Keith Warnke values time spent outdoors with his two young daughters.
Let's talk hunting
Hunters and nonhunters must put differences aside for conservation.
Kathryn A. Kahler
If conservation is important to you and you enjoy Wisconsin's natural resources, thank the hunters and anglers you know. They are major contributors to conservation in our state.
Wisconsin hunters – whose license fees and equipment purchases fund a good chunk of wildlife conservation – have declined in number by 50,000 since the year 2000 and will continue to drop over the next 20 years.
In 1991, 17 percent of Wisconsin residents hunted. By 2001 that proportion had dropped to 15 percent. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service will report on the latest survey findings early next year, but odds are the proportion of us who hunt will have declined again.
Research conducted by the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory predicts that resident male gun deer hunter numbers will fall from 550,000 in 2010 to 400,000 in 2030, a decline of more than 25 percent. This translates to a loss of over $4 million in revenue to the state's fish and wildlife fund each year, when you adjust for future license increases. That account pays for game management and conservation law enforcement as well as ecosystem restoration and management.
What's behind that decline and how to deal with it have been debated across the country for a couple of decades. But the bottom line is hunters and anglers are the primary funders and supporters of the "North American Wildlife Conservation Model," begun in the early 1900s by leaders such as Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. The primary principles that evolved were wildlife "belongs" to the public, and the scientific management of game species is funded by users, specifically hunters and anglers. These principles have not only benefitted game species, but have helped bring non-game species like American bison and bald eagles back from the brink of extinction. Although the model has evolved over the years, the basic funding source remains unchanged.
What does the future hold?
"We are on the precipice of change in Wisconsin when it comes to the traditional role of hunting in the state's conservation and wildlife management efforts," says Keith Warnke, hunting and shooting sports coordinator with DNR's Bureau of Law Enforcement. "Our tremendous tradition and connection to this sacred activity is slipping. There is a disconnect between some environmentalists and some hunters and anglers, and how we bridge that divide depends on both sides putting differences aside, opening a dialogue and working together to solve it."
Warnke considers himself an "ecoredneck," a term first defined by author Steve Chapple as someone who isn't afraid to pursue and harvest wildlife, but who has a love and respect for wildlife and the ecosystem of which it's a part.
Warnke took a step to open the dialogue at a brownbag lecture on the UW Madison campus last March, called "Shifting paradigms in hunting and conservation: How will Wisconsin respond?" His talk centered on three facts – backed by survey research – that hunters and citizens in Wisconsin share a lot of values related to environmental conservation and hunting, Wisconsinites place great value on conservation in the Badger State and the main divide is one of communication and connection.
"There are so many great reasons that we need hunting," Warnke says. "It's the time spent bonding with family and friends. It's the connection you feel with nature when you're out harvesting your meal. It's the ability and skills you develop. You're getting outside, breathing fresh air. But conservation costs money. We're using a funding mechanism developed a century ago to provide conservation and ensure that the public has the opportunity to not only hunt and fish, but hike or watch wildlife. We have strong reasons to hunt and we can have strong, robust funding mechanisms that involve more than hunters."
Warnke's talk provoked many questions from his audience. We invite you, as a valued subscriber and conservationist, to read them and Warnke's answers, take them to heart, and let us know what you think. Write us a letter or email and we'll print a representative selection of letters in an upcoming issue.
Kathryn A. Kahler is a staff writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.