Times change. There was a time when the word "conservationist" was almost synonymous with "hunter" or "fisherman." No longer.
Yet, for more years than we can count, outdoorsmen have been the most environmentally friendly people on earth, and were accepted as such by nearly everyone. Hunters respected nature, understood the relationships between animals and their habitat, and invested themselves in keeping those relationships healthy. When they've realized they were doing something that hurt the environment, even if they were the culprits, they've been first to lobby for change.
Today hunters are under fire for being enemies of the environment when the truth is that they're the greatest friends the natural world has ever had. North American wildlife would be in dire straits if it weren't for the greatest conservationists the world has ever seen - American hunters.
Modern environmentalists advocate for values that hunters have held for generations. When it comes to meat, hunters eat more organically produced food than anyone. It hasn't been injected with growth-inducing hormones, crowded into constricting fences or cages, or inhumanely slaughtered by "evil" profit-driven agribusinesses.
Eco-conscious messages encourage us to eat locally grown food - food that doesn't waste resources by trips of hundreds or even thousands of miles to market. The truth is that hunters should be poster boys for that idea. Fully 95 percent of hunters do most of their hunting within a few miles of home - yet don't get the credit backyard gardeners get for eating tomatoes and broccoli.
Way back in the 1980s, the Wall Street Journal featured a story about a new wave of urban restaurants that served "stress-free meats," but stress-free meat is commonly available in the homes of hunters.
Yes, hunters kill with bullets and arrows, but without hunters animals still die. Few wander off and die a peaceful death, curled up on comfort. Virtually all of them would eventually die slowly from malnutrition or disease, by being maimed in violent collisions with tons of steel, or by being eaten alive by merciless predators. The truth? Modern hunters are the world's most humane predators.
While some anti-hunting organizations make lots of noise about conserving habitat for wildlife, what all of those organizations do collectively is miniscule compared to the way hunters and fishermen step up for wildlife conservation on both private and public lands.
Thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, hunters have given $5.3 billion to their state game agencies for the privilege to hunt. That includes special excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, bows and arrows and other gear. Amazingly, hunters were the chief advocates for this during the Depression-era depths of genuine hunger in this nation.
Hunters continue to generate as much as $324 million in annual taxes through this program, one of the few federal programs no one accuses of being unsuccessful. In fact, it has been so successful that in the 1950s, the Dingell-Johnson Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act was passed to benefit fish in similar ways.
Then, besides the billions that hunters pour into state coffers for the management of wildlife and its habitat, hunters contribute billions more to the various conservation organizations. But look up "list of conservation organizations" in Wikipedia, and you won't find a single hunter-funded organization - not the National Wild Turkey Federation, not Ducks Unlimited. None.
It's not because hunters only care about animals they hunt. Every single hunter-supported conservation organization recognizes the interdependency of wildlife and invests in the overall health of wildlife habitat. They sponsor projects that support countless species. If we'd turn the welfare of Africa's elephants, Siberia's tigers, and Canada's polar bears over to hunters, these species and others that share their habitat would likely thrive.
It was hunters who launched the industry of wildlife conservation, and wildlife would be rare without hunters. Yet, hunters are a small minority of the overall population. Ask anyone, "Do you love wildlife?" Everyone will say they do. But ask, "What have you done for wildlife?" Most people do virtually nothing compared to what hunters do.
I suspect 99% of the hunters I'm addressing are "green." No, not green with envy. Not green in the sense of having wealth. Not green, in mimicry of some alien life form. Hunters are proud to be the original environmentalists. Everyone else is a johnny-come-lately to the world of wildlife advocacy and conservation.
When "The Everyday Hunter" isn't hunting, he's thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.