Are We More Committed to Conservation or Politics?

At one point in this continent’s history, we had no legal mechanisms for the conservation of migratory birds. 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 prioritised wildlife and habitat above everything else.

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 conservation, 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.

The history of conservation in North America demonstrates the political diversity of the individuals 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 individuals 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.

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 quibbling have begun.

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. 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.

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 the creation of 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 achieve those goals.

As in other times of pressing conservation need over the last century, public support for conservation has been expressed by people of all political stripes and ideologies. It’s vitally important that our generation also focuses on our dedication to conservation before our dedication to blue, red, orange, or green.

So I have no time for resistance to the proposed fee increase. There will be excuses made to not support the increase based on how the current and former federal governments have mismanaged money in other, completely unrelated, areas of national policy. Conservationists complained about the drastic cuts to environmental programs under the previous Harper government and yet some appear unwilling to support a proposal for increased conservation funding now. But if you are a hunter and you wish to have any place in the shared pride of 120 years of conservation successes under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, you have a moral responsibility to support this proposal and keep that legacy strong. Hunters often say that we need to support one another, that we are all in the same boat and need to stand together; however, if you do not support this proposal and are not committed enough to conservation to be willing and eager to contribute these additional funds – I am not in the same boat as you.

Please remember that these proposals are not about scoring political points. They are an opportunity for us as conservationists – hunters, non-hunters, bird watchers – to make a contribution to the successes already achieved. They are a chance for us to take pride in the claims that we contribute to conservation. I encourage 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

(Cover photo source: DUC/Kevin Smith)

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