Updated: Mar 12, 2019
By Maria Baron Palamar
I was recently reading an article about several conservationists buying grizzly bear hunting tags in Wyoming to prevent hunters from using them. One of the people interviewed called herself a non-consumptive user and encouraged others to shoot bears with cameras, not guns.
I will not discuss how I feel about this technique to prevent bears from being hunted, nor the appropriateness of having a grizzly hunt at all. But, I will discuss this idea of consumptive and non-consumptive users. Traditionally, consumptive users were those that used wildlife or the environment to “extract” something, it could be venison for your freezer or fur for clothing; non-consumptive users were those that observed or enjoyed wildlife without “extracting” anything, such as bird watchers and nature photographers. Well, I disagree with that tradition. All of us are consumptive users and we all need to take responsibility for what we are consuming.
The consumptive birdwatcher.
Birdwatchers, nature photographers, kayakers and river snorkelers are all consuming wildlife and/or nature, and that is OK; it is more than OK, it is brilliant! For nature enthusiasts to reach that sweet spot on the edge of the water where the migratory birds are landing and they can take amazing pictures, there had to be a path, for that path to exist there had to be people to build that path, and those people had to work on some sort of public land that had to be purchased with some sort of money, coming from somewhere. So if you are at the edge of the water with your camera ready, you are consuming nature, you are using someone’s money to do so, and you have most likely not really put much of your own money towards that land, the salary of the path builders, nor the research that helped that species of migratory waterfowl rebound after protecting its nesting areas on the other side of the world.
So who pays for wildlife conservation?
In North America, most of the money used for the research and conservation of many wildlife species comes from two funding sources, Pittman-Roberson (PR) and Dingell-Johnson (DJ) funds; these funding sources are generated by a percentage of the sales of hunting, shooting sports and fishing gear. States then leverage those moneys with other moneys, some from their general fund and others from grants provided by clean water act, non-governmental organizations, conservation groups, etc. The process is not simple, but the bottom line is that in most states a large percentage of the money used for wildlife conservation comes from the so-called consumptive users and the shooting sports enthusiast. Thus, many of the lands where non-extracting users want to spend time, may be catering to hunters and fishermen, while kayakers and other users have limited use days or no access at all during certain seasons. Still, as consumers of nature, we should all have a say on how these lands and the wildlife on them are managed right? Wrong, at the end money speaks and the paying costumer has a louder voice.
What about National and State Parks?
Yes, National parks, State Parks, and other types of public land are available thanks to taxes that we all pay, but these lands are not for wildlife management. Parks maintain the landscape as close as they can to what it would naturally be, but they do not intensively manage the wildlife on it. State agencies, with the help of PR and DJ funds, manage wildlife that in most cases will spill over to parks. For example, in wildlife management areas, they will plant specific cover plants to improve quail habitat, they may also do prescribed fire and some sort of predator management, this type of habitat management not only helps quail, but also small mammals and many song and ground nesting birds. In parks, they would most likely not do that type of management, they may try to keep habitats as close to historical conditions as they can, but in most cases they will not allow a deer hunt to reduce the number of deer browsing the tree line and damaging the specific habitat they are trying to protect. They will not create specific water features for waterfowl, nor till the earth to plant ground cover plants for quail. Both systems have a place and a function, but if what you want to see is changes in wildlife populations, state agencies are the ones doing most of the management, with the money collected through sales to the extracting consumer.
So what can the non-extracting consumers do?
We can find a way to pay for what we love and want to protect. Only when we accept that we are consumptive users and should have a monetary responsibility will we be able to influence the way wildlife is managed. We have to be realistic. Managing wildlife and wild places is expensive, and we have to take part on shouldering that cost. It may not be easy; many states do not have a mechanism for people to buy any other licenses than the hunting and fishing ones. I for one gave my in-laws lifetime fishing and hunting licenses because I wanted to support conservation, although neither one of them hunts, and the only fishing they do is in another state. After trying to figure out why there are so few mechanisms to support wildlife management as a non-hunter, I realized that states are moving very slowly to allow others at the table. In many cases the traditional users are not ready to share what has been their turf for so many years. Non-extracting users want more access, more safety, different trails and opportunities, all of which can conflict with the way the wildlife management lands have been used for decades.
Why should the extracting consumers invite the non-extracting consumers to the table?
Because there are far more non-extracting users and they should be able to enjoy and support wildlife, like everyone else. If non-extracting users are not given an avenue to collaborate and have a say, they may have to push for a radical change on how wildlife are managed, which could be detrimental to extracting users. Also, I fear for the future of PR money. In a country with mass shootings being attributed to mental health instead of guns, I can see the money collected through gun sales being used for mental health work instead of wildlife conservation. Or maybe they will be used to pay for guards at schools or other gun related issues; this funding is not guaranteed, and should not be treated as a given. If we all pay for the nature we consume, through taxes, licenses, stamps or any other mechanism, the responsibility of maintaining healthy wildlife populations is shared by all, and we can build a more sustainable and robust funding model for the future; and with it, we all win, especially wildlife.
To learn more about:
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation
This guest blog post was written by our co-founder Maria Baron Palamar and as such, the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other member of Resolve Conservation.
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