Yup, Hunters Are Conservationists, Study Finds

Dickie-bird lovers may be as strong of conservationists as we hunters are.

That’s what a study out of Clemson and Cornell Universities earlier this week suggests.

In being a not-all-too-unexpected result, it provides an unexpected insight into the other side for the “binoculars and bullets” sets.

“Both birdwatchers and hunters were more likely than non-recreationists to enhance land for wildlife, donate to conservation organizations and advocate for wildlife – all actions that significantly impact conservation success,” reported the East Coast schools in a press release.

THE EDITOR AND A FRIEND DRAG OUT AN OKANOGAN COUNTY BUCK. (MIKE ARMSTRONG)

ERIC BELL (LEFT), A HUNTER-BIRDWATCHER, THE STRONGEST KIND OF CONSERVATIONIST, ACCORDING TO A RECENT STUDY, HELPS THE AUTHOR DRAG HIS 2O13 BUCK OUT OF THE WOODS. (MIKE ARMSTRONG)

Surveying a variety of rural Upstate New York residents to predict conservation values, they found that “birdwatchers are about five times as likely, and hunters about four times as likely, as non-recreationists to engage in wildlife and habitat conservation.”

It would be interesting to find out if their results can be replicated in other parts of the country, but the study does reconfirm ancient news: stone tablets unearthed in Rome and Egypt report on the link between hunting and conservation.

OK, maybe not that far back, but coming out of the rape that was market hunting in the 1800s, those of us who chase deer, elk, migratory birds and other species have long been associated with caring for critters and their habitat.

Through taxes on gun and ammo sales over the past seven and a half decades as well as federal duck stamps, we have literally contributed billions of dollars to habitat and restoration work.

Billions — with a b.

Yep, a lot of that has flat-out been to help out bucks, bulls, bears and birds, but it’s also provides for plenty of nongame wildlife.

No habitat, no nothing.

Sometimes, these days, we feel that that mighty contribution falls on deaf ears. To get the word out, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has adopted the motto “Hunting is conservation.”

Birdwatching’s linkage with conservation isn’t as direct, and the term dickie-bird lover — which I know from one of the most hardcore sportsmen to have lived in the Northwest — is a disparagement that rose as game agencies began to fold in missions beyond wildlife with tasty meat and/or big racks.

It’s been a source of tension.

There’s clear connection between buying a duck stamp and seeing wetlands bought and restored, but the question has always been, how does hanging out at Skagit Flats and watching the snow geese come in lead to more money for more wildlife?

Buying gas and grub at the Conway gas-n-goes helps local businesses, but not the birds. There’s no excise on binoculars and monoculars — and fortunately, as I wrote recently, there’s never been one on Polaroids and rolls of slide film.

Otherwise, these days, wildlife would be up Dry Slough without a paddle.

There’s also tension at the management level because of the implications of adding more chairs to the roundtable.

We’re defensive of our territory — for good reason.

But as I’ve written before, we and the agencies that manage animals should also be looking for allies, and those guys with the life lists might be some.

“Diversified strategies that include programs to encourage both hunting and birdwatching are likely to bring about long-term gains for conservation,” write the study’s authors Caren Cooper, Lincoln Larson, Ashley Dayer, Richard Stedman and Daniel Decker in the abstract of their paper, “Are wildlife recreationists conservationists? Linking hunting, birdwatching, and pro-environmental behavior,” which was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.”

“Our results provide hope for wildlife agencies, organizations and citizens concerned about conservation,” said Dayer, who is at Cornell, in the press release. “Birdwatchers, a group not traditionally thought of as a constituency by many wildlife management agencies, have real potential to be conservation supporters if appropriate mechanisms for them to contribute are available.”

What those are, I don’t know, but the last point I’d like to bring up before going back to my day job is this:

Want to know who they found to be the most ardent conservationists of all in their study area?

The five write, “Hunter–birdwatchers had the greatest likelihood of engaging in all types of conservation behaviors.”

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