Message from our Chairman

The Hunter Conservationist Paradox

By Brian Yablonski
Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission

In the early 1900s, those who cherished this country’s natural resources realized that for wildlife and wild places to continue to exist, they needed to fight for their long-term wellbeing. That undertaking became known as the conservation movement. Leading the charge was President Theodore Roosevelt, a naturalist who had a deep love for America’s natural beauty and resources. He actively supported conservation ideals throughout his administration, protecting 230 million acres of land and creating 150 national forests, the first 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks and the first four national game preserves. The first National Wildlife Refuge he established, Pelican Island, is in Vero Beach. Theodore Roosevelt was also a hunter, embracing the wise use of our resources. And it is his legacy as a sportsman-naturalist that serves as the best example of one of the great (and often misunderstood) paradoxes of wildlife conservation: Those with a passion for the hunt also have a passion to protect.

Though many Floridians may be unfamiliar with regulated hunting, it is a critical component of wildlife conservation in the Sunshine State. In Florida, nearly a quarter of a million people hunt each year, and their numbers are growing. And it is these hunter conservationists who are underwriting and supporting politically a large part of wildlife conservation in Florida and the nation. Enjoying wildlife and its habitat is free to all, but the programs providing habitat conservation are not. Florida hunters specifically pay for managing wildlife through the licenses and permits they buy. Hikers, paddlers, campers and wildlife watching enthusiasts, many of whom also contribute to conservation, also benefit from the millions of conservation dollars generated by hunting.
Hunters are essential wildlife management partners in many other ways. They act as our wildlife thermometers in the woods and fields, providing important information to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on what’s happening in the most remote parts of the state. They also help manage wildlife populations. Regulated hunting is the only effective way to balance certain wildlife populations with available habitat at a large scale. Several of America’s first conservation activists were hunters. Not only Theodore Roosevelt, but Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling and George Bird Grinnell — all hunters — went on to form the Boone and Crockett Club, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. In turn, these sportsmen and their conservation organizations are responsible for some of the world’s best wildlife protection laws. Today, in the tradition of TR, many sportsmen and women contribute their time, money and effort to conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever and others.

In the spring of 1903, President Roosevelt shared a campfire at Yosemite with John Muir, the famous naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club. Many historians believe this meeting inspired the President’s aggressive approach to protecting American landscapes and wildlife treasures. John Muir was a critic of hunting. It is said that he and TR had spirited debates on the subject, but their common love for the natural world moved them beyond these differences to become the original architects of America’s conservation legacy.

We all can learn from TR’s leadership in that he recognized and embraced the opportunity to work with nonhunter-preservationist, John Muir, to accomplish big things for conservation. Today’s conservation community can learn from their example. We all need to be more willing to share a campfire with those who think differently about wildlife conservation, focusing on common ground so future generations can enjoy a rich wildlife legacy.

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