Hunters and Wildlife Watchers


(This 794th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 18, 2006.)


It seems unfortunate to me that a gulf is too often identified between participants in the outdoor sports - hunting and fishing - and those who take part in nature-related activities, the wildlife watchers - birders, botanists, hikers, conservationists, nature photographers, Audubon members and the like.


Although this column and many of my recreational activities identify me as a wildlife watcher, I have many good friends who hunt and fish. Of course we kid each other: to them I'm a "tree hugger", "lily collector" or "dickeybirder" and I remind them that they are "bloody carnivores" or "scatter-shots." However, we find few issues on which we disagree.


We each want to conserve our natural areas. We each are concerned about those who misrepresent us: those trespassers, litterers and poachers who give us all a bad name and as a result force landowners to post their property. We are each concerned about those animals and plants that are increasing out of control: Canada geese, swallowwort, starlings and house sparrows, purple loosestrife, zebra mussels, common reed, tent caterpillars, white-tailed deer and Japanese knotweed. We're equally concerned about the decline or loss of other species: grouse, wild orchids, red-headed woodpeckers, American elms and chestnuts and black ducks and blue-winged teal.


Yes, hunters do shoot turkeys, pheasants, ducks, rabbits, squirrels and deer; birds and animals that I enjoy watching. But I recognize that their hunting is monitored and controlled by Federal and State conservation regulations so that wildlife populations are not threatened. And I also recognize that we need some of the controls that hunting exacts.


Consider, for example, deer. While I appreciate the beauty of deer, I also appreciate the beauty of wildflowers. Deer and wildflowers are today completely out of balance. In many of our woodlands you will find very few wildflowers. In fact you will find little undergrowth from the ground up to about five feet. That is a direct result of deer overbrowsing.


It is easy to demonstrate this effect. Exclosures, areas enclosed by high fences, have been built to do so. Within months there is a profusion of growth inside the fence in marked contrast to that outside.


In any case we nature lovers don't have to support hunting and fishing to cooperate with those who do so on the ventures on which we agree.


Here's an example of what we can achieve together: I serve with outdoor sportsmen on the board of the Friends of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, the group that led the replacement of the Swallow Hollow Trail, a three-fourths million dollar project. It is important to note that the trail provides no access whatsoever to hunting yet the hunters pitched in to support the project with no hesitation.



Even more important to all of us concerned about wildlife, over the years outdoor sportsmen and women have contributed to the purchase or lease of wetland habitat over $700 million through purchase of duck stamps. That has meant the protection of over 8,000 square miles, an area about equal to that of New York State west of the Genesee River.


Remember, those lands are open to hunting for only a few weeks each year. Meanwhile, all year long they provide much needed habitat to all kinds of wildlife.


I think that we wildlife watchers should be working with the outdoor sports folks but I also think that we should first start paying our dues. We too should buy duck stamps or what they are now called, Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps. You can purchase one for $15 at any post office.


As it happens, this year's stamp pictures a Ross's Goose, a bird favorite of mine for several reasons. First, it is handsome, unlike the snow goose with its ugly grin. Second, it is rare here: I have seen only one in a lifetime of birding. And finally, I like the fact that Ross's is a rare example of a word with three same letters in a row. (The spelling on the stamp avoids this standard usage.)


Today we wildlife watchers outnumber all hunters and anglers together. We could make a huge contribution to the kind of land acquisition and protection that we need today.-- Gerry Rising