Opinion: Washington hunters support conservation efforts

Thanks to developments in the food industry, the accessibility and abundance of food has skyrocketed — one quick trip to the grocery store and a meal is provided.

For generations, however, our way of life relied upon hunter-gatherer fundamentals — so what happened to this mentality? As technology improved, did hunting become obsolete?

According to this year’s data — configured by the US Fish and Wildlife Service — there are 179,316 paid hunting license holders in Washington. For these individuals, the hunt is still a primary way of life — evidently, this activity is alive and well in our neck of the woods.

Since hunting is still prevalent in our society, it is important to distinguish the role hunters play in wildlife and habitat preservation. While many may perceive hunters to be cataclysmic dominators of the environment — which may be true in some cases like poaching — they actually contribute greatly to conservation efforts.

For instance, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 — or rather the Pittman-Robertson Act — ensures money is consistently going towards improvement of wildlife habitats. Due to heavy wildlife degradation in the early 1900s, legislation passed this federal excise tax in order to fund restoration projects.

A 10 percent tax on all handgun purchases, and an 11 percent tax on all rifles, ammunition, and archery equipment purchases, are required through this act. Essentially, hunting equipment purchases are directly supporting wildlife conservation. 

Furthermore, in 2016 the USFWS distributed $1.1 billion to the states for conservation projects — funds that were accumulated by both the Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act. Due to needing the necessary hunting equipment, hunters are constantly contributing to restoration and conservation efforts through their purchases.

However, economic incentives are not the only reason hunters support conservation. In regards to the evergreen state, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has two primary goals. The first is to protect wildlife and the second is to create hunting opportunities — with this in mind, it is clear to see that hunters rely on healthy ecosystems to maintain healthy game populations. 

For example, Erik McDonald is a lecturer at UW Tacoma who hunts during archery permitted seasons. Introduced by his father, McDonald has been hunting for approximately 20 years — while by no means an expert on the topic, his experiences in the woods and dedication to sustainable practice exemplifies the typical hunter.

McDonald explained that the key component to sustainable hunting and conservation efforts is the protection of habitat — without science-based land management practices, the wildlife in that ecosystem providing the hunt will be unfavorably impacted. 

Another upside of habitat purchases with revenue from hunters is that it benefits every species in that area, not just those that are hunted.

“Let’s say we bought ten thousand acres of elk habitat, and secure this large chunk of land, all of the wildlife in that area will benefit from the protection even if the focus is on the game animals,” McDonald stated.

While hunting is no easy task — with one particular hunt lasting him 20 days with no results — McDonald said that the experience is a rewarding one. 

McDonald further explained that hunting has allowed him to provide his own organic, non-antibiotic meat — in essence, he is no longer supporting the environmental controversy surrounding factory farming. 

If an individual is able to provide their own meat source, then the need for factory distributed meat is no longer a necessity. Seen in this light, hunting has the ability to conserve unnecessary water and energy usage. This self-sufficiency goes a long way in terms of sustainability and anthropogenic climate change difficulties.

UW Tacoma senior Mason Ward also hunts, and has witnessed the benefits hunting can bring to communities. While his last hunt was in 2013, he has several years of previous experience hunting deer.

“Conservation efforts by hunting are beneficial in that hunters will ensure that land will be persevered in order to ensure steady game count,” Ward said.

Of course, no system is perfect — while hunting provides several conservation benefits, it is not without its issues.

For example, the WDFW permits the lawful hunt of predator populations — such as cougars, bears, and coyotes. However, predators provide substantial benefits to the ecosystem, and if they are removed, an ecosystem is at risk of overpopulated prey populations. 

Theoretically, hunters will have less competition and game populations will rise. While this may seem like an ideal situation, this action progressively deteriorates an ecosystem. This is not to say predators should never be hunted — especially in overpopulated populations — but rather predator hunting should be limited and strategically pursued.

At the end of the day, hunting aids conservation and restoration efforts, and hunters — such as McDonald and Ward — should continue to be supported and acknowledged for their contributions. Hunting is exhausting and time-consuming — long days spent in various outdoor conditions — but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Individuals who are curious about hunting, or have questions regarding its practice, are always welcome into the discussion. As always, time spent in the woods — connecting with the environment and its wildlife — is never time wasted.