By Rich Landers
The accompanying commentary by Paul Lindholdt deserves kudos from sportsmen for pointing out the distinction between “hunters” who abide by laws and accepted ethics, and the “shooters” he defines as the ilk that drove him out of the sport.
However, I take exception to the contention that retiring his gun and becoming a nonhunter is a step toward higher ground.
As an outdoors writer, I don’t ignore the bad apples who poach, litter, vandalize and commit other crimes against nature. But I keep them in perspective.
The majority of sportsmen pay the way for wildlife conservation while being the foot soldiers who combat poaching.
Birdwatchers, backpackers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts haven’t even offered chump change in comparison.
Hunters and anglers, the so-called “consumptive users” of wildlife – I prefer to call them “sustainable users” – provided 57 percent of Idaho Fish and Game’s $92 million budget in the 2012 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the state income tax “bluebird box” checkoff – an incredibly convenient way for nonhunters to donate to nongame wildlife programs – generated only $33,000.
Lindholdt cites the decline in the number of hunters as a sign that more people consider hunting to be unsavory.
But the reasons for fewer hunters have much more to do with the “nature deficit syndrome” and busy schedules that plague our society as well as the decline of access to hunting grounds.
A recent Fish and Game survey found that 93 percent of Idahoans value the right to hunt while only 11 percent of the citizens hold hunting licenses year to year.
This gradual decline of hunting is a tragedy for wildlife conservation, not a triumph.
When legislation for conservation taxes on backpacks, bird seed and other equipment has been introduced, it’s been opposed by user and industry groups alike.
Sportsmen, on the other hand, saw the need for dedicated funding for wildlife conservation and access long ago and demanded to be taxed.
The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs have generated a total of more than $15 billion for conservation, research, access and education since their inception in 1937. The money comes from excise taxes on guns, ammo, bows, arrows and fishing-related gear.
That doesn’t include the licenses sportsmen buy to pay the bills for wildlife biologists, habitat, management and fish and wildlife law enforcement.
Many hunters also go beyond their required fees and contribute to conservation groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which has protected and enhanced more than 6.4 millions of acres wildlife habitat since it was founded in 1984.
Hunters financed the bulk of the National Wildlife Refuge System, knowing that the vast majority of it would be off-limits to hunting.
Hunters willingly pay more fees and are governed by more regulations than any group that professes to appreciate wildlife.
And they play equally important roles just by being out there.
Lindholdt points out my recent column that dealt with poaching and the need for more enforcement. The larger part of that story was the bravery of the hunter who put himself at risk to help wildlife police catch and convict a poacher. The violator was fined $6,000 that will come back to fund more wildlife enforcement.
Hunters join rural landowners as the best helpers law enforcement have in curbing wildlife crime.
Another thanks goes to Mr. Lindholdt for supporting his son’s decision to enroll in a hunter education course, even if it “wings some hearts” in the family.
If they proceed to buy licenses, duck stamps and hunting gear – pick up litter, follow ethics and laws and report any poaching activity they see – the Lindholdts will be making contributions far more valuable to wildlife than nonhunter philosophy.