Despite its social controversy, hunting is an important tool for managing our wildlife populations and conserving our resources for generations to come.
I recently decided that I would take the Hunter-Trapper Education course. This certifies that I’m eligible to buy a hunting license anywhere in North America, and I could not purchase a license without it. The course is available in two different ways: an 8-hour day, or two 4-hour days. It requires that you read and study four chapters of the Hunter & Trapper guide book prior to showing up and then spends the day teaching the essentials. The focus of the day is not the kill, but the preparation, the practice, and the culture of hunting and trapping.
About 10% of America’s population hunts, 80% are indifferent to hunting, and 10% are anti-hunting. What many people do not know is that many conservation organizations are run or supported by hunters. In order to sustain any type of hunting or trapping, one needs to understand the importance of maintaining a sustainable population.
This article will focus on the environmental importance of hunting as a conservation and wildlife management tool that is essential for population renewal and persistence. Conservation refers to the wise use of natural and renewable resources without wasting them and allowing them to continue to renew themselves.
“In order to sustain any type of hunting or trapping, one needs to understand the importance of maintaining a sustainable population.”
An area of conservation is wildlife management. Wildlife management in urban, suburban and wildlife environments consists of two separate issues: limiting human-wildlife conflict and maintaining biodiversity. To accomplish the latter, urban wildlife management focuses its concern on conserving wildlife habitat in cities or creating quasi-habitats to ensure biodiversity.
Wildlife management is a constant balancing act. Too many individuals of a single species within a specific population cause problems with other species and habitats surrounding it. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are thought of as a keystone herbivore, or a species with a large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. This means they are able to influence an area and its biodiversity just by population size. If a white-tailed deer population is extremely overpopulated, the deer will continue to consume the vegetation until it alters the plants successional patterns or rate of return. Consequently, this will harm other species in that area and the ecosystem as a whole.
Ultimately, an overpopulation of white-tailed deer will cause a decrease in resources, a decrease in other species and biodiversity, poor nutrition (causing starvation and disease), an increase in large predators, extreme degradation to surrounding vegetation and many deer-related human fatalities and injuries.
Understanding the impact of white-tailed deer overpopulation and its management can help make urban and rural wildlife conservation possible. There are two important concepts here: biological carrying capacity and social carrying capacity. Biological carrying capacity refers to the maximum amount of individuals within a certain species in a certain population that can be maintained within the constraints of the available resources. This generally differs from social carrying capacity, which refers to the amount of individuals of a species humans are willing to deal with. This will differ based on the perceptions of the species at stake. Generally, people are more willing to accept higher numbers of large herbivores than large carnivores. This is because of both safety and competition. Wildlife management focuses on finding a balance between both social and biological carrying capacity.
Historically, America was blessed with wildlife abundance and high biological carrying capacities. Before Europeans began arriving in the Americas, native populations were the only humans to need the land. Most cultures, living from paycheck-to-paycheck in the form of hunts or harvests, understood that waste or excess was unacceptable. This was their culture, their spirituality, and their way of life. It also was an efficient and sustainable population management practice of the ecosystem by maintaining the population size.
“Historically, most cultures…understood that waste or excess was unacceptable. This was their culture, their spirituality, and their way of life.”
Unfortunately, the early Europeans and soon-to-be Americans did not keep up this practice. The settlers found something they had never seen before – an enormous amount of wildlife. This became known as the Era of Abundance, 1500-1849. The herds of buffalo were in the thousands, waterfowl in the millions and an equally proportionate amount of predators. America was alluring in ever way possible. It represented freedom, beauty, and abundance and it was unlike anything else. The response was the Era of Exploitation, 1850-1899.
The impacts were not good. Without laws or restrictions, hunters and trappers were taking animals with no end in sight. Thousands of animals were taken to sell in what had become a huge wildlife market. Wildlife was sold for meat, fur, hides, feathers, decoration, and trading. By the 1800s, with the added habitat loss from rapid settlement and expansion, populations once large were vanishing and people were noticing.
Forty years of exploitation took a huge toll of the ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural balance of United States’ habitats. With the observations of Henry Thureau and the teachings of Aldo Leopold, we changed as a country. The result was regulation and law keeping hunters in check, land preserved, and wildlife populations at biologically secure levels.
Today, we take pride in our ability to understand and maintain our wildlife populations effectively and efficiently. As a culture, hunting has also changed. Hunters no longer kill just for the kill or take more than they need. Through generations of wildlife enthusiasts, hunters and trappers have been trained to not only take the shot when the time is perfectly right but to make sure no life is wasted. Hunters and trappers see the beauty in nature and understand the natural aspect of hunting for their meals. Meat is either used to feed their families or is donated to food banks to help those who can’t help themselves such as Hunters Sharing The Harvest.
“Today, we take pride in our ability to understand and maintain our wildlife populations effectively and efficiently.”
If there is one thing that the hunter safety course emphasized was the importance of the animals lives and how they related to ours. We are not the all-powerful being we like to believe we are. And as such, we need to respect the wildlife we have been given. Hunters believe in fair chase (hunting only when the animal has the ability to escape) and to never waste a life.
Hunting is one aspect that allows our wildlife populations to remain at safe levels for them. Because of increasing human populations and needs, wildlife populations are also growing at an uncontrollable rate given the resources that are available to them. The idea is to understand human and environmental needs to be intertwining. We need each other. It is more than keeping our planet beautiful and our animals happy. It is about efficiency and sustainability by keeping our planet usable and abundant for generations to come. Keeping populations in check prevents them from destroying the resources required by them, other species, and ourselves.
Wildlife management is just one example proving that conserving our resources (using them in a way that allows them to renew themselves) is the way to keep moving forward for generations to come. Hunting, with properly educated hunters and trappers and correct regulations, is an effective and ethical choice to maintain our resources and keep wildlife safe.Feature Image: Majestic Reflections Alaska. Image via Flickr.