Access to wildlife is a true privilege
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- The first settlers of North America did not realize all that they were going to find in the New World.
When European settlers came to North American, they wanted things to be different in their new country. History books tell us the promise of religious freedom, cheap land and economic opportunities gave them courage to make the long, dangerous and expensive trip.
A lesser-known benefit of the new land was access to wildlife. In Europe, wildlife belonged to kings and local rulers. Only the very wealthy could hunt. Most people could not use wildlife, even if they needed food or clothing. So, when the colonists set up a new government, they changed the old rules related to wildlife.
Because of laws made in the early 1700s and 1800s, wildlife belongs to the people of the United States. This means wildlife conservation must consider the wants and needs of all citizens, not just the wealthy or powerful. It also means public agencies are responsible for the nation’s wildlife management and protection.
Wildlife conservation takes money, whether it is to buy wild lands, pay biologists and game wardens, or support research and management. Where does this money come from?
In the early days, hunters and fishermen worked to establish laws requiring licenses to hunt or fish. Proceeds from license sales go to support wildlife and fish management. In 1937 and 1950, the federal government passed two acts that created more conservation funding through taxes on ammunition, sporting goods and boat fuel. Funds from licenses and excise taxes supported the restoration of many game species like deer and turkey that were on the verge of local extinction.
Today, we also have agencies that work to safeguard our scenic treasures, protect endangered and migratory wildlife species, conserve national forests and grasslands, and keep our water and air clean. As a nation, we were the first in the world to agree to set aside land in the public domain in perpetuity through our national parks, thus ensuring some wildlife will have places to live. Federal appropriations to agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management keep wild animals a part of our national heritage.
Nonprofit organizations contribute millions of dollars each year to habitat and wildlife conservation. The Nature Conservancy tops a list that also includes Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever and others.
Wildlife agencies generally do their best to manage a multitude of species. But they generally have very limited funds available to all that needs to be done.
All of us need to support legislation that funds wildlife conservation. A few states have passed initiatives that dedicate small percentages of their general tax revenues to wildlife management. Efforts to approve excise taxes on binoculars, field guides, camping gear, wildlife feeders and feed, and similar items could have generated millions of dollars for conservation, but these initiatives have failed.
Purchase a hunting and fishing license and a duck stamp, even if you do not hunt or fish. These funds support game and nongame wildlife and habitat management.
Join a reputable conservation organization that is actively engaged in habitat restoration and management, such as the ones mentioned earlier. These organizations often partner with state and federal agencies to make limited dollars go even further.
If you’d like more information on funding wildlife conservation, contact Leslie.Burger@msstate.edu.
[Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.