In the world of the great outdoors, the word conservation is a daily part of the conversation. Ask someone to define it, though, and the words “saving” and “protecting” seem to be immediate responses.
There is, however, a widely recognized definition of the word “conservation.” It dates back to the early 1900s. It was then that Gifford Pinchot, U.S. Forest Service chief, wrote that conservation is the “wise use of the Earth and its resources for the lasting good of men,” the ultimate purpose being to provide “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.” To accomplish this brings into play the use of sound science.
Many wildlife conservationists are disciples of Pinchot’s philosophy, and hunters and anglers have historically been at the forefront of supporting “natural resource management.” More than a century later, the legacy of these people endures. Because of their efforts and leadership, various state agencies were born in the U.S. for the express purpose of managing the “nation’s fish and wildlife and to adopt laws and create programs to conserve these public-trust resources.”
The American System of Conservation Funding generated a key initiative when the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs were developed. Via these “unique ‘user-pays, public-benefits’ system, sportsmen and women are the primary funders of wildlife conservation, providing up to 80 percent of the funding for state fish and wildlife agencies.” Financial support is further generated by “the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and permits, duck stamps, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, philanthropy, and the creation of organizations whose sole mission is the restoration and enhancement of wildlife.”
There’s another side to the conservation movement that should be noted. The efforts of hunters and anglers often go unnoticed by mainstream America. Instead, the media is often a distraction with its generalized use of the term “conservationist.” The news often centers on animal rights and anti-hunting movements where funds are “spent primarily on litigating resource management decisions and those that promote a preservationist ‘don’t touch’ philosophy in wildlife management.”
What should not be lost in the translation is the fact that “hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping are closely related to fish and wildlife conservation.” For example, one of the key messages stated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is that “hunting is conservation.” This “accurately characterizes the relationship between sportsmen and women and our nation’s natural resources.”
It cannot be denied that hunters and anglers have been instrumental in creating the term “conservationist.” It is now their mission to educate at every opportunity their fellow Americans and the media as to what conservationists truly are and what role they play in preserving wildlife and their habitat.