Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In a civilized and cultivated county, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” This is true more today than ever before. The fact that people are expanding their presence throughout the country, the wild areas where animals reside is constantly shrinking. Without the help of conservations groups and sportsmen, more of the animals we pursue as prey would be scarcer.
Roosevelt was an avid hunter and member of the Rough Riders. However, Roosevelt was also an advocate for the preservation of animals and wild places. During his years as President, he was instrumental in the formation of numerous National Parks and National Monuments. Roosevelt saw the value in preservation and conservation for the benefit of future generations. In 1905, Roosevelt used his authority as president to protect wild animals and publics lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service.
Fast forward to today, and you have a countless number of local and national conservation groups. A few of the most popular include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Safari Club International, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. The one thing that these groups advocate is the preservation of both game animals and their habitat. A large portion of the funds that are raised go towards reintroduction programs and rehabilitation of current and historical ranges. Funds are raised through donations, auctions, membership fees, local banquets, and sales of merchandise.
One group that I personally support is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Every year I renew my membership and attend a local banquet. The RMEF has local chapters throughout the country and raises millions of dollars each year. In turn, RMEF uses these funds to help states pay for reintroduction efforts along with habitat protection. Since 1984, the RMEF has protected over 6 million acres of land throughout the country that is open to sportsman to pursue their next trophy.
In 1996, the RMEF pledged $1.4 million to reintroduce elk to eastern Kentucky. Currently there is a population in the state of over 10,000 elk. Starting in 2001 Kentucky started a hunting program by selling 12 tags to harvest an elk. Now Kentucky has a very successful hunting program within the state and a very sought after tag by both residents and non-residents. Other states throughout the country are gradually increasing their elk herds with the help of the RMEF in hopes of having limited hunting seasons.
Being a nationally recognized conservation group doesn’t come without its share of controversy. The RMEF has been very active and vocal in their efforts to support wolf hunting programs in five states. These states have delisted the wolf from the endangered species list and have limited quota hunts to manage the overall number of wolves in these states. Wolves account for numerous kills of both game and domestic animals. Conservation groups like RMEF have done research that supports the taking of a limited number of wolves every year to help keep deer and elk herd numbers strong and to reduce the number of domestic animals that are killed each year.
One of the most important aspects of conservation is regulated hunting efforts. Hunting is a way of helping to control animal numbers and prevent over population. While anti-hunting groups feel that hunting is animal cruelty, the true act of cruelty would be to allow populations to explode which would lead to starvation and over grazing of the natural habitat. This in turn would cause more animals to die of starvation than the number of animals that are taken during legal hunting seasons.
In 1939, the federal government introduced an excise tax on all hunting and fishing equipment. The money generated from this tax is distributed to state agencies that fund protection to hunted and non-hunted species. With sportsman and hunters paying the excise tax, it helps to generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year for state and local conservation efforts.
With what Theodore Roosevelt said many years ago, we as hunters and sportsman have an ethical duty to preserve both animals and the habitat they inhibit. Without the efforts of many organizations and government agencies, hunting would not exist as it does today. If left unregulated, most game animals would go the way of the buffalo. Only through conservation organizations and support by sportsmen and women can we continue to enjoy hunting as we know it today.