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Public needs to know hunters are conservationists

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There are good reasons for those who care about such things to fret about the future sustainability of our American hunting heritage. Recently, in an address to the members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) – an iconic leader in modern wildlife conservation– well-known conservationist, Shane Mahoney, talked about the future. Some of his points:

1. The world culture is changing at warp speed. We are seeing “vastly changing attitudes toward not only hunting itself, but toward animals and toward wildlife.”

2. Hunters tend to be middle-aged to old.

3. Today, a mere 4.5 percent of the U.S. population hunt. In some states it is as low as 1.5 percent!

Mahoney rightly notes, too, that “if we become too few, we will become irrelevant.” Mahoney’s analysis and dissection of the societal changes shaping our hunting future was sobering, but uplifting all at the same time.

As a dedicated hunter in the autumn of my years, who has grown discouraged by the unrelenting drumbeat of opposition from the anti-hunting zealots, Mahoney fosters hope.

He is optimistic because, according to him, some of the largest and most effective conservation organizations, including RMEF, have begun to use their resources to tell our story to the non-hunting public. That story, of course, is that hunters really are the conservationists! As Mahoney told his RMEF audience, “sportsmen and women and the activity of hunting, done in a sustainable manner, operates as a conservation mechanism the world over.” This is relatively new, this global communication of the role that hunters play in wildlife conservation.

There is another ray of hope, too. It is a social reversal taking place where you would least expect it, in the cities and suburbs, in the very places where we thought it (the hunting heritage) was lost. Says Mahoney, “We have people that want to be locavores! They want to write books about farm-to-table. They want organic food.”

You get the idea. The urban folks, who don’t appreciate hunting like the rural folks, have begun to realize what we hunters have long known. Free ranging wild meat is the way to go if you are trying to get away from the health perils of corn fed domestic meat. They are also coming to see that there is something of profound value in the act of harvesting wild food and sharing it with friends and family.

Mahoney challenges the folks at RMEF to take a leadership role in getting this message out, in “crossing this new frontier in conservation.” As a member of RMEF and a longtime admirer of the good work it does in wildlife conservation and habitat acquisition and preservation, I have faith that Mahoney will not be disappointed.

Hopefully, Mahoney’s message will get through to all sportsmen and women at the grassroots level here in Maine. All of us, individual sportsmen and fish and game clubs, need to do a better job of sharing the message with friends, neighbors and strangers: hunters are the conservationists.

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The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.

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