dispersed to support critical conservation and outdoor recreation projects.
Former Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, is quoted as saying, “Our conservation model is funded and supported by America’s hunters, shooters, anglers, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. These stewards of conservation generated nearly a billion dollars last year alone and make our country’s conservation legacy the envy of the world.”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) has published statistics that show that hunters and anglers also contribute nearly $800 million a year through state licenses and fees. And an additional $440 million in donations to groups like the RMEF, Wild Sheep Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Mule Deer Foundation, and others. When it’s all said and done, every single day U.S. sportsmen contribute $8 million to conservation.
Getting Involved and the Future of Conservation
Conservation has always been important to American sportsmen and sportswomen. But what will the future of conservation look like in our country and what role will we as a group play? These are not easy questions to answer, there is no crystal ball to tell us if we are moving in the right direction. All we can say for certain is that a necessary first step is to get involved. Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities to do so. Organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership are always in need of volunteers and or financial support. These organizations, along with numerous other 501(c)3 groups, participate in and help fund conservation projects at the federal, state, and local levels. If you wanted to get involved, any of these projects would be a great starting point. We have included a list of a few of the heavy hitters in the conservation movement and the links to get you in contact with them. All of these groups do good work and would welcome any help you could offer.
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation - www.rmef.org
Wild Sheep Foundation - www.wildsheepfoundation.org
Mule Deer Foundation - www.muledeer.org
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership - www.trcp.org
Safari Club International - www.safariclub.org
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers - www.backcountryhunters.org
Whitetails Unlimited - www.whitetailsunlimited.com