Elk NetworkScientific Research Speaks Loudly: Hunting Is Conservation

Conservation | August 13, 2016

A study published by the Journal of Wildlife Management indicates that hunting is among two recreational activities that inspire people to support conservation. The other is birdwatching. Perhaps the words of study co-author Ashley Dayer of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology best sum up the results, “There is hope for conservation in rural communities through both binoculars and bullets.”

The research focused on the activity of those who live in rural, Upstate New York and took into account a wide range of characteristics such as age, beliefs about the environment, education, gender and political ideology. What resulted was a finding that hunters and birdwatchers are 3-to-5 times more likely to engage in conservation behaviors.

birdwatching“The differences between wildlife recreationists and non-recreationists were most pronounced among a distinctive set of activities,” lead study author Caren Cooper, assistant director of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, wrote in an independent blog. “Only birdwatchers and hunters carried out conservation activities that required a high level of commitment, such as habitat restoration, joining local (conservation) groups, engaging in advocacy for wildlife recreation and donating money to conservation.”

“Managers often discuss direct and indirect links between wildlife recreation and conservation,” said study co-author Lincoln Larson, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University. “Our findings not only validate this connection, but reveal the unexpected strength of the conservation-recreation relationship.”

What really raised researchers’ eyebrows were the contributions of individuals who identified themselves as both hunters and birdwatchers. On average, this group was about eight times more likely than non-recreationists to engage in conservation.


“We set out to study two groups — birdwatchers and hunters — and didn’t anticipate the importance of those who do both, and wildlife managers probably didn’t either,” said Cooper. “We don’t even have a proper name for these conservation superstars other than hunter-birdwatchers.”

Wildlife agencies already fully recognize that hunters do their part in funding conservation. Hunters raised more than $7.2 billion to fund conservation efforts since the self-imposed implementation of a 1937 excise tax on hunting ammunition and equipment. They also generate nearly $800 million annually through the purchase of state hunting licenses and fees and donate an additional $440 million each year to conservation groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“The next steps are to figure out how to tap birdwatchers to harness and apply their interest in conservation,” added Cooper. “Will it be through a conservation tax on binoculars, bird feeders and field guides? Will it be through more citizen science? Suggestions welcome!”

Hunters will continue to do their part.