Heather Furman: Hunting and conservation - making room for all

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If you recreate in the outdoors and care about the quality of your recreational experience — the vast stretches of green, the opportunity to see wildlife, the health of Vermont's forests — thank a hunter.

Why? Because hunting and conservation have a rich history that has helped shape our landscape today.

In the 1850s, when Vermont's forests had been cleared to support our need for timber and farming, many of our most iconic species also disappeared. Moose, black bear, white-tail deer, beaver and wild turkeys were regionally extinct due to habitat loss and unregulated market hunting that fed and clothed a growing nation.

In the early 20th century, with the help of landmark legislation and the growth of state institutions like the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, wildlife populations and their habitats began to recover.

In 1937, the Federal Wildlife Restoration Action was passed, which provided state agencies with the financial resources to restore habitat, and cleverly leveraged interest in wildlife for hunting to generate conservation funding and was largely driven by hunting and hunting organizations. Commonly known as "Pittman-Robertson" funds, this money is generated by a tax on sporting arms and ammunition.

In Vermont, this has amounted to $370 million since these funds first started to flow into our state and now reach about $15 million annually to support species like the common loon, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Little Brown Bats and an array of wetland birds.

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With the recovery of much of our wildlife, their habitats and our forests, now covering nearly 80% of our landscape, Vermont is one of the most attractive recreation destinations in the country.

Vermont has one of the highest hunting participation rates in the country, with roughly 19 percent of the state's population holding a hunting or fishing license in 2018 and nearly 26 percent of Vermonters identifying as hunters in a recent poll. Despite demographic shifts driving a decline in participation, these remain some of the most popular outdoor activities statewide, and an important part of Vermont's cultural heritage. According to the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation, in 2017 hunting and fishing generated 6814 jobs and $442 million in economic activity in Vermont.

Our landscape today is one of bounty and beauty as compared to 150 years ago. Conservation efforts, whether they have been led by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, or a dozen other conservation non-profits in Vermont have helped create a spectacular and unique experience for all outdoor enthusiasts of all types.

Whether it's land protection and restoration, enforcement against poaching, scientific research on wildlife and habitats, management and hunting regulations, or wetlands protection for water quality, sportsmen and women continue to make this possible. Many of these activities can only be carried out by our state and federal agencies whose funding is largely generated by hunters and fishers, yet all Vermonters directly benefit.

With nearly a fifth of Vermonters participating in hunting and fishing, loss of access to habitat and encroachment by poorly planned development can threaten the conservation progress we've made as well as threaten the traditions and culture that keep Vermonters connected to the land. This fall, consider welcoming a hunter and providing an opportunity for them to enjoy the landscape they help protect.

Heather Furman is the Vermont state director for The Nature Conservancy.


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