Liberty and Ecology has posted a number of articles discussing hunting as a means of conserving wildlife. Every article acknowledges the vital role the hunting community has historically played in wildlife conservation both in the United States and internationally.
Among these articles is a three-part series by Wallace Kaufman. He argues that hunting is no longer needed to help wildlife flourish. Instead, he argues that non-consumptive outdoor recreation, primarily photo safaris, provides more resources for conservation. In particular, Kaufman claims:
“Three strong trends diminish the importance of hunting as a significant or desirable environmental strategy. Those trends are:
- The rapidly shrinking number of hunters of all kinds (trophy, sport, and meat).
- The motivation of hunters (as opposed to the rationalizations for hunting).
- Economic and social alternatives to hunting are far greater in all measures than the economic, social and environmental benefits of hunting.”
Kaufman’s first point concerning the declining number of hunters is 100 percent correct, but as I will argue later, that’s not a reason to diminish or reduce the role of hunting in wildlife conservation. Rather, in light of the realities on the ground, it provides a clarion call for encouraging more youths to take up hunting and embrace the values it instills. These include, along with others, a devotion to wildlife and wild places—as opposed to zoos and drive-through “safari” nature parks, where the interactions with wildlife and the behavior of the wildlife are themselves unnatural
I won’t address Kaufman’s second point at all. To my knowledge he is not a trained psychologist, nor am I, and so he can’t speak to the true “motivation(s)” of hunters. Nor is it germane to the real point at issue, to wit, whether wildlife will not just survive but flourish in the future if hunting—and its most passionate advocates, hunters—cease to be.
Concerning his third point, in all but perhaps a narrow range of circumstances and locations, it is doubtful whether other measures to benefit wildlife—Kaufman discusses photo-tourism in particular—provide more resources to wildlife hunting. And if they do, it is doubtful whether they can do so without resulting in some unintentional, but entirely predictable, environmentally destructive conditions on wild animals and wild places.
In the United States, various federal and state taxes, stamps, and fees, including taxes on firearms and ammunition, continue to provide the vast majority of the funding for federal and state wildlife agencies, public land purchases and maintenance, and wildlife research and conservation efforts. Hunters or pro-hunting organizations lobbied for and pushed legislatures to impose these taxes and fees. In addition, hunters spend millions of dollars on wildlife research and habitat conservation and preservation through private organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, and numerous other organizations devoted to habitat and wildlife protection. As the number of hunters have declined, their dollars have become even more vital to wildlife protection as non-hunters have by and large not stepped up to replace hunting dollars.
Proposals for general fees or taxes on tents, bicycles, binoculars, and outdoor equipment in general have gone nowhere amid concerted opposition by non-hunting outdoor enthusiasts. At the state level, only two states, Texas and Virginia, have dedicated a portion of the sales taxes paid on outdoor equipment to parks and wildlife conservation. In short, despite declining numbers, hunters still foot most of the bill for wildlife conservation and habitat protection.
More importantly, most wildlife in the United States and elsewhere resides on, migrates through, or depends on private lands for all or part of its sustenance, shelter, and survival for at least large parts of their lives. In the United States it is private landowners, many of whom bought or leased land for hunting, who provide the majority of habitat for wildlife. Denied the ability to hunt, or to allow others to hunt, either for free or for a fee, they could just as easily turn their ranches and farms to other uses—livestock operations, for example, where wildlife could become a hindrance or compete for forage and water, or commercial or residential development.
Private landowners running commercial hunting operations have helped and are helping “exotic” wildlife. This is wildlife imported from foreign countries, often specifically for hunting. Under government “protection” in their native lands, those species have become nearly or entirely extinct. Wildlife ranches today are shipping breeding stock back to some African and Asian countries to help decimated populations of wildlife recover.
Speaking of decimating wildlife populations, in countries that have banned hunting, preferring to rely on non-consumptive eco-tourism instead, wildlife has been decimated. This is why the International Union for the Conservation of Nature officially supports regulated sport hunting. It is also why, as detailed on Liberty and Ecology, Zimbabwe specifically rejected bans on hunting in the nation’s parks, and why Mozambique brought trophy hunting back after briefly limiting it. Eco-tourism just didn’t provide the dedicated dollars and community buy-in to wildlife protection; regulated hunting did. Even if their conservation actions sometimes fall short of their stated aspirations, the leaders of these and other countries embrace sport hunting as critical to wildlife conservation. –
Eco-tourism may generate huge amounts of money for politically connected concessionaires, (often corrupt) government officials, wealthy hotel operators, and the national parks, but it does little or nothing for most people not directly employed by the park industry. Farmers and ranchers who actually provide habitat or live in the habitat of most wildlife in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, don’t see a dime of the money generated by eco-tourists.
A large landowner would have to develop big infrastructure on his or her land, and accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of people each year to equal or exceed the revenue generated by a few dozen to a hundred or so hunters (and possibly non-hunting companions) each hunting season. It’s the difference between having to build and sell hundreds of thousands of Kia’s versus a few Lamborghinis. Kia generates more money each year, but it also uses a lot more resources to meet the demands of many more purchasers.
Where Protecting Wildlife Doesn’t Pay, Hunting Does
For many small farmers, villages, pastoral peoples and communities, if protecting wildlife doesn’t pay, people kill or drive off wildlife to make way for crops or cattle or other livestock, with which wildlife competes for forage and often scarce water. Thousands of animals are killed either for personal consumption, to satisfy illicit bush meat trade, or to be sold, often on the black market. In addition, dangerous wildlife is slaughtered just to protect lives and property.
Lions and elephants may be good in large national parks for tourists, but outside of those parks, average people need a good reason to live with them. That reason should not be just to avoid death or imprisonment at the hands of the government.—which seems inherently unjust to me. Countries where governments cave into the demands of animal rights activists and ban hunting, seemingly care more about virtue signaling to potential Western eco-tourists than the well-being of their own (often impoverished and politically voiceless) people. Dollars are the best incentive to preserve wildlife, and hunting brings in the most money with the least disruption of traditional lives, lifestyles, and community and property arrangements.
In addition, eco-tourists consume far more resources, per dollar spent, than hunters, to produce funds for conservation. Eco-tourists typically want relatively modern infrastructure, often luxury infrastructure, which not only takes enormous amounts of resources, but it also often results in paving over and de-wilding formerly wild locations. By contrast, the enjoyment many hunters get from their sport often depends upon how wild the places they hunt are, how rustic the accommodations, and how wildly the animals behave.
Photo tourists want to be safely driven through wildlife habitat, and they want wildlife that stands around for the perfect photograph. By contrast, hunters want game to be wary of humans and flee from human presence once detected. Poachers and the relatively few “slob” hunters may want to shoot fish in a barrel, but that’s not true of most hunters. And certainly not true or expected by hunters who spend tens of thousands of dollars often to hunt a single or just a few species. They want the real African safari experience, not canned drive-by point-and-shoot hunting.
And if the millions of dollars generated by eco-tourists don’t actually reach the wildlife, by which I mean being put back into wildlife protection and habitat improvement, maintenance, and expansion, then what’s the point?
A single hunter paid more than $350,000 at auction a few years ago for the right to hunt a single black rhinoceros. Every dollar, except for flights, hotels, incidentals, and meals before and after the hunt, went back into black rhino conservation. It would take a lot of tourists to deliver the same conservation benefits for rhinos if even a small portion of what they spent was specifically devoted to black rhino protection (which it isn’t, as far as I know). Individual hunters routinely pay tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in the United States and abroad, just for the opportunity to hunt specific species of animals. They pay at auction or through outfitters, in addition to government fees, taxes, trophy fees, taxidermy, transport, food and lodging, and other incidentals involved with each hunt. One hundred or two hundred thousand dollars paid at auction for a chance to hunt wild desert big horn sheep in Texas or Mexico pays for a lot of research and/or buys a lot of habitat, in locations where eco-tourists don’t go. Even if outdoor equipment were taxed to pay for conservation, it would take a lot of binoculars and tents sold to equal the amount of dollars devoted to sheep conservation to equal that one permit.
The Limits of Eco-Tourism
As I noted at the outset, Kaufman may be correct that in some places, photo or ecotourism can and perhaps soon will, if it doesn’t already, produce more funding for wildlife conservation than hunting, but not all the world is Africa. Many places wildlife inhabit are indeed wild and forbidding places with little infrastructure, few other resources than wildlife, and often with relatively little government oversight or presence. Think about where giant species of wild sheep, goats, and antelope roam in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan, or the Hindu Kush or Karakorum mountains in Pakistan. Not a lot of photo safaris are going on there. No roads or comfy lodges. But hunters spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars each year there, with much of the funding going directly to wildlife and habitat conservation and research.
Or think about the giant brown bears in Alaska and Russia or the polar bears in the Arctic. Very few people take vacations just to see and photograph these species in their natural habitat—so very little funding for brown bear or polar bear research or conservation comes from eco-tourists. Their habitat is hard to get to and it’s rough living, yet each year hundreds of hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars each just for the chance to get those bears, with many leaving empty-handed. Recently, budget cuts threatened polar bear research in the Arctic. In response, the outfitters who guide polar bear hunts established a fund devoted to research on polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. The fee is paid by hunters. The outfitters weren’t forced to do this; they chose to.
In the end, hunters and the industry they support still pay for the lion’s share of on-the-ground conservation and habitat preservation that protect game and non-game animals alike. Until eco-tourists directly pay for wildlife protection with dedicated funding sources, as hunters have for more than a century, those who want to protect wildlife can only hope the number of people who take up hunting will expand. The best source for wildlife survival is an end to the long decline in hunting participation.
6 thoughts on “Why Hunting Dollars Still Matter”
I agree with most of this article but I see a need to point out some nuances.
First, the repeated reference to “Africa” is an unfair generic characterization of where some of this “game” and “hunting” takes place. Referring to the continent as one whole in that context is like calling lake-side toe-dippers in Iowa “beachgoers” and equating them to the people plopped in the sand on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. In some parts of Africa like South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana the infrastructure and residential geography mimics states like Texas. There are large cities and suburbia, suburbs and “rural” areas. These places have a structured commercial hunting industry much like the United States.
However, look at Cameroon, DRC, Uganda, Senegal and other less established Countries. There, “hunters” are typically native countrymen living off the land as a way of life. These people are typically forbidden by law from using firearms or “modern” implements of the kill. The amount of effort, risk and time they put into getting sustenance if beyond what Westerners know. A visiting hunter can use a modern rifle or archery equipment to kill several animals in one day. The meat is not going in their second bag for $25 on American Airlines. It goes to the local residents. The supply chain can make money from the transportation of visiting hunters in conjunction with their delivery of essentials and thereby reduce the cost to the local residents. Simultaneously, the residents are provided food in bulk for free that would have normally taken them substantial effort to obtain. Eco-tourism is less interested in these “rough” places and no cameraman is going to pack enough sandwiches to feed a village. The link is that you need hunters to have the small portion among them interested in hunting in this out of the way places where the real visiting hunter benefit can be seen the most.
The next area of interest is the part of the country and world where the fences are to keep the wildlife out, not in. 7523 square miles of Kruger National Park is completely fenced. This is to keep the wildlife species pure and thriving. Outside prides of roaming lions, migratory buffalo and elephant and many other animals that come upon the territory of another groups wreak havoc on that group, only to move on. The animals within the fence are essentially protected from outside influence. However, they are still free to do what animals do – breeding being the number one hobby next to eating. Being somewhat contained within the fence to protect them, the animals can easily reach populations that are unsustainable by the land. The animals are not going to die laughing from photographers and school buses of curious children, so hunting is allowed and necessary within the Park.
Lastly, the eco-tourist has little invested interest in obscure species and sub-species of certain animals. While some animals are extinct in their native country or have extremely isolated, small populations, hunting ranches are able to keep a stable population within their boundaries. The Pere David deer for example has been extinct in its “homeland” for over a century. However, there are hundreds of thousands of them in the United States. They are big animals that require unique habitat and food sources. The zoos cannot afford to maintain the proper eco-system for just a few show deer. However the big ranches can and do. Since only a mature bull may be killed, only a handful are taken every year by hunters. This revenue keep the ranchers and owners interested in keeping the Pere David there. I’ve not heard of many photographers willing to pay $5000 for a picture of one, thus it is the hunters who are literally keeping them alive. This is just one example. Thanks for the great article. Keep them coming…..
In reply to Brandon:
“The link is that you need hunters to have the small portion among them interested in hunting in this out of the way places where the real visiting hunter benefit can be seen the most.”
Yes, we can pick a few small places in undeveloped or developing countries where an adventurous hunter might supply meat to a village. (Or more likely to his guides?) These are small pockets of special conditions. Nevertheless, if hunting makes a difference to villagers and preserves a species, bravo. Sounds good in the abstract. On the ground I would like to see how much difference hunters make, what level of corruption exists, what the trends are in a given species, how much habitat is preserved or restored. Typically, local people hard pressed for protein will kill even the last few specimens of an edible species, burn any wood they can find.
And where a species is teetering on the verge of extinction—say the Siberian tiger in Amur region of the Russian “Far East”, or the snow leopards of the Tien Shan in Central Asia any hunting could reduce the breeding population to irrecoverable levels.
About Kreuger Park, are we saying that over 7,000 square miles is not large enough that a natural interplay of predator and prey keep populations in check? Or is it the case that instead of allowing natural population dynamics of boom and bust, when one species booms its bust is by bullet?
“Lastly, the eco-tourist has little invested interest in obscure species and sub-species of certain animals. While some animals are extinct in their native country or have extremely isolated, small populations, hunting ranches are able to keep a stable population within their boundaries.”
Perhaps the Pere David deer is an example but eco-tourists and biologists are far more interested in preserving habitat for lemurs and turtles and such than are hunters.
Are hunters responsible for preserving mountain gorilla habitat? The Galapagos turtle? Whales? Pandas? Condors? Only since affluent hunters in the late 19th C formed the conservation movement has there been significant hunter input in saving species, and then almost always game species.
Hunters in the last 150 years or so have had a positive role, and it is diminishing and increasingly marginal.
In reply to Sterling:
I always look forward to Sterling Burnett’s well-informed and often eye-opening articles, and I don’t disagree with anything he says about the role of hunting and hunters as vital to wildlife and habitat conservation in the recent past. I propose that his take on hunting is a rearview mirror perspective.
We have no disagreement about the past contributions of hunters to the appreciation and preservation of wildlife and wildness. In fact, in the second chapter of my history of environmental thinking, No Turning Back (Basic Books, 1994) I credit hunters and fishermen with the founding of the conservation movement. “The founding of the conservation movement by sportsmen endowed it with a scientific and practical mind, although it did not lack for feeling and sentimentality.”
That hunters and hunting have been, and in the next decade or even two, will be important contributors to wildlife and habitat preservation is certain. Nothing Sterling Burnett writes, however, guarantees that this will continue.
The appreciation of wildlife and wild places for their own sake grew into a movement among hunters only in the late 19th century. It has avoided a “tragedy of the commons”. Well done. But just as we have had humane advances in surgery and transportation, we now have more humane options for wildlife management than killing. (Exceptions will continue, of course.)
I don’t see anything in Burnett’s well-put argument that says hunting must, should, or could be the mainstay of conservation. He begins by acknowledging I am “100 percent correct” about the steady decline in hunting. I think we agree that this decline in hunting is also a decline in its revenue generation and thus its contribution to wildlife preservation. The trend is my friend and his enemy.
His solution is “a clarion call for encouraging more youths to take up hunting and embrace the values it instills.” King Canute could not command the tide to stop rising nor could he stop its recession.
A strong part of the trend away from hunting is a change in motivation that makes a “clarion call” for more hunters wishful thinking. Fewer and fewer people want to kill wildlife and more and more want to observe animals without destroying them. Burnett calls my reporting on motivation my second of three main points, then says, “I won’t address Kaufman’s second point at all. To my knowledge he is not a trained psychologist, nor am I, and so he can’t speak to the true “motivation(s)” of hunters.” Does one need a diploma in every subject one writes about?
Burnett has a Ph.D. in philosophy and environmental ethics. I have only an M. Litt. Oxon (Oxford master’s in literature). Am I thus disqualified from disputing his views? I not only gave an argument about motivation that is easily addressed on specifics but also listed sources from people who are trained specialists. I’ll claim a win on this argument by default.
I agree when Burnett writes (without being a trained economist that I know of), “As the number of hunters have declined, their dollars have become even more vital to wildlife protection as non-hunters have by and large not stepped up to replace hunting dollars.”
The third and final part of my series is titled, “Will the Anti-Hunters Pay for Their Pleasure?” I wrote, “The anti-hunters, of course, have yet to put significant money in play. More wildlife and wildlife habitat have been preserved and restored by hunters than by anti-hunting environmentalists. (Environmentalists tend to focus on nearly extinct species and on unusual specimens—elephants, rhinos, hippos, grizzlies, the albinos, and the big predators at the top of the food chain.)” That is looking in the rearview mirror.
About the revenues from non-hunters and the vast areas preserved and managed by non-hunting organizations I gave some numbers while Burnett writes only, that “it is doubtful whether other measures to benefit wildlife—Kaufman discusses photo-tourism in particular—provide more resources to wildlife hunting. And if they do, it is doubtful whether they can do so without resulting in some unintentional, but entirely predictable, environmentally destructive conditions on wild animals and wild places.”
I used an elaboration of photo-tourism or photo “hunting” only as one example. Whether it’s elephant and lion watching in Africa or whale watching here on the Oregon coast, non-hunters are a rapidly growing source of revenue and force for conservation. Incidentally, did the rapid increase in whales, one of the great conservation successes, have anything to do with hunters?
When Burnett compares ecotourism and trophy hunting in Africa, he provides few figures. One can assume his conclusions are correct, but empirical evidence would be more convincing. He assumes, “Eco-tourism may generate huge amounts of money for politically connected concessionaires, (often corrupt) government officials, wealthy hotel operators, and the national parks, but it does little or nothing for most people not directly employed by the park industry.” I have only indirect knowledge of Africa, but considerable experience in Central Asia, Latin America and Russia. Hunting in those areas is probably as susceptible to corruption as eco-tourism and perhaps more so because individual hunters tend to be well endowed and narrowly focused.
Private landowners have made great contributions to habitat protection for hunting and for preserving and restoring rare species. The same can be said for private safari parks and for organizations like Carnivore Preservation Trust started in North Carolina by my late friend biologist Michael Bleyman. The Trust now claims 20,000 visitors a year. And in Africa, are all those ecotourism lodges government-owned and any more subject to corruption than trophy hunting providers? Don’t they employ more locals?
When Burnett argues that few non-hunters visit the more rugged and wild areas inhabited by mountain sheep or polar bears, I suggest that is changing very rapidly as adventure travel grows. Did any hunters climb Everest? Far more non-hunters than hunters visit the Arctic and Antarctic to see polar bears or penguins, walruses or whales, seals and sea lions. About remote wilderness, I think he is again looking in the rearview mirror, and of course, he could say I’m looking in the crystal ball.
I suggest the rearview mirror view is his conclusion: “Until eco-tourists directly pay for wildlife protection with dedicated funding sources, as hunters have for more than a century, those who want to protect wildlife can only hope the number of people who take up hunting will expand. The best source for wildlife survival is an end to the long decline in hunting participation.”
Eco-tourists, of course, are not the only citizens who prefer means other than hunting for wildlife survival. How about biologists? Many people who only watch wildlife in documentaries and movies should be included. Same for vegetarians and vegans and people sympathetic to PETA or Green Peace. (I am not sympathetic to either, but their members do ante up millions for wildlife survival. Green Peace spends over $200 million a year on its programs.)
My crystal ball is not as clear as Burnett’s rearview mirror. What is clear is the decline in hunters. We will do far more for wildlife by creating a clear view of future alternatives.
This thoughtful back and forth discussion of wildlife and wild place preservation presents alternatives to hunting. The authors both recognize the importance hunters have played in preservation efforts in the last Century. With the clear decline in the number of hunters, Kaufman presents alternatives to hunting that are supported by a growing population of ecotourists, environmentalists, vegans, vegetarians and others opposed to hunting, but willing to support preservation of wild places and endangered animals, plants, marine life that wild places support. This discussion is encouraging in that many hunters and non-hunters work toward preservation. Both groups make important contributions, while the clear trend way from hunting is emphasizing the importance of non-hunters in this effort.
Where Burnett and I agree is that funds and concrete action from non-hunters will have to replace funds and lands that might have come from hunters. This is happening, but is it happening fast enough? My guess is yes, but more clarity about actual numbers–dollars and hectares and species–would be very helpful.
Wallace, it looks as though we need to find more examples of market protection of wildlife. Certainly, there is philanthropical money, but as you pointed out (https://www.libertyandecology.org/part-iii-will-the-anti-hunters-pay-for-their-pleasure/) a lot of that goes to lobbying for government control or even to obtain land that then goes to the government. (As we know, the government’s ability to protect habitat and wildlife is extremely limited). Sterling suggests that eco-tourism revenues may go primarily to tour operators. If that is the case, perhaps it could be changed.