The gist of their stern response was that in comparison with many other outdoor user groups in the U.S., hunters and anglers actually foot most of the bill for wildlife management, protection and conservation. When the poor guy tried to argue the point, my friend stopped him and asked him if he knew where the funding for nearly all state wildlife agencies comes from in this country. The man replied that he supposed it came from taxes, same as with other state departments. This immediately earned him a rousing round of laughter (if not ridicule) from the sportsmen at the table, not to mention a little more educating.
Fact is, most state fish and game departments, including our own Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, receive little to no state funding from tax revenue. Nearly every penny of the money required to operate these agencies comes from one source — hunting and fishing licenses.
I have worked in both outdoor outfitting and conservation for most of my adult life (my headshot with this column gives a rough idea of how long that is). And through that experience I've learned that most sportsmen and sportswomen care deeply about protecting and conserving our wildlife and the lands and waters they need to survive and thrive.
If not for their passion for their outdoor pursuits and traditions, our forests and streams would be largely devoid of many of the animals we now take for granted. In other words, those cute white-tailed deer you watch in the field by your house, or the flock of wild turkeys that roost in the woods nearby likely would not be there if hunters had not advocated bringing them back to their native habitats.
From the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, we had nearly wiped out most game species here in the southern Appalachians. Only through intense reintroduction programs and sound scientific management — supported by sportsmen — were healthy populations of these animals restored after the decades of overhunting and habitat destruction. How do I know this? Ask nearly anyone that was around in the 60s and 70s, and they'll tell you it was a pretty big deal when a hunter harvested a decent size deer, turkey or bear in these parts. And trophy size fish of certain, now common species were rarely heard of as well.
Certainly in hunting and fishing, as with any outdoor sport (or most human endeavors for that matter) there are those participants whose motivations are questionable and actions less than ethical, if not less than legal. The few negatively impacting the many is an age-old reality we know too well. Unfortunately, hikers, campers, boaters, bikers, horsemen and even photographers and plain ol' nature lovers do things and act in ways they shouldn't.
Among the things that make our outdoor adventures most memorable and exciting are our chance encounters with wild things in wild places. For the reasons mentioned, hunters and anglers are greatly responsible for those experiences. But we don't have to hunt or fish, or maybe even like that other people do to appreciate this fact. As Isaac Asimov once said, "Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in."
David A. Ramsey is a regionally and nationally recognized outdoor photographer and writer from Unicoi, TN. His recently released book, Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild, is available at www.ramseyphotos.com and at Mahoney's in Johnson City