Shane Mahoney ponders how hunters can maintain their conservation leadership role in the twenty-first century
Shane P. Mahoney
The late nineteenth century witnessed a transformation in how we in North America viewed and cared for wildlife, and since that time, the hunter-conservationist movement has provided critical leadership for what is now a global phenomenon. It must be hunters who point out that this complex of viewpoints created a revolution in how we cared for wildlife and set forth a movement sufficiently relevant that it could be embraced by all of North American society, not just hunters, who then, as now, were in the minority.
Our North American system of conservation rests fundamentally upon the principle that wildlife belongs to the public collectively and is managed by the state, providence or nation for the collective good. The critical issue within the Public Trust arrangmement is that the use of wildlife by one citizen should not be unfairly advantageous to the individual or disadvantageous to the public at large. However, the issue is anything but simple when private properties are involved.
Wolves have figured prominently in the lives and the imaginations of men seemingly forever. In both the Great Lakes region and the Northern Rocky Mountains, wolves have been increasing in numbers and expanding their range. Maintaining the big carnivores has been one of the great achievements of North America's hunter-led conservation movement. There will need to be a balancing act to maintain some equilibrium between wolf numbers and the prey that both wolves and men seek. Hunters must be the champion of the wolf, the champion of the elk and the champion of sustainable use for them all.
The great transformation that marked the rise of conservationist thinking in North America was fashioned by individuals who cared deeply about the natural resources of their sovereign countries, Canada and the United States. Their efforts, launched against improbable odds, led to the system of laws, policies and conventions and institutions we recognize today as the North American System (Model) of Wildlife Conservation. From the beginning it was joined by a much wider coalition of interests that included legions of non-hunters as well.
Rhino horn is now worth more than cocaine or gold. A single horn can sell for half a million dollars if delivered to the right customers - usually in Southeast Asia, though increasing to a wider range of countries. Not surprisingly, the illegal killing of these animals has escalated ferociously in the last number of years, and horrific images of the great brutes disfigured by chain saws now appear frequently in news reports. The ongoing slaughter has raised the question as to whether or not legalizing the horn trade is the answer.
The most recent surveys of public attitudes towards regulated hunting in the United States indicate that over 75% of those responding support this activity. This is a phenomenal statistic, given the controversy that has surrounded hunting in the last 30 years and more.
In the area of natural history, Theodore Roosevelt was beyond question the most learned of American presidents (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson), and with respect to enacting policies for the protection of wildlife and their habitats, he remains indisputably the greatest. His tenure marked a crucial turning point for wildlife in North America, launching a crusade on behalf of the wild that was as remarkable as it was unexpected.
Past conservation leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, Gorden Hewitt and Sir Wilfred Laurier were able to see so clearly the problems of excessive natural resource use. As part of this greatest time in conservation, the issue of conservation was made salient to the public. However, we no longer strive for the hearts of our nations' public and rather focus upon membership rosters and obtaining political influence. Therefore, it is necessary to engage the public on hunting and more generally on conservation.
In this third and final essay in the series on the importance of public dialogue, the author suggests that a powerful wind of change is sweeping across the conservation landscape. He argues that for the 21st Century, building a formidable inclusive coalition is the only way to conserve wildlife and to maintain hunting as a vital force in our society. Building such a coalition will require bold new leadership that engages the general public and reaches across the conservation aisle.