November 29, 2023

Progressive Approaches Toward Hunting That Will Destroy The Future Of Hunting In America

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Another op-ed appears this morning in the Maine newspaper Bangor Daily News. The writer, Geoffrey Wingard, while chastising V. Paul Reynolds, a previous op-ed writer and Editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal for expressing concern over Maine losing valuable hunting lands, also espouses the notion of a progressive approach to dealing with the future of hunting in Maine and the rest of America.

His belief is that hunters should be spending more time and effort working to conserve more land, to protect it from development, logging and urban sprawl. He also explains how the make-up of the average hunter has changed over the past few decades.

However hunters today, in Maine and across the country, are not the same people who took to the woods a generation ago. Hunters as a group are more conservation-minded than ever before. Those who have become hunters in the past three decades are also more likely to be college graduates than in the past and women comprise a larger segment of the hunting population than ever. This is a continuation of a national tend that was initially documented by Stephen Kellert, a researcher who published one of the first surveys of hunters’ motivations and ethics at the 43rd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in 1978. Kellert concluded that nearly 18 percent of all hunters at that time were “nature hunters,” men and women who were motivated to hunt by a desire to experience a connection to the natural world through ethical sporting. In the nearly 30 years since Kellert published his findings, the number of nature hunters has grown to levels approximating those of trophy hunters and table hunters while the number of weekend warrior, so-called slob-hunters, has thankfully decreased.

Wingard sees this as a positive thing and believes it is the future to save the sport of hunting.

This is a positive trend for the sport of hunting and for those among us who are concerned about the future acceptance and re-popularization of America’s sporting traditions. Those who choose to hunt today, who devote significant time and resources to the perfection and preservation of their sport, are more invested in conserving the resource than ever. It is critical that this trend continues because land ownership and access patterns in rural America have changed drastically in the past decade.

The difficulty I have in swallowing Wingard’s ideology begins when he further talks of how his plan of conserving the land for he and his fellow “conservation” minded hunters will come about.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Maine’s North Woods. While Mr. Reynolds’ commentary cites the bogeymen of the Appalachian Mountain Club and environmentalist Roxanne Quimby, a much bigger threat to Maine’s hunting tradition is posed by sprawl and subdivision carried out under the direction of the forest products industry, not protection of Maine’s wildlands.

In fact, most lands protected in Maine by conservation easements, through the work of environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and managed by sporting groups like Ducks Unlimited are open for hunting. In the face of industry sponsored subdivision and sprawl, Maine’s sporting population desperately needs more national wildlife refuge land, more conservation acreage and more lands that are maintained in near pristine conditions, not less.

Some of the fastest growing hunting constituencies in the country today support groups such as the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, the American Hunters and Shooters Association and the Izaac Walton League of America. The days when Maine’s sportsmen could look at industrial forest use as a white-hat industry and vilify environmentalists as black-hat bad guys are long gone.

It is mind boggling that a person who claims to have an interest in preserving hunting for his children can find acts of land preservation that virtually restricts any access to it for recreation, a good thing. How does closing more lands protect the future of hunting? When one reaches the point where they declare that the major landowners, who have unselfishly kept their lands open to recreation are the bad guys, things have gone a bit too far.

Wingard then goes on to present groups such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Association, American Hunters and Shooters Association and the Izaak Walton League of America as examples of organizations that will ensure the future of hunting. All of these organizations, each with their own agendas, are not all-inclusive in their attitudes toward others. I would have to say that I cannot agree that these groups will be the total future of our sport. They represent the beliefs of some and will never reflect everyone’s. Why is it that we need to be so exclusive? Can there be no respect for other’s convictions?

While I agree with Wingard’s assessment of the decline in hunting numbers, what he doesn’t point out is that one of the biggest reasons is lack of access. We are quick to blame computers and video games for the decline in new young hunters. While I agree it plays a role, we don’t realize that when the dad’s give up hunting because they have no place left to go, what is the incentive for them to take their children hunting? When one puts their faith in groups and organizations that believe that the future of hunting is in preservation of lands that are closed to hunting, I’m afraid there can’t be much future.

What is also a part of the progressive attitude as shown by many of these so-called conservation groups, is their attitude that they can dictate to landowners, and in this case lumbering companies, what they can and can’t do with their land. Finding small parcels of land here and there and creating conservation easements is the first step to the eventual shut down of the land by groups who believe that their form of recreation is better and more important than someone else’s.

The future of Maine and many other states will begin looking just like traveling around the countryside where homes and dwellings exist today. Every parcel of land, no matter its size, will be posted, no trespassing. This ill will is what makes up the progressive preservationist. One group after another, after another, will buy up a piece of land for their own personal selfish agendas and close it to the rest. Hikers will have exclusive access to their private trails, hunters to their private clubs and lands, snowmobilers, etc. etc. This is what the future looks like when our efforts should go toward finding ways to encourage land owners to keep their land open to all. Should we give up the millions of acres now owned by the “bad guys” and settle for a few thousand, not all of which will include everyone?

I agree with Wingard, that sprawl is a problem but the same groups working to “protect” lands also don’t want any development. There has to be a balance. The conservationists demand that every new house or development create and/or leave “greenspace”. This in itself has created a terrible situation for chewing up land and encroaching on wild lands. Maine and other states can’t be shut down and made into fantasy wilderness lands to amuse a few who believe that because they may see themselves as the majority they now have the right to shut other, less significant users out. That’s not the America I grew up in.

It is my hope to hunt and fish Maine’s woods and waters with my children for many years to come — I have more faith that I’ll be able to do that with sound environmental management (including protected wildlands reservoirs) than if we allow the commercial managers of Maine’s forests to determine the fate of Maine’s sporting traditions.

So we are now led to believe that the commercial managers of Maine’s forests, the ones who for decades have left their lands open to everyone interested in an outdoor outing, are the bad guys and people like Roxanne Quimby and other preservationist, are the future of hunting?

This progressive approach will only serve to play into the hands of those who want to see many kinds of recreation excluded from their elite little clubs, not just hunting.

Tom Remington