As hunters, we often look to conservation organizations to protect and enhance hunting opportunities or address the critical habitat issues facing upland birds. Yet, many of us are not even members of the organizations we look to for support. For example, the nation’s largest quail organization recently announced its membership topped 15,000. This represents 1.8% of the country’s 841,000 quail hunters. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, there are 1.5 million pheasant hunters and 844,000 grouse and prairie chicken hunters. Only 8% of pheasant hunters are members of Pheasants Forever, and just 1% of grouse hunters are members of the leading conservation organizations focused on the species they hunt.
In contrast, an estimated 47% of the nation’s 1.4 million duck hunters are members of Ducks Unlimited or Delta Waterfowl. In addition to membership in conservation organizations, duck hunters consider it a normal cost of doing business to purchase both a federal and state duck stamp. Since its inception in 1934, the Federal Waterfowl Stamp has raised over $800 million for conservation. Restoring wetlands and waterfowl was the single mission of a small group of sportsmen. Despite the daunting biological, political, industrial and sociocultural environments of conservation today, do upland bird hunters represent a small group of thoughtful individuals capable of reversing unprecedented decline with a singular focus on uplands and upland game?
Based on the responses to Ultimate Upland’s article It’s Time for a Federal Upland Stamp, we learned that many hunters would like to see conservation organizations receive additional funds and lead the effort to reverse declining upland game populations. We followed up by asking the various organizations involved about their programs, accomplishments, goals and challenges to provide a side by side comparison. Their complete responses are available by clicking logos below.
Most of the organizations we spoke with agreed the biggest issue facing upland species today was loss of habitat. According to Pete Muller, Public Relations Specialist for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), “We lose 6,000 acres a day, with a total of the size of Yellowstone National Park each year.” The NWTF Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt. is a 10-year initiative with a commitment to conserving or enhancing 4 million acres of habitat, creating 1.5 million hunters and opening access to 500,000 acres. To understand the magnitude of the losses we face, if we continue to lose habitat at the 6,000-acres-a-day rate, even if NWTF conserves 4 million of those acres, we suffer a net loss of 18 million acres of habitat over the 10-year period.
Pheasants Forever (PF) and Quail Forever Vice President of Marketing Bob St. Pierre points to the Farm Bill as the organization’s current national focus. “Through 2018, it is estimated that $24 billion will be available through the conservation title of the Farm Bill for habitat opportunities.”
Although the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) embedded in the Farm Bill provides large scale, direct and measurable benefits to wildlife and habitat, the Farm Bill is a politically-charged piece of legislation addressing food, farms and jobs and is tied to agricultural interests and commodity demands. Funds allocated for conservation in the latest Farm Bill have decreased by $4 billion over a 5-year span. If we do not fund habitat recovery with sportsmen’s dollars, are we willing to become political activists and rely on an indirect source of government funding for upland game?
Don McKenzie, Director of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) acknowledges that, “Neither the NBCI nor any other game bird organization, initiative, institute or association has taken serious steps to address the bigger, broader need for new, larger, stable funding for upland game bird conservation at the national level.” While species-specific initiatives, such as the NBCI, Sage Grouse Initiative, and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative demonstrate new paradigms in wildlife management that epitomize the value of partnerships, if we want to see meaningful conservation outcomes for upland game, we must come together as a community and support proactive partnership over larger landscapes.
Fundraising through the banquet model is an important source of unrestricted revenue for most conservation organizations. Woodcock Limited told us, “Direct habitat work is our biggest initiative, and that comes from increasing chapters/members.” Jay Stine, Executive Director of the Quail Coalition, points to their unique model that maximizes the use of private dollars, “We minimize organizational overhead with no headquarters building, no offices, and only one contract employee.” Upland hunters are often a fractious group who focus on the differences between dogs, guns, game and methods. We come together in support of conservation for the particular species we hunt. But, how do we overcome the distinctions between the various organizations and build trust amongst ourselves as a broader community to tackle habitat loss as a single initiative?
In order to create greater participation in the issues, we have to recognize that hunting as we know it is a fragile proposition. Upland birds are often nesting in our neighboring woods and fields. They are elusive and camouflaged to their varied environments. While we may be secure in our own access to hunting grounds, there is a national crisis involving the loss of our nation’s vast grasslands, early-successional habitats and forests along with the wild birds that rely on them that we seem content to ignore.
The accomplishments and goals of conservation organizations must be understood in the broader context of long-term population declines and a trend toward future habitat loss and degradation. If we accept the status quo we are not going to change the trajectory for upland birds. The future of the game birds we hunt and the wild places they require to survive depend on overcoming our distinctions to join a collaborative conservation partnership that crosses the sometimes controversial boundaries between states, species, organizations, and agencies.
We may believe that it happened all of a sudden when we find ourselves in fields without pheasants and mornings without the sound of bobwhite. If we see the problem clearly, we can begin to move towards changing it through our passion, commitment, and singular focus. The time is now. Where would we be today if we had taken steps toward a dedicated funding source for upland birds 20 years ago?