By Michael Butler, CEO
In 2004, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation embarked upon a journey that many in the conservation and hunting community questioned – establishing a personal right to hunt and fish for the citizens of Tennessee. At the time, there were no challenges to Tennessee’s hunting, angling, and trapping heritage. There were only a handful of hunters and anglers across the state even paying attention. We were questioned by some of our friends, opposed by some of our colleagues, but we pushed forward with the idea to formally establish a personal right to hunt and fish.
We undertook this endeavor for one simple reason: hunting and fishing are the life-blood of North American conservation.
You may have heard it stated, but I will state it here again. The funds generated by hunting and fishing across Tennessee and our great nation pay for the overwhelming majority of all fish and wildlife management, land conservation, and other critical practices that help conserve all species – those pursued by hunters and anglers as well as non-game wildlife. This is because habitat does not discriminate between game and non-game animals, and when sportsmen’s dollars are put on the ground to create and enhance habitat this benefits all our fish and wildlife.
The “user pays” system of wildlife conservation, part of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, is the most successful and effective model our modern world has ever seen. It is responsible for the recovery of dozens of species of fish and wildlife. So successful this model has been that pieces of it have been adopted by other countries to help them recover their own wildlife populations. Additionally, the associated positive and sustainable economic impacts have proven to be critical to rural economies in Tennessee and other similar areas.
The most important aspect of why this model works is that in the United States, we have “democratized” our wildlife, meaning our wildlife is owned by the citizens (not the government or the crown) and are held in trust by the states. This public ownership of wildlife has allowed for equal access to our fish and wildlife resources for all wildlife enthusiasts. (To learn more about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation click here.)
Some of our citizens enjoy hunting and fishing while others prefer wildlife watching. Many simply appreciate knowing that wildlife is out there. But none of these uses are possible if not for the hunter and angler upon whose backs have been built and are maintained our state and country’s conservation infrastructure.
So it is important to understand that when people attack science-based, regulated hunting, they are attacking a system and model that is the very reason fish and wildlife have flourished. Our abundance of these species is not an accident. It is the result of the passion and care exhibited by sportsmen and women across our country who have passed laws to create our wildlife agencies, who have supported paying for licenses to fund those agencies and their activities, and who continue to give a strong and loud voice to the all of the fish and wildlife of Tennessee.
In 2010, the people of the state of Tennessee successfully amended our constitution and created a personal right to hunt and fish. Nearly 90 percent of the one-million voters who participated in that election voted in favor of establishing this right – a proud moment indeed for Tennessee’s wildlife conservation community. As Twitter, Facebook, and other media outlets examine hunting today and in the future, let’s make sure to let our voices be heard. Let us use that voice to inform others that the ethical and responsible hunters and anglers of Tennessee are the reason we have the abundance of fish and wildlife we have today. We have stood watch for the past 115 years over our fish and wildlife and ask that you join our efforts for the next 115 years.