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Crossroads in Conservation – Kristen Black

It’s a hazy morning, fog settled over the expanse of land in front of you. The sunrise provides the first sign of life as it breaks over the tall grass and lights the fertile land. You’re 2 hours and 10 feet up in a tree stand at the edge of the woods, anticipation growing deep inside your chest. Just as you suspected when you chose this spot, a rustle comes from an adjacent corner of the property. There he stands, a magnificent steward of the forest. Your prize. A 5.5 year old, 9-point buck that you’ve been watching on your trail camera since he was a yearling. This is your year. About 70 feet away, he browses on the understory, meandering toward you painfully slow. But you’ve waited for this too long to let anything, even your own impatience, ruin this moment. Slowly but surely, he comes into range, turns broadside, and you take your aim. Then, with a trained pull on the trigger, he’s yours, and you rejoice! Anyone seriously invested in natural resources has had a moment like this. Not necessary hunting, but fishing for a prize bass, hiking to the peak of a ridge, rafting a class 6 rapid, or even just looking out of a window and appreciating the Earth and all it has to offer. Unfortunately, due to today’s funding limits, human over-population, and anti-hunting activists, moments like these are becoming more and more limited.

Natural resources are constantly in high demand. A demand that is significantly higher than the supply. The only way to properly regulate a resource so that it does not succumb to the Tragedy of the Commons is to make laws and pay for enforcement. But there seems to be some discrepancy about where the funding to pay said enforcement should come from. The federal government continues to cut back every year, making it more and more difficult to hire the needed hands for this job. One way to combat this funding insufficiency is to allow people to designate what portion of their taxes goes to what part of the budget. Chances are that people that are willing to pay more to the Department of the Interior do not particularly want to support at least one of the other budget items. Being able to delegate where tax money goes would create a more stable budget from year to year to support our natural resource conservation. With the rising population density of the world, and specifically in the United States, there would still be enough people with different ideals that would balance the budget naturally.

Considering how many people are presently on Earth, it is not surprising that our natural resources are in danger. Not only from overexploitation, but from overcrowding. T here is less space and concern for anything that isn’t human. Since humans do not conform to a carrying capacity, it is difficult to decipher how many is too many. That is why conserving land is more important now than it ever has been. The human population will continue to grow exponentially while any living thing that is not domesticated will be pushed to the edges of their natural niches, and to the edges of extinction, unless humans speak for those without a voice. What we say and do decides the futures of individuals that we may not even know about. That alone is powerful enough to justify fighting for these species to be able to have their own places to live and thrive.

Some species do adjust to man-made habitat more readily than others. These are generally the species that become game for hunters and fishers. Population management is not only about making sure there are enough individuals in a population, but also about making sure that there are not too many. That is where sport hunters enter the equation. Ecological carrying capacity may be significantly higher than social carrying capacity, where humans decide how many individuals are convenient for the area rather than nature stabilizing a population based on available resources. The main point of contention with population management comes from people who are anti-hunters. These people may have had a bad experience with hunting, seen a disrespectful hunter displaying his or her prize in an offensive way, or think that hunting is cruel. The only way to redirect their way of thinking about hunting is to educate them. Most anti-hunters don’t know that at ecological carrying capacity, an animal will likely starve to death before resource conditions can improve. Starvation is a long and painful process that hunting negates. With public education and patience, we can reduce the number of anti-hunters and gain more support for all aspects of natural resource conservation.

There is a methodical reason behind everything we do as conservationists. By reallocating the federal budget, continuing to conserve as much land as possible, and educating the public, we can overcome these crossroads in conservation.

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