Below is an article by Alex Baier, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation regional director for the state of Washington.
To the uninitiated, the motto “Hunting Is Conservation” may seem incomprehensible. Why would one choose to go kill an animal they claim to love? Doesn’t the act of killing negate them from being considered a conservationist? The simple answer is “no.” The real answer is much more reasoned.
At this moment, there is a lot of consternation in our state surrounding the future of wildlife management. Hunters and anglers, the modern-era stewards and long-time financial supporters of wildlife and conservation across North America, are, for the first time, competing with broader interests to have their voices heard. This makes sense. Time has passed, American culture has evolved, more people, and for more reasons, are enjoying wildlife and wild places than ever before. All are stakeholders in our public trust, which is not a bad thing. The more people that are interested, hopefully, the more money that flows toward conservation efforts.
However, as is common within families when a younger sibling comes of age and begins to weigh in on family matters, new stakeholders can be insistent upon radical changes with little consideration for how and why things came to be. Organizations such as Washington Wildlife First, who have repeatedly made their values known through statements at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s commission meetings, acknowledge their bias rather than seeking objective, science-based conclusions. Believing in their virtue, they cannot be mistaken, those whose lifestyles differ from their soy-based existence simply cannot be considered conservationists such as themselves. Choosing to dig trenches instead of building bridges, they have sought to diminish the historic contributions from hunters and anglers, all but calling for the exclusion of those who have done the work and footed the bill for wildlife management in North America for over 100 years.
After hearing these statements, watching their supporters be appointed to positions of power by our governor, and seeing their values underpinning the WDFW Draft Conservation Policy; it is past time to set the record straight.
Responsible hunters and anglers are conservationists. Full stop. We have a deep appreciation for the intrinsic value of wildlife. When you ask about the trip, it is rarely the act of killing that a responsible hunter or angler describes. We’ll excitedly tell you about all the other wildlife we saw, describe the sunset heading back to port, or how we evaded those pesky cow elk or hen turkeys to close the distance on the prey that later fed our families.
For generations we have fought to conserve, protect and perpetuate wildlife; not just so there would be animals to harvest the following year, but to ensure they and their habitats persist for the next thousand years. We have self-imposed taxes and fees that generate billions of dollars annually while also boosting rural economies and are the first to get our hands dirty volunteering for WDFW. We want to see broad and connected landscapes managed for abundances of clean water, forage, prey and cover to support biologically diverse and intact ecosystems. Here in Washington, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has contributed greatly to this end by conserving or enhancing over a half million acres and increasing public access to 130,000 acres.
Sportsmen and women are relieved that others have begun to recognize the value we have always known wildlife possessed and that they want to contribute to the health of our ecosystems. It has been a heavy mantle to carry for a century. We welcome coalition building and increased public support for conservation funding, but we will not stand silently as fringe organizations and intolerant individuals attempt to shove us from under the very tent we built.
(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)