The United Stated Department of the Interior recently rolled out their vision for America’s next generation of nature lovers while establishing an Office of Youth in Natural Resources at the Department of the Interior. Apparently, the conservationist of tomorrow will brandish a rifle in one hand and a fishing rod in the other.
The new $70 million 2010 budget proposes $40 million for Youth and Careers in Nature. This initiative designed to prepare young people for public careers in conservation seems innocuous enough. It’s the other $30 million that concerns me and should probably concern you. That sum is earmarked for an initiative titled Educating Young Hunters and Anglers.
Anyone who has followed the deplorable state of conservation politics in the United States knows that the hook and bullet club — anglers and hunters — enjoy outsized influence. Ted Eubanks at BirdSpert delivered a fiery, incisive sermon against the folly of this logic, hoisting the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on its own petard:
According to the agency’s (USFWS) own research, there are 30 million anglers, 12.5 million hunters, and 71.1 million wildlife viewers (in each case, age 16 and older) in the U.S. Of these wildlife viewers, 47.7 million watch, feed, and photograph birds…
…Finally, according to the same agency’s assessment of the economic impacts of national wildlife refuges (Banking on Nature 2006), 82% of the total expenditures are generated by nonconsumptive activities (wildlife viewing) on refuges. Fishing accounts for 12% of expenditures, and hunting generates 6%.
Ted’s entire post is worth reading, particularly because he underscores the impotence of the organizations that allege to represent the interests of U.S. non-extractive wildlife watchers. When not a single cent out of $70 million is proposed specifically for attracting new young birders, naturalists, and photographers to this 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps, we have to acknowledge massive systemic failure.
Where are OUR lobbyists, our influence peddlers? Who sits elbow to elbow with legislators to remind them of the phenomenal contributions of money and effort this nation’s naturalists devote to sustainable conservation? Why can the Department of the Interior get away with issuing the following nonsense without being called to the carpet for lack of balance:
Hunting and ?shing have long played an important role in our Nation’s development and served as the roots of today’s conservation movement. Today, hunting and ?shing groups help guide and in?uence our conservation policies. In his campaign for President, Barack Obama committed to support America’s hunting and ?shing traditions, including providing State ?sh and game agencies with additional resources and encouragement to reach out and educate young men and women about hunting and ?shing opportunities, hunter safety, and the basic principles of ?sh and wildlife management.
Let me be up front in declaring that I am not against responsible, sustainable, ethical hunting and fishing. I don’t speak for my colleagues in this but I have no problem with dropping a hook in the water now and again, especially for a little catch-and-release. Plus, the uncontrolled hordes of white-tailed deer roaming our highways and byways pose an ecological menace the likes of which should call all able Americans to arms. But I am first and foremost a birder and observer of nature. The interests of wildlife watchers may sometimes dovetail with those of hunters and anglers. Indeed, we often hang out in the same refuges and pursue the same quarry. Still, we are not the same. Although our populations overlap, our successes do not always compliment each other. Sometimes we even operate at cross purposes.
In many countries, birders and wildlife watchers have a voice. In the United States, we simply do not. The first question any self-described American birder or naturalist needs to answer is, “Do you want one?” The next question obviously should be, “What are you going to do about it?” because those that should be speaking for you have been curiously silent.