By Nicole Rivard
Illustration by Leah Tinari
It doesn’t matter how often I see deer in my backyard, while hiking or simply in a meadow that I might be driving by, each time feels like the first time. I feel more alive when we lock eyes—my heart beats a little faster, and I hold my breath, not wanting to exhale the moment away. I’ve always had a desire to be close to the wild—as a kid I was enchanted by run-ins with bull frogs, garter snakes, birds, chipmunks, rabbits, fireflies, daddy long-legs and bats in my backyard or on my way to the fort my sister and I made in the woods.
When I saw my first herd of wild horses as a correspondent for Friends of Animals, I felt it was a privilege. Unfortunately, hunters think it is their right to take the lives of wild animals. But the good news is, hunting appears to be what’s dying. A scant 5 percent of the U.S. population 16 years and older—11.5 million people—went hunting in 2016, according to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wild – life Associated Recreation published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The shameful industry has lost 2.2 million hunters since 2011. However, what has increased substantially is wildlife watching— observing, feeding and photographing wildlife, according to this recent survey, which is the 13th in a series conducted nearly every five years since 1955. More than 86 million people 16 years old and older participated in these activities in 2016, a 21 percent increase from 2011. The survey defines wildlife watching as participants either taking a special interest in wildlife around their home or taking a trip for the primary purpose of wildlife watching.
Additionally, expenditures by wildlife watchers also rose sharply— 28 percent—between 2011 and 2016, from $59.1 billion to $75.9 billion. Around-the-home wildlife watching increased 18 percent from 2011, from 68.6 million in 2011 to 81.1 million participants in 2016. More modest gains were made for away from-home wildlife watchers: There was a 5 percent increase from 2011 to 2016, from 22.5 million to 23 million participants.
As one of the only anti-hunting groups in the U.S., FoA, which places wildlife and critical habitat protection at the core of our advocacy, is proud to see that our educational outreach is working. This study fortifies us as we, in 2018, take on desperate wildlife agencies, which will increase their efforts to drum up more clients because they rake in revenue from hunting and trapping licenses.
We expect more bear, swan and other wildlife-hating propaganda to be ramped up and we are prepared to expose those lies (See The Bear Facts, pg 14). We will continue to encourage the anti-hunting majority to use their voices to take back forests and other places from the hunting minority.
We have our work cut out for us as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is already using the study to justify giving hunters the run of more public lands across the country. “This report absolutely underscores the need to increase public access to public lands across the United States,” said Zinke. “Hunting and fishing are a part of the American heritage. As a kid who grew up hunting and fishing on public lands who later took my own kids out on the same land, I know how important it is to expand access for future generations. Many folks east of the Mississippi River rely on friends with large acreages or pay high rates for hunting and fishing clubs. This makes access to wildlife refuges and other public lands more important.”
On his first day in office, Zinke reversed an order that would have banned lead ammo and fishing tackle on National Wildlife Refuge lands, and he began the process of expanding hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands managed by the Interior Department. By August, the Secretary had announced a proposal to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at 10 national wildlife refuges. He also introduced a plan to acquire land to make the Bureau of Land Management Sabinoso Wilderness Area in New Mexico accessible for the first time ever to hunters and made recommendations on 27 national monuments that call for changes to some that would allow fishing and hunting.
Despite such assaults on wildlife and wild places, FoA will not stop fostering a love of nature and respect for wild creatures. We will continue to educate the public about why hunting is a crime against nature and to expose the sinister relationship between federal and state wildlife conservation agencies like the USFWS and the violent gun culture overall.
After all, federal agencies depend on revenues from the sales of guns and rifles. The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 uses the proceeds from a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition to fund grants to states and territories for projects to benefit wildlife resources and to conduct programs for hunter education. The tax is applied whether the equipment is likely to be used for hunting or not. And, state environmental protection agencies count on revenues from hunting licenses.
“If bullets aren’t expended, the wildlife conservation economy would come to a screeching halt,” the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting said in its fall newsletter.
FoA is committed to making sure hunting never makes a comeback, and wildlife watching continues to flourish. We couldn’t be happier to learn that 11 million people maintain plantings or natural areas for the benefit of wildlife within a mile of their home. Hunters would like to believe they are the backbone of all conservation everywhere. But the truth is, killing is not conservation, but protecting wildlife and habitat in your own backyard is