President Theodore Roosevelt was often quoted saying “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.”

An avid hunter, fisher, and overall wildlife enthusiast, Roosevelt dedicated his life to preserving America’s natural wonders. It’s no secret that the sport of hunting is not booming like it once was in Roosevelt’s generation, though. In a recent study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, researchers found that the amount of American hunters over the age of 16 has dropped to five percent; over half of what it once was 50 years ago. This rate is expected to continue to decline in acceleration. Hunting participation declined by 2 million participants from 2011 to 2016 to 11.5 million. Total hunting expenditures declined 29 percent from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. This is primarily caused by a shift in the culture of American life. Urbanization is occurring rapidly in even the most rural states. This has caused a limit on hunting areas. Digital entertainment continues to dominate markets and incorporate itself into people’s’ lives. This correlates to a posing issue with the age demographic of sportsmen. Nearly one-third of hunters are baby boomers. There is an obvious and urgent need for mentor and mentee programs, increased sportsman and outdoor education for younger generations, and an overall change of perspective on hunters. These issues pose an extreme threat on the environment, wildlife management, and how the United States funds conservation. Yet, leftists across the country demonize hunters, while simultaneously ‘championing’ environmentalism.

A look back into history shows that the original conservationist was the hunter. President Theodore Roosevelt continually encouraged outdoor education and exploration, as well as “Conservation through wise use,” or allowing hunters to participate in their sport by helping pay for conservation. A practice began to spread through states at that time to create revenue through hunting license fees. In 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act passed to finance wildlife management and conservation through sportsmanship. This included an excise tax on guns, ammunition, and any other tool used for hunting or fishing. This money is dispersed to states for wildlife efforts, so long as states can match 25 percent of their apportioned dollars. Hunters often contribute more to conservation than many environmental activists – contributing 11% of their purchases on any item from a fishing rod, bow and arrow, or yes, a rifle. This money is then appropriated to the Fish and Wildlife service for habitat rehabilitation and population resilience. The funds raised by this tax, about $19 billion dollars, surpass non-hunting conservation sums by at least a comma. Hunters perform another large component of conservation – controlling wildlife populations. Evolution has programmed species like deer and elk to reproduce at unsustainable levels if all offspring were to reach adulthood. There are conservationists and land managers that determine the number of animals that can be hunted per year. This is to ensure it is a maintenance effort, rather than a destruction effort, as those opposed to hunting would suggest.

If the left truly wants to protect the environment, they must embrace hunting for what it is at its core: an act of conservation. A target on the Second Amendment is a target on conservation efforts. Sure, everyone wants to deter gun violence and ensure public safety. That doesn’t change the fact that gun control could be detrimental to conservation. In fact, it would eliminate much of the funding raised by the excise tax on sportsmen gear. Though proposed gun control laws do not directly target hunters, they pose a threat to the Second Amendment as a whole. The Second Amendment was not written with sportsmanship in mind, but sportsmen recognize the need for safeguarding gun rights for all. If the most basic semi-automatic rifles are banned or even limited, how will hunters participate in their sport? Leftists and gun control activists as a whole are probably not aware of the implementations that limiting firearms would have on the environment that they claim to love. Roughly 60 percent of wildlife and habitat restoration efforts are funded by hunting and fishing. The Left claims to have the goal of “responsible gun ownership,” so why not support hunting and the use of semi-automatic rifles? If gun control laws begin passing now, they will eventually make gun ownership too expensive and burdensome; causing the sport to die out, and eventually not exist. Even if hunting is not threatened at this time with proposed gun control laws, the precedent will be set. It will create an open door for increased regulations on one of the most precious liberties Americans hold. It’s been seen to happen in a number of nations such as England and New Zealand, where “compromise” means confiscation. In sporting paradises like Africa, it can take a year to get a hunting rifle, and you can only own four – if the government warrants you to own one at all.

The left loves to virtue signal on an array of issues including the Second Amendment and the environment. When tragedies strike, like the shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe, Democrats are the first to yell at the top of their lungs about the immorality of gun use, even by law abiding gun owners. When a conservative says they are skeptical about the science behind climate change, they are automatically ignorant. This polarizing rhetoric comes with no facts behind it, no basis of argument, and no room for a difference of opinion. It puts peaceful and tactful discourse at risk and pushes people to the outskirts of these important issues.

As mentioned previously, a shift in American culture has caused a decline in sportsmanship. This brings along a general misconception of what the hunter is. A hunter is not a blood thirsty redneck. They don’t hate morality. They certainly aren’t an enemy of nature. A hunter, at their core, is an environmental steward. They are a conservationist who cares enough about the God’s gift to mankind to spend their time and money preserving it. They’re dedicated to saving wildlife and preserving species for future generations. No, hunters aren’t selfish about their right to bear arms. They simply don’t believe in legislating morality. Instead, many believe in promoting smart, safe, and free gun ownership. Hunters, above all, want to see a change in the stigma around gun ownership and sportsmanship. When we lose hunters, we will eventually lose our environmental fight. As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.” If the left wants to save the environment, they must reach across the aisle, and embrace sportsmanship.

Riley J