Updated: Jan 3
So if you're an environmentalist or someone who is very conscious about what kind of foods they put in their bodies I'm sure you have very strong feelings about sport hunters and fisher people. In fact, there is a good chance these feelings will be even stronger if you're vegetarian or vegan. The first thing I want to say is that I'm not trying to change your mind or convince you to eat meat of any kind. The choice of what you eat and don't eat should be and is completely up to you. I am however going to explain a few benefits of the wilderness and those who spend the most time in it that you may not be aware of. Second, the only way to restore the entire state or country to a perfectly natural and original balance is to remove all traces of humanity from the entire continent. That is simply not a realistic option.
Environmental Cost Management
To start with the leading organization that protects our environment in any state is not the EPA, it is the Wildlife Resource Commission, or Department of Natural Resources, or many other names. Essentially it is whatever state organization you have that regulates hunting, fishing, trapping, and boating. That is not to say the EPA doesn't have a role, but they focus more on regulating businesses' emissions or waste products. The WRC or DNR on the other hand is responsible for actually managing the land, the creatures, and plants in it, as well as the visitors who enjoy it. All state-owned and even some federal land is managed, studied, and patrolled by the local WRC. Their enforcement agents, biologists, technicians, educators, and many other employees are the ones who have day-to-day contact with our greatest natural resources.
According to the Wildlife Resource Commission website by June 30th of fiscal year 2020 they had total revenue of $88,938,952.53 and as of the same date for fiscal year 2019 $73,594,641.78. This represents the total amount of funds the organization had to fund all the research into all native wildlife and their current state of being, as well as research into invasive species and how best to deal with them. That includes the growing problem of Chronic Wasting Disease among the North Carolina whitetail deer population and the infestation of zebra mussels for example. Not to mention all the other issues such as payroll, land management, communication, utilities, grants, state aid and subsidies, and various other expenses. The licenses, fines, and fees generated by the sale of hunting, fishing, and boat licenses generated $36,635,864.29 or 41% of the budget for fiscal year 2020 and 32,880,728.48 or 45% of the budget for fiscal year 2019. Nearly half of the budget this organization requires is dependent on these fees and fines. But it gets worse. In the March-April edition of Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine Brad Howard chief of the Wildlife Management Division of the WRC said "Additionally, since the state's Wildlife Restoration Funds [The Pittman-Robertson Act] are tied to the number of licensed hunters in the state, any increase in that number also provides for an increase in the amount of federal funds available for management." All of which is only part of the environmental cost management equation.
So what does all this mean to an environmentalist or someone who cares about healthy food? While you can certainly make donations to the WRC and most likely your state's version and those donations are tax-deductible, the simple truth is that it most likely won't do as much good as just buying a hunting and fishing license. You may never even use your license but the fact that you bought it will not only provide immediate funds to the state that is actively protecting your state's wildlife and plants, it will also trigger additional funds from the federal government that would not be possible with a donation. Sure if you want the tax deduction donate, but you might be surprised how cost-effective these licenses are. For example here in North Carolina, a basic hunting license is only $25. The most you would spend would be $265 for a lifetime license that will never expire. Maybe another $300 if you wanted a lifetime trapping license as well. That is a pretty small investment to ensure the state can continue to manage state-owned lands properly and restore as much land as possible to its original native balance.
Healthy Balanced Diet
If the finances aren't enough to convince you then think about this. Where are you going to find the largest proliferation of whole, organic, non-GMO foods in the state? Here's a hint it is not Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Your local city and state parks as well as national forests have an abundance of natural foods that have never been treated with pesticides or fertilizers. They have never been toyed with in some lab or treated with antibiotics and growth hormones either. The animals also have the massive benefit of being completely free range to an extent you will never find for store-bought meat. Not to mention they are neither grass nor grain-fed. They feed on whatever Mother Nature provides and in a large variety. Whether you're looking for meat or veggies there is an untold treasure trove available in the wilderness and many of them can even be transplanted into an edible native yard that replaces your non-native and unhealthy yard. Not a garden, but an entire yard populated by native edibles that will attract birds, butterflies, and bees that are declining nationwide. Fresh fish from nearly any water source is going to be so much better than farm-raised or frozen fish as well. And once again you know where it came from, how it was caught, cleaned, and transported. What better way is there to prepare your meals?
Many of the edible plants in the wild were a staple food for the native people of the area you live in but became less well known as the area was settled by colonists. As people moved from harvesting wild food and growing their own food to buying it from a store they became more obscure. For example, the dandelion that many consider the bane of their beautiful lawn is entirely edible. Every part of the plant from roots to the flower is edible and many consider them delicious in a salad. So too is the cattail. Every season a different part of the cattail is edible and many people preserve the shoots by pickling them in jars. When you start experimenting with the variety of native edible plants in your area you open up an entirely new arena of culinary delight for yourself and those you love. You could even try substituting some standard ingredients with something harvested from the wild. For example, wild onion/garlic/ramps/ can be substituted for traditional onion or garlic. It will have some similar properties but be just a little different adding a new depth to the dish. Of course, that is assuming you know without a doubt what you are harvesting, how to properly harvest it, and how to prepare it. Here are a couple of books that can aid you in your journey, but don't rely solely on a book! You must get experience seeing, feeling, and smelling them in the wild, preferably by a more experienced forager. The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer and Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias.
It can also be pointed out that hunting does not require a weapon! You can hunt wildlife with a camera anytime you want. Day or night, in season or out of season, nothing is stopping you from hunting your favorite creature with a camera, a pair of binoculars, a telescope, or a painter's easel. Or even just your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, neighbors, scouts, or whoever you want to teach about the world.
Full Body Workout Outside
The final personal benefit to buying your hunting or fishing license is the full-body workout outside. You will of course be able to go hiking or any number of other exercises outdoors without these licenses. However, if you need that little extra push to motivate yourself from time to time it is a little easier to do that when you need to scout for or gather your dinner. You'll be spending time in the natural world with far less air pollution which will certainly benefit your lungs if nothing else. And no machine at the gym can perfectly simulate the wide variety of terrain you will encounter on a simple walk in the woods. Hills, trails, creeks, rivers, cliffs, fallen trees, any number of obstacles that may or may not have been in the same spot a day or a week ago will present themselves. The physical benefits of scouting, hunting, and fishing even if you don't take anything else home will be aerobic and anaerobic, cardio, strength, and flexibility.
Wildlife Population Control
As noted in the introduction there is just no realistic way to return the environment to a natural and native balance. Since that is the case wildlife population control is essential to ensure that there is a relative balance between nature and humanity. To a certain extent nature will control the number of prey species and predators, but as these two groups interact with livestock or get displaced by habitat destruction the balance is thrown off and at least here in North Carolina the WRC must come up with a plan to recalculate it. Part of that plan is to check the population of coyotes so they don't kill too many of the prey animals. This isn't just for the hunters but also the red wolf. While its numbers are still small it is making a comeback here and if there is too much pressure from the coyotes there won't be enough prey for red wolves to breed properly. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, there are only about 20 roaming wild in native habitat in North Carolina. The remaining 245 are in 43 captive breeding facilities. If we ever hope to help the red wolf get off the endangered species list we all need to work together to ensure they have enough prey to eat and habitat to roam. We also need to ensure we don't confuse them with the coyote while controlling the coyote population.
This is only one part of the role hunters play, however. There are only so many wildlife biologists and they can only travel so far each year. There are over 2 million acres of game lands or public lands that allow hunting and fishing. As a hunter or fisherperson is traveling on this land they can take note of what they see and report anything unique or suspicious to the WRC. In fact, the WRC also sends out surveys for them to fill out and return to gather information. This helps study the habits of the wildlife of the state and note changes in their behavior. This is especially crucial on private land. The wildlife enforcement agent may be allowed to enter private land to ensure people on it are obeying the law, but technicians and biologists may not have the land owner's permission. If that is the case then they depend on the information gathered from hunters who hunt that land to tell them what's going on.
Invasive Species Control
The WRC also depends on everyone who uses the land to keep an eye out for invasive species and notify them if they are sighted. For example, the Ficaria Verna also known as Fig Buttercup is an invasive plant here in North Carolina that requires special care when being removed. So the WRC has requested that anyone who visits our game lands between now and this fall that identifies it to note the location and report it. Then the proper people will be able to respond the correct way to remove this invasive plant with minimum damage to the surrounding area. If this task was left to just the employees of the WRC there is no way they would find all the locations such plants have spread to. Such a plant can easily take over an area from native species and completely change the ecosystem. Many of the local animals may lose a food or bedding source. It's essential for those of us who go out and adventure in the outdoors to learn to identify such things and look for them every time we go out.
But the simple fact is that the number of licensed hunters nationwide is declining. As these numbers fall the funds available to keep these wonderful wild places from being destroyed declines. We saw a bump in those numbers over 2020 because of Covid and the number of people who either had more time than usual or just wanted something to do instead of being cooped up at home. With the virus coming under control now those numbers may begin to decline again. If that happens we have already discussed although in a very limited fashion the status of environmental cost management. Even if you don't plan to enjoy the wonderful wilderness of your state please consider buying your license to ensure it stays protected for the future. But I would certainly encourage you to get out there and enjoy all that the world has to offer in the wilderness!