Is it better to “preserve” wildlife and their habitats or to “conserve” them? The terms preservation and conservation are often used interchangeably in the mainstream media, but the two words represent very different concepts and translate into radically different realities on the ground. Safari Club International (SCI) advocates for the rights of hunters and their leading role in conservation across the globe, although many wrongly view hunting as antithetical to conservation. This idea is mistaking conservation and sustainable use for preservation.
Conservation is a species and ecosystem protection method made possible by sustainable use, active management, and revenue generation. On the other hand, preservation means total protection and minimized use of nature and resources. While it certainly has its idyllic attraction, preservation is unrealistic and impossible to implement. Our planet has a steadily growing human population, and it is important to ensure the coexistence of humans and wildlife for future generations. Sustainable use of wildlife and nature provides the best, most realistic method to sustain both human and animal life. Unfortunately, far too many confuse conservation and preservation, including misguided activists who fight for preservation and the total exclusion of humans from participation in nature, starting with hunters.
The United States depends on the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation for the conservation of species and habitat across the country. Key to this model are two guiding principles. First, that fish and wildlife populations belong to all Americans. Second, that they be managed for generations to come by using the best available science. This direction originates from the conservation ideology of Theodore Roosevelt to both protect and enjoy the outdoors.
Dollars generated from participation in the outdoors, such as park and camping fees, hunting licenses, and ammunition taxes, help fund the conservation of both habitats and the species which rely on those habitats. Yet, it is no accident that most of these funds come from hunters and directly provide for conservation. Should this method be abandoned for a hands-off, preservationist approach? If so, the incentive structure of conservation and hunting would be eliminated. Without public participation, revenues for habitat would shrink and lands currently used for conservation purposes could easily be converted to other uses such as agriculture, natural resource extraction, or development. The total preservation of nature is a completely unsustainable model.
The preservationist view is frequently employed by animal rights groups, which routinely capitalize on emotions surrounding charismatic species. Rather than work with hunters to conserve charismatic or keystone species, animal rights groups frame hunters as destroyers of nature. This preservationist ideology can be applied to nature as a whole or individual species, and while photos of cute animals may generate funds for that specific animal, they are far from enough to protect an entire ecosystem. Other species, which share the same habitats, are neglected. In contrast, hunting benefits wildlife and habitats as a complete picture.
In addition to providing the revenues for conservation, hunters participate in active management of species, helping to ensure that their populations remain stable and healthy in the ecosystem and in local communities. This approach has an umbrella effect, protecting the game species as well as their habitats and all species within said habitats. This approach effectively promotes biodiversity.
The most well-known example of hunting as a conservation and management tool in the United States is the whitetail deer, which has grown from a population of 500,000 in the early 1900s to over 32,000,000 today. Hunters play an active role every year in maintaining healthy deer populations for the ecosystems in which they live and the deer themselves. Without hunting, deer numbers would quickly surge to unsustainable levels. The deer would strip their habitats of food sources, and disease and death would soon follow. The health of other species would suffer as well as they share the ecosystem and depend on the same resources.
This same “conserve” versus “preserve” debate is being had around the world, especially in Africa. Preservation without hunting is detrimental to both rural Africans and African wildlife as it exacerbates human-wildlife conflict, includes no management, and provides less funding for wildlife and habitat. For example, elephants require management strategies, much like species in America, but because of their charisma, they are prime propaganda pieces for preservationists. Preservationist thinking from non- African countries can and often does severely hamper proven conservation strategies and infringes on the right of sovereign nations to manage their wildlife.
While there are many ways to acquire funds for conservation (a costly undertaking) through non- consumptive use, such as photographic safaris, hunting remains the best generator of conservation funding in the United States, Africa, and around the world. Since the passage of the federal Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937, firearm and ammunition manufacturers have paid a 10%-11% tax on the production of firearms, ammunition, and other sporting equipment. This tax created the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund. These tax monies are then redistributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to individual states for conservation initiatives and projects, resulting in countless contributions to public lands. In America, the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund has generated over $14.1 billion in lifetime tax contributions directed to wildlife conservation projects and programs across the nation. This is a massive number with extraordinary results for species. This tax, by the way, applies to all firearms and ammunition, regardless of use, meaning contributions to conservation come from hunting and shooting sports alike. State game agencies apply for Pittman-Robertson monies for various conservation projects and add their own matching funds. In this way, the Pittman-Robertson monies have a multiplier effect for conservation.
Groups like SCI also contribute directly to conservation in the United States and other countries. The leader in hunting and conservation advocacy, SCI works to advance pro-hunting and pro- conservation policy in state, federal, and international legislatures. This includes fighting against international hunting import bans, advancing hunting access expansion in U.S. state and federal policy, and defending hunting rights in court, just to name a few.
The Conservation Department at SCI Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, partners with academic institutions, community-based support organizations, and conservation non-governmental organizations to complete wildlife research and management projects worldwide. Since 2000, the SCI Foundation has contributed over $70 million in hunter dollars to work on over 100 conservation projects in 30 countries. SCI staff, local chapters, and volunteers spend countless hours working to improve habitats across the globe. Hunters care about conservation more than anyone, and their efforts result in healthy ecosystems, successful anti-poaching efforts, and successful wildlife populations.
Conservation strategies require participation and management, and this involvement leads to positive, sustainable results for habitat and numerous wildlife species. Hunting for African species, for example, makes those species valuable to local communities, encouraging these communities to adopt conservation practices to bring in more hunting and more conservation, and, in the process, more local economic development. With anti-hunting and anti-Second Amendment opinions on the rise, it is more important now than ever to remember the contributions of the firearm industry and hunters to wildlife conservation in this country and abroad.
Preservation of wildlife, without management by hunters and other participation, brings in zero revenues or benefits to communities. The reality is that humans and wildlife must coexist, and conservation, not preservation, makes this coexistence possible. SCI will always stand for the rights of hunters and will continue to promote hunting as a key tool for sustainable conservation.