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The Conservation Benefits of Hunting

The North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference is one of the most important conferences Conservation Force attends each year. It is the annual gathering of the professional management community responsible for stewardship of wildlife, fish and other natural resources at the state, provincial and federal levels in North America. The 66th program just held included more than five days and 150 meetings of committees, working groups, task forces and management teams gathered to address the issues, problems and continuing programs into the future.

This year there was a special two-part session to take an in-depth look at the Changing Role of Hunting in North American Conservation. The first session of the program dealt with the human value, motivation and the importance of hunting in human terms. The second part focused on the conservation value or benefits derived from hunting and hunters. A diverse array of practicing professionals from the US and Canada presented thoughtful, even provocative examinations of why more than 15 million licensed hunters hunt, what the role of hunting is in conservation and how it contributes other values to society. "Why We Hunt" was last addressed at the conference 42 years ago by Paul Shepard and others. His widow presented a paper at this program.

Today we know that the public perception of hunting and acceptance of hunting varies dramatically with what they perceive the motivations for hunting to be. The deep, complex, philosophical and personal motivation for hunting relates more with the value of hunting in human terms and more with what we are and what is important to our essence than with our normal preoccupation with the animals we hunt. Though both non-hunters and hunters themselves do not fully appreciate that hunting is the greatest generator of wildlife conservation, there is even less understanding of its importance and worth to humans for itself and what it uniquely provides to man himself.

Today it is the morality of hunting that is most under attack. At Conservation Force we believe that attack on hunters is immoral! We believe that there is a moral right to hunt within sustainable limits and that it is so important to man in human terms that it is deserving of protection on moral grounds. It is anti-social, offensive and immoral for anti-hunters to attack what is so unique and fundamentally valuable in human terms to the significant minority who hunt.

The speakers also described some of the human virtues nurtured by hunting. It furthers character virtues like self reliance, responsibility, competence, discipline and resolve. It employs and awakens our senses and our physical condition. As beings we are programmed or designed to be hunters. It is our essence. Hunting made us human. It has shaped our evolution and development. It is our "authenticity." (Paul Shepard) Hunting uniquely provides self actualization, completeness and expression which are complex, higher order needs deserving of protection. These are human needs higher on the needs scale than food, and security. It puts us in touch with our past and with ourselves. It is recreational only in that it is not commercial, but it is much more than just a recreational pursuit. If we were deprived of it, we would lose more than recreation. It is more than our heritage and culture, it is our essence.

Hunting and our prey made us what we are today. We are wired to hunt. It helped define who and what we are. A study by Jan Dizard demonstrates three of the values of hunting in human terms. (1) It is a form of historical re-enactment; (2) it embodies an honest relationship between humans and nature; and (3) it keeps alive the ideal of self-reliance, which is argued by some scholars to be the only distinctive American contribution to political philosophy. The historical re-enactment aspect is why hunting gives a hunter a deeper appreciation of the past. For example, many hunters feel a kinship to and respect for American Indians. To many, hunting is "like entering a time capsule" and puts us "in touch with a life" we dream about or a time we "imagine to have been simpler and somehow more virtuous." It is a relationship with nature that is uniquely honest. It brings us in contact with the natural world in the most natural way. It has a sacredness to those who hunt that will never end. That relationship teaches us basic truths of life and death while almost everything else in life masks reality and how life works, not just where our food comes from. While those who have illusions about nature evade responsibility and even acknowledgment of the life and death process, hunters "take personal responsibility for the conservation use they make of nature." Witness the enormity of our conservation system. Those who kill and eat what they harvest know a sense of self-sufficiency and more truthful worldview than those who evade the truth and delude themselves about their consumption and responsibility. Hunters embrace and celebrate the eating of the game they have shot. Non-hunters never experience this. It is symbolic of self-sufficiency and self-reliance while it is "an expression of a particular sense of self."

Delwin Benson and Daniel Decker used Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs Theory" to provide insight into why we hunt in contemporary times. That theory, or model, divides human needs into five elements as follows: (1) philosophical needs that are necessities like food and water; (2) safety and security needs to reduce risk; (3) love, belonging and affiliation need; (4) self-esteem, including identity recognition and achievement needs; (5) self-actualization. This model provides a new philosophical understanding of the relationship of human hunting behavior to levels of psychological needs. Each level can be treated as reasons, motivations or satisfactions sought, in short, why we do something. Hunting can and frequently does fulfill all five elements of the model of psychological need or motivation. For example, supplying game meat fulfills the physiological need for food, number one, but it also fulfills higher order needs including self-esteem from the achievement, recognition and sense of self reliance, number two, as well as need for affiliation when ceremoniously celebrating at the meat pot or at time of consumption, number three. (Incidentally, the estimated weight of game meat that is consumed in the US is 950 million pounds, which is the equivalent of two million beef cattle each year.) The human behaviorists are quick to point out that hunting is "distinct from other human behaviors in that it provides a direct link to the land, wild animals living on that land, and our North American history of human-nature interaction where other experiences may not." "Hunting is a unique form of expression within the function of humans who are truly part of nature "in an intimate and participatory way."

All five levels of the model can naturally be fulfilled by hunting, but "self actualization" holds the most fascination for me. The first four categories are considered "developmental" in the theory. They are "Becoming" stages compared to the final stage, self-actualization, when one arrives at the stage of "Being." One who reaches this stage is motivated to pursue activities that they find spiritually fulfilling. The reasons for hunting at this level are not experienced by everyone. It is the "complete" hunter. It is a higher level experience that follows from those below. It is "more abstract, spiritual, emotional and pluralistic," thus more difficult to describe in words. It may be a "temporary . . . state of being rather than the constant search for needs fulfillment." These hunters have "become." Self-actualizing people are more self-disciplined, authentic, and genuine than other people, according to Maslow. In these "psychologically healthy people he found duty and pleasure to be the same thing, as were work and play, self-interest and altruism, and individualism and selflessness." Hunting uniquely fulfills our highest order needs as well as our most basic needs. No single stereotypical hunter exists, for different hunters hunt for different reasons or needs.

There are other substitute means of achieving these human needs and satisfactions in life other than hunting, so why do we choose to fulfill these needs through hunting? There are multiple reasons including recreation, cultural roots, social experience, spiritual experience, heritage and self-identity. The common denominator is that "hunters have a psychological propensity for activities that provide a close tie with the life and death process of nature." It "allows some humans to be more than mere observers . . ." "Hunting allows entrance into nature again as participants . . ." which is man's true and most natural relationship. In a sense, hunters "take a life in order to be part of living." It is a cognitive experience and relationship that is unique while "a ritual that is probably an instinctive part of their (hunters) genetic wiring." Moreover, "Capacities of humans strain to be applied, developed and honed." Expression of capacities in humans is also a human need." Modern, regulated hunting helps us express our capacity to participate very constructively while it fulfills the "needs" to do so.

Urbanites who hunt big game are the largest pool of hunters today. My own thinking is that though the five levels of psychological needs can be filled in substitute activities in the city, urban hunters are beckoned to more richly experience life and the natural world in the most authentic and natural way. Some reach a temporary state of completeness, of being a healthy, whole man or woman because of self-actualization in its most original and authentic form. We were born to hunt. Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife management, liked to "arrive too early in the marsh" just for "an adventure in pure listening." He wrote that hunting "is not merely an acquired taste; the instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of game is bred into the very fiber of this race . . . the love of hunting is almost a physiological characteristic . . . We are dealing, therefore, with something that lies very deep. Some can live without opportunity for the exercise and control of the hunting instinct, just as I suppose some can live without work, play, love, business, or other vital adventure. But in these days we regard such deprivations as unsocial. Opportunity for exercise of all the normal instincts has come to be regarded more and more as an inalienable right." "[H]unting and fishing are an indispensable social resource of tremendous national value. . ." "Of course we hunters have always known this, but until recently we failed to tell the public."

Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote that "Hunting submerges man deliberately in that formidable mystery and therefore contains something of a religious rite and emotion in which homage is paid to what is divine, transcendent, in the laws of nature. It is a transcendent experience. We know the gathered as only those in the choir know it." This meshes well with President Teddy Roosevelt's statement that "We grieve only for what we know." "The erasure of (a species) is no cause for (real) grief if one knows it only as a name in a botany book."

The Second Session dealt with the conservation benefits of our hunting system. Hunting is a conservation generator that is both enormous and indispensable. We have been the caretakers of America's wildlife as long as man has accepted that responsibility. This is the value of hunting as a wildlife conservation tool, while the first session addressed the value of hunting as a human experience and need. Hunting serves both people and animals. Our system ensures it will do both perpetually. Hunters' responsibility for habitat protection was particularly enlightening. Hunters are largely responsible for the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System and have funded 69 percent of its 93 million acres. Ditto the 86.3 million acres of state wildlife management areas funded with license fees and Pittman-Robertson Act firearm and ammunition revenue. Sportsmen-sponsored Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has added another 35 million acres, and the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) has enrolled more than 912,000 acres of private lands mostly in permanent easements. These alone total more than 1.1 billion acres! These lands are twice the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service and National Park lands combined. Yet they do not begin to include most private hunting habitat, which has not been quantified. We do know that US hunters spent $923 million in 1996 on hunting leases alone. Our organizations also enhance habitat like Ducks Unlimited's restoration and enhancement of more than 10 million acres of wetlands, National Wild Turkey Federation's 2.22 million acres, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's 3 million acres, Quail Unlimited's 400,000 acres, Pheasant Forever's 2 million acres, and Ruffed Grousse Society's 450,000 acres.

The success of our wildlife conservation system is unprecedented. The very formation, structure and evolution of that system and modern wildlife agencies has arisen from hunting. Of course, hunting provides the largest source of revenue. Hunting and fishing license fees and excise taxes on firearms provide $2 billion a year in funding that is indispensable. Recent surveys show that influence has not diminished. The government receives another $1.4 billion (1996) in state income tax revenue and $1.7 billion in federal income tax. In 1996 (a new survey will be out next year), the federal income tax revenue alone was nearly twice the 1996 budgets of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Biological Service and National Park Service combined! (Rob Southwick of Southwick Associates and Melinda Gable of Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.) "The combination of hunters to wildlife agencies' conservation mission are long, wide and deep." No one has ever restored more wildlife. Hunters continue to be the force behind "the greatest environmental success story of the twentieth century," according to Valerious Geist and many scholars. Finally, Aldo Leopold's "land ethic" in A Sand County Almanac summed up the modern relevance of hunting. "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise."

back to The Role and Value of Hunting INDEX

The Legally Structured Role of Hunting and Fishing in the United States and Abroad
A Speech by John J. Jackson, III at the Fifth Annual Animal Law Institute, Texas Law Center, Austin, Texas, April 8, 2005


(John J. Jackson, III Note: The subject of "animal law" is broader than the subject of "animal rights", but it includes animal rights. Animal law is part of law school curriculum around the nation. A number of state bar associations have established "animal law" committees or sections. The American Bar Association has recently formed an Animal Law Section that is to soon have its first program in Chicago.

There are "animal law" courses at Yale, Harvard, University of Washington School of Law, Seattle University School of Law and Columbia. Those same university law schools also have separate "animal rights" courses as part of their curriculum. Whether part of an "animal law" course or a stand-alone course, I am sorry to say, animal rights as a legal concept continues to grow and take hold.

Inevitably, animal rights, cruelty and humane concerns are more likely to be discussed in "animal law" courses in law schools than in Animal Law Section programs of state bar associations. Livestock, farm animals, dangerous animals and pets are the most common topics before state bar association sections. For that reason, I accepted a recent invitation to make a presentation before the Texas Bar Association’s Fifth Annual Animal Law Program in Austin, Texas. Two of the other speakers were true animal rights lawyers from Washington State and Michigan, and the others were somewhere in between in philosophy. My own presentation served its intended purpose of giving the audience a better appreciation of the indispensable role of hunters and hunting, so I share it here. It is wise to recall that the whole wildlife system is also a system of laws that you ignore at your peril.

Most of the lawyers in the audience didn’t know and appreciate the importance of hunters and anglers. The faces in the audience reflected surprise that hunters and anglers pay more for non-game as well as biodiversity than all others in society combined. You will see that I repeated the point that 75 percent is 75 percent. After my presentation, some of the audience deducted that the annual killing of 8.9 billion animals on farms to feed America is the most heinous wrong; not the 140 million game animals that they allege are annually killed by US hunters. Virtually everyone in attendance was a vegetarian or vegan. No meat, chicken or fish was served at lunch.)

My presentation is not about livestock, farm animals or pets; it’s about the conservation and management of our wildlife and wild places. I am here to help complete the full spectrum of animal law issues.

In the 20th century, America’s wildlife system became the envy of the world. Commonly called the North American Wildlife Model, it has no equal today or in the history of the world. It is a user-pay system primarily funded by legally required hunting and fishing license fees, excise taxes on manufacturers of firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and motor-boat fuel taxes. The licensing and taxing of hunters and anglers provides an indispensable $3.8 billion dollars per year in revenue to fund approximately seventy-five percent of state wildlife conservation budgets. That percentage is why it is indispensable.

The system has been the "backbone" of America’s wildlife management and habitat success. (Director, USF&WS) It has restored America’s 230,000 wild sheep, 1 million black bear, 1 million pronghorn antelope, 1.2 million moose, 1.2 million Rocky Mountain elk, 6.4 million wild turkeys, 36 million whitetail deer and up to 105 million waterfowl. (America’s Abundant Game handout). It has also paid for the largest share of conservation of non-game species. Consequently, hunters and anglers have contributed more for wild non-game species than all others in society combined and continue to do so today. Yes, that naturally follows when seventy-five percent is paid by hunters and anglers. Seventy-five percent is seventy-five percent. Whether you like it or not, it is "thank you American sportsmen and sportswomen."

This government management infrastructure is reinforced by non-government sportsmen’s conservation organizations that also have no equal, such as Ducks Unlimited, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, Wild Turkey Federation, etc. America’s hunters and anglers pay for the law enforcement. They pay for the research. They pay for the management. They pay for the habitat. There are an estimated 147 million different hunters and anglers that lawfully hunt and/or fish every 3 years in the US. They pay everyone and are themselves paid by no one. They are the givers, not the takers.

This user-pay system is the wildlife conservation paradigm and the status quo in North America. It has been the primary force for more than 100 years. All other claims are fiction.

It may be useful to compare this user-pay, sustainable-use system with other legal wildlife regimes. The benefits of this system are easily contrasted with those such as in some South American countries, where all hunting is illegal under those legal regimes - i.e., in principle all is protected. There are no revenues from hunting, so there is little revenue for law enforcement beyond the borders of limited protected areas, less research, less management infrastructure, less management and less habitat. The wildlife is used anyway, but that use is not harnessed to serve, conserve and to protect. The wildlife is poached. It is a poaching paradigm. The potential resource of hunting and fishing is not harnessed by the legal system to provide revenue and conservation incentives or to build and maintain a wildlife management infrastructure. That system proves that if you leave your house empty, thieves will move in.

The popularity of big game hunting in America has grown at an incredible rate over the past 50 years. Basically, it has tracked the rebounding growth in big game animal populations. Big game hunting has never been more popular. (National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Related Recreation, 2001). Those hunters and fisherman have spilled over into foreign countries. Many of the conservation managers in developing nations have been trained right here in the US. They employ all that they have learned. They have learned to use licensed, regulated tourist hunting to conserve wildlife and biodiversity. Unlike resident hunting here in the US, tourist hunting is much higher in revenue, and lower in volume, with even lower biological impact.

Tourist hunting and fishing now provide the revenue means of local and national management authorities and the local and national incentives for wildlife and habitat conservation abroad. The various legal strategies are purposefully designed to use hunting for conservation or to provide conservation through hunting. Game species are hunted to conserve them.

The role that sustainable use can have in conservation has been recognized and adopted as policy in the Resolutions of IUCN’s Second (CGR2. Res. 2.29) and Third World Congresses (CGR3. Res. 073). It’s embodied in most of the provisions of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), including the CBD adoption of the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines of Sustainable Use (Decision VII/12 - Article 10) and also in the CITES decision (COP 13) to utilize the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines as guidance in CITES own work.

The Convention in Trade of Endangered Species, CITES, recognizes the special role that recreational hunting and fishing can play by giving such trade in wildlife favored treatment. CITES prohibits all commercial trade of species listed on Appendix I, but not hunting and fishing trophies. Those trophies are taken for personal use, not commercial trade. The underlying activity is licensed, regulated hunting, not poaching. As early as the Second Conference of the Parties, COP 2, a resolution was adopted by the Parties, Resolution 2.11, that expressly favors trade in personal tourist hunting trophies. It was revised as recently as the 9th Conference, COP 9, Resolution 2.11 (rev.), to further facilitate and remove unnecessary impediments to the export and import of hunting trophies of Appendix "I" listed species. Importing countries are requested by CITES to accept the export countries’ hunting trophies and related biological and management-related decisions.

The required "non-detriment" determinations for trade in hunting trophies of Appendix "I" species still have to be made by exporting and importing countries, but that too has been facilitated by the development of quotas set by the Parties at the conferences. Quotas dispense with the need to make non-detriment findings on a case-by-case basis. The first such quota was for leopard, reflected in the current Resolution 10.14. The leopard quota permitted tourist hunters to bring their trophies home. It converted what was perceived to be a vermin to a game animal. Leopard that would inevitably have been shot, poisoned or snared became trophies and hence one of the building blocks of the conservation infrastructure of those developing nations. The quota favored the limited, licensed regulated tourist hunting of leopards and turned that species from a liability into an asset that paid for its conservation and the conservation of other species as well. Normally, the hunting includes not just the leopard (a spotted cat that can reproduce like a rabbit) but also license fees for the many animals taken for bait that are very plentiful, minimum number of hunting days and other legal requirements that support the conservation infrastructure.

Similar quotas have been established by the Parties with the underlying recognition of the benefits that can arise from the sustainable use of species, particularly game species. Other quotas, decisions, annotations and provisions have been established for Nile Crocodile, Cheetah (COP 8), Markhor (Res. 10.15), White Rhino and Elephant (Res. 10.10). Hunting trophy quotas have been accepted and set when the population of the affected species have been less than 2,000, as in the case of the Markhor in Pakistan’s Targhor region. Such quotas have had remarkably positive conservation consequences. As Aldo Leopold said, "We have learned that it is necessary to positively produce as well as negatively protect if we are to successfully conserve wildlife".

The licensed, regulated trophy hunting of white rhino listed on Appendix I has generated tens of millions of dollars. When the hunting began, there were fewer than 2,000 white rhino in existence. The white rhino population has grown more than seven-fold since that time. The revenue from the tourist hunting has provided the means to save the rhino and the motive as well. White Rhino have been hunted to conserve them. The management regime has been strategically designed to conserve wildlife through its use.

Now, the critically endangered black rhino has reached the population level of a few thousand, just as the white rhino had decades ago. At the last CITES Conference in Bangkok, COP 13, the 167 Parties to CITES adopted a trophy hunting quota for black rhino (Resolution 13.5). Quotas of five for Namibia and five for the Republic of South Africa were established. As a game animal, that rhino species has an edge on its own survival - i.e., a highly regulated second chance. The quota is intended to capitalize on that contemporary conservation strategy. As one African official recently told me: "I am not a hunter myself. We do this to save our wildlife and biodiversity." They hunt them to save them.

It remains to be seen if the black rhino can benefit from tourist hunting as the White Rhino and other species have. Why? Unlike the white rhino, the black rhino is listed on the US Endangered Species list as "endangered," not just CITES Appendix I. This poses an additional regulatory impasse to their conservation use.

The USF&WS has had regulatory authority to permit importation of species listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act from the inception of the Act, but has had a practice not to grant such permit applications. The Service’s practice has been contrary to the American conservation experience and directly conflicts with modern sustainable-use principles. It’s been a diplomatic insult to developing nations and has obstructed those countries’ most earnest efforts to use licensed, regulated, limited hunting where it can do the greatest good. In the past, the Service has permitted the import of trophies of "endangered" bontebok taken in South Africa’s programs on the basis they were captive-bred and the hunting activity "enhanced" the survival of the population in the wild. That, in fact, has provided the necessary revenue for game farmers to maintain their bontebok populations, the incentive to positively produce them and a constructive means of husbandry and control.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) has also permitted the taking of ESA-listed "endangered" exotic species in Texas when a share of the revenue has been directed back to the species’ country of origin to enhance the species recovery or restoration in the wild. As a practical husbandry and management necessity, surplus animals have to be controlled. Those permitted hunters from the US do indeed provide the primary conservation revenue in India, Laos, Cambodia and other distant countries for endangered species such as barasingha, Eld’s Deer and Arabian oryx. Hunting those listed species right here in Texas is funding most of the conservation effort directed toward them. That is another statutory and regulatory success arising from wise use.

At last, the USF&WS has noticed in the Federal Register a proposed change in practice to permit importation of trophies of game species listed as "endangered" (Draft Policy for Enhancement of Survival Permits for Foreign Species Listed under the Endangered Species Act, 68 FR 49512, August 18, 2003). The purpose is to give those game species the advantage they should enjoy as game species but only in very select cases where the range nation has a comprehensive program that is dependent upon trophy hunting and the hunting is a net benefit to the species’ survival or restoration. If fully put into practice, this will allow the American hunting community (both hunters and their conservation organizations) to show once again what sustainable use can do. The very possibility has already been the driving force underlying the conservation advances of species such as the black rhino. Unfortunately, to this date, the Service’s permitting practices have denied foreign game species listed as "endangered" their greatest means and hope of survival.

In summary, hunting and fishing are more than important recreational activities. Hunting and fishing programs have been crafted and designed to propagate game and non-game species. Whether abundant or endangered, smartly crafted programs can serve and save our wildlife around the world.



Hunting Ethically for Conservation African Professional Hunters Association

It is generally accepted that the main cause for the decline of wildlife populations is due to a loss of habitat; generally caused by human encroachment. Hunting Safari operators are key in combating this issue through various means including anti-poaching, educating the community on the benefits of conservation and in particular sustainable harvesting. The very presence of hunters is a huge deterrent
to poachers, cattle herders and illegal loggers. It may come as a surprise to the couch conservationist but the revenue generated by hunting plays a crucial role in protecting rhino, lion, elephant and their supporting habitats through the payment of trophy fees, concession fees and various license fees. A large amount of this revenue supplements much needed income to the wildlife divisions, who are also in
desperate need of funds to complete their daily activities.

It is a known fact that unutilized areas often become over run with cattle and farms, it is human nature to take over something that is not used. Many areas are not viable for non-consumptive tourism such as photographic safaris; however, in most cases hunting companies are able to play a key role in sustaining the viability of these remote areas as tourist destinations. It has been proven that professional hunting is beneficial to conservation; hunters need the wildlife to make their living and the healthier the wildlife
populations in his concession the more successful he will be. However, having said this, we acknowledge that not all hunters keep sustainability in mind when hunting. Hunting clubs, organizations and associations have a duty to ensure that ethical and sustainable hunting is practiced within the industry by enforcing stricter criteria for those who represent the hunting industry. These organizations and associations should also enforce harsher penalties for those who tarnish the industry with unethical practices. The members of APHA believe in ethical hunting practices including the practise of fair chase, whereby the animal has a reasonable chance of escape. 

Those who are against hunting often condemn the practice without considering its benefits to the environment, wildlife and rural communities. They simply cannot get past the notion of the killing of animals and are therefore unable or refuse to see the bigger picture. If hunting were to cease many wildlife areas would be left unmanaged, unutilized and open to human encroachment, spelling the end of the very wildlife conservationists think they are saving when they call for a hunting ban. Ethical hunting allows for a stronger, healthier generation of animals to flourish by taking out the old and making way
for the young. Healthy repopulation of wildlife and habitat protection is what every conservationist should strive for; conservation is a science and should be conducted rationally and not emotionally.

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