Hunting And Conservation Are A Good Thing.

You may recall that last month Rudy Giuliani’s business buddy, a.k.a. Donald Trump, threatened to cut off federal aid to California because the state wasn’t doing an effective job on fighting wildfires. Now the fact that the Federal Government owns half the forest land in California whereas state forest lands represent 3% and thus the problem is one for the Feds to resolve as opposed to being the responsibility of Governor Newsom’s administration is only yet further proof (as if we need more proof) that the 45th President of the United States is the most misinformed Chief Executive of all time. Be that as it may, this exchange brought back to mind a brief chapter of American conservation history which deserves to be recalled.

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was an effort to combat the high rate of unemployment during the Depression while, at the same time, use government resources to expand and protect natural resources, particularly forest lands. When it comes to conservation we usually think of the other Roosevelt, Teddy, because he was an active conservationist his entire life and created five major national parks as President from 1901 to 1909.

Today the National Park System covers 85 million acres and everyone has either visited or would like to visit parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yosemite, Zion, the list goes on and on. I have been in every national park and my own favorite is Joshua Tree outside of Palm Springs because it is mostly desert which means the solitude is immense. A close runner-up to Joshua Tree is Capitol Reef in Utah, another amazingly undisturbed place.

What is often overlooked when we talk about federal government efforts to preserve our natural space is that in fact it was Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC that enlarged the National Wildlife Refuge system which now covers more than 150 million acres, including 566 national wildlife refuges in all 50 states. In my state, Massachusetts, there are 11 refuges and I often wander in and around the Oxbow Refuge, which is 1,667 acres of totally unspoiled, natural swamp with nesting places for various migratory birds.  During the years when the CCC was engaged in wildlife conservation, one of their chief tasks was to fight fires that threatened wildlife sites.

As open space becomes an ever-increasing precious resource, the fact that virtually everyone living in the United States can gain access to these unspoiled places by driving a short distance from their homes, means that the ability to appreciate the wildness of nature remains an experience we all can share.  What group among us is dependent upon this environment to help them enjoy the outdoors? Hunters, whose purchase of hunting licenses, firearms and ammunition have contributed more than $14 billion to the upkeep and extension of these natural zones.

Much of the current debate about the place of guns in American culture ignores how the use of small arms for hunting and sport is a vital element in preserving the space needed by wild to flourish and grow. This may sound like something of a paradox, insofar as we usually consider hunting to be a threat to wild animal life. But in fact, hunters understand and support the Boone & Crockett idea of a ‘fair chase’ is really all about helping to maintain the vital balance between all living things – humans and animals sharing the Earth’s natural space.

For me, the importance of hunting for strengthening conservation is a much more fundamental argument for gun ownership than anything having to do with armed, self-defense or 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Which is why I got involved with Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a remarkable organization whose scientific research is moving our understanding of  how to protect wild species to an entirely new level.

I am going to be writing more columns about C2S2 but in the meantime I invite you to look at their website (https://conservationcenters.org/) and subscribe to their Facebook page. I guarantee you’ll like what you see.

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Want To Learn About Guns? Try This Magazine.

              One of the reasons I like to write about guns is because it was when I first started reading about guns that I decided to become a gun nut. I had been given a Daisy Red Ryder when I was nine or ten years old; I also was a member of an NRA-sponsored shooting team when I was eleven (and have been a member since that time), but I got my first, real gun in 1956 when I was twelve years old. I’ll save that story for another time.

              About a month before I bought my first gun, the first of at least a thousand I have bought and sold over the following sixty-plus years, I found myself on a train going from Washington, D.C. to Florida, looking for something to read. What I picked up from a vacant seat close by was a copy of Field and Stream. And right inside the cover was a full-page, color photograph of some hunting gun, probably a Winchester or a Remington, which was the most beautiful photograph of anything I had ever seen.

              Why do some boys become gun nuts instead of collecting model trains or getting into ham radios, which is what most of my friends did back in those days?  I have absolutely no earthly idea. But what I do know is that I started wandering around gun shops and gun shows in my late teens, an activity which continues to the present day. And I also never go into Barnes & Noble without wandering over to the magazine rack and leafing through Guns and Ammo, Shooting Times or Field and Stream.

              The last-named is rather interesting because it just so happens that of late I am devoting myself to animal conservation and the restoration and protection of animal species which live in natural space. But we can’t assume that open, natural space is likely to remain open or natural without conscious efforts being made to keep things that way. And we certainly can’t assume that these spaces are large enough to provide the environment required for all wild species to survive. Which is why I have become a supporter of a remarkable organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival, but that’s also a story for another day.

              Getting back to Field and Stream, it was founded in 1895 and absorbed its chief competitor, Forest and Stream, in 1930. The editor of Forest and Stream from 1876 to 1911 was America’s first conservationist, George Bird Grinnell, who founded the Boone & Crockett Club with Theodore Roosevelt in 1887. Neither Grinnell nor Roosevelt ever wrote about guns, but they encouraged gun writers to contribute content to both of these magazines because they understood that hunting was an integral part of how humans have always interacted with the outdoors. And by the way, if you think for one second that the members of Boone & Crockett are just a bunch of right-wing yahoos running around in the woods with their AR-15’s, take a look at what the club says about climate change.

              As far as writing about guns is concerned, most of the writers who helped me become a gun nut happened to be contributors to Field and Stream.  I’m talking about guys like Townsend Whelen, Warren Page and Jack O’Connor who managed always to strike a wonderful balance in their work between the technical aspect of gun design and manufacture versus the joys and challenges of taking a gun out to the field.

              Many of the hunters and the gun writers I met growing up are long gone; for that matter hunting is also slipping away. When kids talk about enjoying the outdoors, they are much more likely to be carrying a kayak on the roof of their cars then carrying a gun in the trunk. But the outdoors is still the refuge for most of the wild species whose existence we both need and enjoy.

              And I am still grateful that I first became aware of this wonderment in the pages of a hunting magazine called Field and Stream.   

With Your Help A New Approach To Sustaining Animals Will Really Pay Off.

I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and lived right down the street from the National Zoo. So the zoo was kind of my backyard, so to speak, and I spent afternoons there looking at the various inhabitants, including the original Smokey the Bear, the bald eagles and many other animal species as well.  One of my favorites was a small group of North American bison who stood together seemingly without ever moving and attracted lots of flies.  I knew that if I wanted to see a buffalo in the wild, I would have to journey out west to the Great Plains.

cheetah           Which, in fact, I did in 1968 when I watched the buffalo roundup in Wind Cave National Park. The park, along with Custer State Park, lies just to the east of South Dakota’s Black Hills and the herd, which numbered about one thousand head, was a tiny remnant of the enormous buffalo herd which had survived the depredations of commercial hunting before and after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.  Buffalo meat can now be found on restaurant menus here, there and all over and today’s herd probably numbers around 200,000, enough to insure the survival of this breed. But when Europeans first came to America, buffalo could be found all over the continent and probably wandered freely through the area that is now the National Zoo.  By 1800, however, they had disappeared east of the Mississippi, having fallen prey not only to hunters, but to fences and land cleared and planted for farms.

The balance between human and natural habitats is precarious to say the least and always results in loss of the latter due to expansion of the former.  Our original conservation movement was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, who witnessed first-hand the disappearance of species as American settlers penetrated the frontier and moved across the West.  But regulating hunting seasons can only protect animals that are the targets of a hunt.  What about all the other wild creatures whose habitats are threatened by the ever-increasing encroachments of Man?

A genuinely different and effective response to this problem has now exists with the work of an organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), which unites the formidable talents and resources of such outstanding programs as the Smithsonian National Zoo, my old playground, the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas, Omaha’s Doorly Zoo  and several other major wildlife centers, to take advantage of decades of wildlife management experience and develop programs in biodiversity, population optimization and habitat management that can both expand existing species populations, as well as threatened species both within their natural environment as well as in man-made habitats such as nature reserves and zoos.

What I find most intriguing about the C2S2 effort is its emphasis on collaborations, consortium-types of planning and, most of all, public-private partnerships. I like this last approach because when it comes to conservation over the years the public and private sectors have often been at odds. Conservationists are often seen as anti-progress, private development is viewed as having little concern for the natural environment if it gets in the way of economic growth.  Does anyone need to be reminded of Sarah Palin leading the chant: Drill baby, drill?

The one question which remains to be answered is: why should we be concerned about the survival and sustenance of wild animals at all? I’ll tell you why. Because wild creatures teach us things about ourselves.  We have figured out how to go to the Moon, but we still haven’t figured out how to stop killing each other over the most unintended, little slight.  That makes us somehow a higher life form than a wild creature which never attacks its own species even in the search for food?

Take a look at the C2S2 website and remember that after tomorrow you’ll be done with Hillary’s campaign and you can donate some money to this wonderful group. It’s a good thing to do.

Maybe We Need To Understand Gun Ownership From A Scientific Point Of View.

Why do Americans own 300 million guns?  Building a civilian arsenal of that size really is an extraordinary achievement, particularly when you consider that the U.S. counts for roughly 5% of the world’s population but together we own maybe one-third of all civilian small arms in the world, maybe almost half the number of handguns and long guns that exist on the entire planet.

Now if you go to the so-called experts on gun ownership, the NRA and the other gun-marketing organizations, they’ll tell you that guns have ‘always’ been part of American history and that God plus the Founding Fathers gave us the uncontested ‘right’ to protect ourselves with guns.

lunde          Actually, like all good marketing slogans, this one has a bit of truth to it but it’s mostly hyperbole.  In fact, early colonial governments enacted gun-control laws to make sure that the guns which the colonists needed for hunting didn’t wind up in the ‘wrong hands,’ i.e., the Injuns.  And later on, when Roy Rogers and Gene Autry opened up the West, most frontier towns also enacted strong gun-control laws to keep things under control.

But until 1890, when the government announced that the ‘frontier’ was dead and gone, it was presumed that if you lived outside of a city, you needed a gun in order to secure necessary food for the table.  But the problem was that hunters had been so adept at bagging game that many of the animals whose meat had filled American stomachs were no longer to be found.  The white-tail deer were disappearing throughout the East, the bison was just about extinct, the huge flocks of carrier pigeons that had darkened the skies had disappeared, altogether the balance between Man and Beast was definitely tilting towards Man.

Enter Theodore Roosevelt who, by the age of eight and living in a Manhattan townhouse, was already captivated by the idea of studying every animal specie that he could find, and the way you studied an animal was to kill it, then stuff it and preserve it, then put it on view for others to do the same.  This is the opening theme of an important new book by  Darrin Lunde, who happens to be the manager of the Smithsonian’s Division of Mammals, which happens to be one of the largest collections of animal species, a collection that was started largely through the efforts of TR.

Roosevelt happened to grow up at a time when Americans became interested in natural history, largely because the Industrial Revolution was quickly transforming much of the natural landscape along with threatening the animals, fish and plants which comprised the natural environment.  His father, Theodore Sr., founded the American Museum of Natural History in New York; Roosevelt himself became a close friend of America’s first naturalist, John Bird Grinnell; going out into the wild and hunting game in order to learn more about wild animals remained TR’s passion for his entire life.

The attempt to use the hunting experience to understand nature came to full flower for TR between 1883 and 1887 when he lived and hunted extensively on his cattle ranch, the Elkhorn, located in the North Dakota Badlands, now part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Lunde chronicles the growing awareness on the part of Roosevelt that many of the big game animals he hunted were quickly disappearing; this awareness led to the founding of Boone & Crockett, the push for hunting regulations and the development of our national parks.

Roosevelt’s passions were hunting and guns.  But behind these two passions, and this is where Lunde’s book really stands out, was an awareness on the part of our 26th President that hunting needed to serve the interests of science, that guns were a means to advance our knowledge and appreciation of natural things.

The GVP community is uncomfortable with the notion of guns as self-defense ‘tools’ and rightly so.  But maybe a more balanced message about gun ownership could be developed by reminding Gun Nation why Teddy Roosevelt loved his guns.