Are We More Committed to Conservation or Politics?

At one point in this continent’s history, we had no legal mechanisms for wildlife management and conservation. At one point, unregulated hunting and development had reduced this continent’s waterfowl populations to terrifyingly low numbers. We almost lost the wood duck, Canada geese were in danger, trumpeter swans had declined significantly, and habitat was being lost at dramatic rates. Then in 1916, North Americans made a statement about the present and future value of migratory birds and passed the Migratory Bird Treaty. Hunters and conservationists supported the treaty. In 1937, Ducks Unlimited was started with the goal of conserving waterfowl habitat. Hunters and conservationists were early supporters of their efforts. These events, one in the middle of World War I and the other the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, were successful because hunters and conservationists prioritized wildlife and habitat above everything else. 

A Legacy of Hunters in Conservation

One need only spend about five minutes on any social media platform or news story comment thread to find hunters and hunting organizations boasting about the great amounts of funds we contribute to wildlife management, that we pay for the lion’s share of conservation efforts, and that following the examples of Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and others, hunters are North America’s true conservationists. And yet, interspersed among these true but sometimes overly self-righteous statements are divisive, short-sighted, name calling about political parties, as though conservation efforts have ever been clearly demarcated along political lines or as though wildlife has ever cared which political party best serves or abandons its interests. I take pride in the history of contributions that hunters have made to conservation. But I can’t have it both ways. If I want to be proud of this I also need to be willing to continue to support it.

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The history of wildlife management and conservation in North America demonstrates the political diversity of the people and governments who have led these efforts: Roosevelt was a Republican; Laurier was a Liberal. Nixon, a Republican, created the EPA; Trump, a Republican, is making a mockery of it. Harper, a Conservative gutted environmental protections and research programs; Trudeau, a Liberal, has failed to implement stronger climate change action and is in the process of approving destructive pipelines. But let’s be clear, the devoted people who supported and participated in everything from migratory bird conservation to elk reintroductions across both Canada and the U.S. to bison reintroductions in Banff National Park to the U.S. Pittman-Robertson Act shared something in common, if not political stripe: a commitment to conservation over their own egos.

Canada Proposes Increased Conservation Funding

The Government of Canada just opened a public consultation period on a proposal to increase service fees for the Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permits and Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp, which is open to public comments until March 21, 2018. Already the political divisions and squabbling have begun.

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Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp, administered by Wildlife Habitat Canada.

The conservation successes enabled by the Migratory Bird Treaty and the funds generated through the sale of the Hunting Permit and Conservation Stamp have included over $50 million in grants to conservation projects across Canada and legal protections for over 400 species of waterfowl.

Currently, the combined stamp and hunting permit run for $17 annually, broken down by $8.50 each for the Stamp and the Permit. The prices for the Stamp and the Permit have not increased since 1991 and 1998, respectively, not keeping up with inflation or the need for increased conservation funding. The Government of Canada estimates that “the real value of the Stamp has decreased over 50% since 1991“. The money generated through the sale of the Permit covers only about 27% of the costs to administer the migratory bird hunting program.

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The Government of Canada’s proposal is to increase the combined cost of the permit and stamp to $28 by June 2022, which will lead to an increase of $2.6 million in revenue for the agencies responsible to dedicate to conservation and hunting programs. To put this in perspective, Americans already pay US$25 for their version of the stamp.

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Credit: Boreal Songbird Initiative. Source: Ducks Unlimited Canada

Make no mistake, we need this money and the conservation programs it supports. There is no alternative. We have lost an estimated 85% of our wetlands in Canada over the last two centuries and increasing demands for resource extraction, land conversion for houses and agricultural production, and environmental threats related to climate change make it imperative for us to continue to support and fund conservation. And there is public support for conservation. Canadians have said that they support increasing the proportion of lands protected from development and creating additional protected areas. The Government of Canada has committed to protecting 17% of lands and freshwater resources and 10% of marine areas by 2020, and we are on track to meet those goals.

Conclusion

People make excuses to resist government proposals to increase funding based on how current and former governments have mismanaged money in other, completely unrelated, areas of governance. This kind of thinking is a mistake. Hunters often say that we need to support one another, that we are all in the same boat and need to stand together. However, polarized political issues cannot justify our lack of support for these proposals. If we are all truly in the same boat, we need to be committed enough to conservation to be willing and eager to contribute these extra funds for wildlife.

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Conservationists rightfully complained about the drastic cuts to environmental programs under the previous Harper government and yet some seem unwilling to support a proposal for increased conservation funding now. As hunters, we want a place in the conservation community that takes pride in over 120 years of conservation successes under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. To take our place in that legacy, we have a moral responsibility to support this proposal and future ones like it. This is how we keep that legacy strong.

These proposals are not about scoring political points. They are an opportunity for us as conservationists – hunters, hikers, and bird watchers alike – to contribute to the successes already achieved throughout North America. These initiatives are a chance for us to take pride in our contributions to conservation.

As in other times of urgent conservation needs over the last century, people of all political stripes and ideologies have expressed support for increased conservation. It’s vitally important that our generation also prioritizes our dedication to conservation over our commitments to political parties.


I urge everyone who cares about healthy wildlife populations and habitat to send comments of support for this proposal. The full proposal can be found here and comments can be emailed to ec.ReglementsFaune-WildlifeRegulations.ec@canada.ca.

(Cover photo source: DUC/Kevin Smith)

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