The Wild Back Yard
This April, Fox 13 in Tampa Florida posted a picture of three bobcats sitting in a resident’s back yard. The post generated 43,000 likes, over 40,000 shares and almost 4,000 comments. Out of all those comments a particular theme emerged; “we are invading their space”, or, “they were here first”. While I understand that habitat issues are the biggest challenge facing wildlife today, that is not what is going on here.
All across the country there are more and more human and wildlife interactions taking place in urban settings. The stories are everywhere: bears in people’s back yards, coyotes killing pets, mountain lions in LA, and countless stories of over populated deer. But this is not due to humans encroaching on wild places, but in fact due to ever increasing wild life numbers.
Sure four hundred years ago before Europeans colonized North America these places were homes to these animals plus many more. That all changed as Europeans pushed westward. Over hunting and trapping decimated wildlife population all across the continent. Some animals, like the passenger pigeon and the eastern bison, were even driven to extinction. Other animals like the whitetail deer that seem so common today were extirpated from much of their natural range. At the turn of the century wildlife was in dire straits.
So what changed? Why are we seeing all of these animals returning to their former range? Trust me – it is not by accident. What we are seeing today is the result of years and years of hard work. Hunters and anglers led the charge to bring about the changes needed to stop the decimation of wildlife, and started setting the ground work for the modern wildlife management system we use today.
Sportsmen continue that tradition of conservation. The purchase of hunting and fishing licenses fund state and federal wildlife agencies. They also donate money to organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited. They in turn use that money to fund all sorts of projects that benefit wildlife.
Over the last one hundred years, wildlife population has rebounded to almost unbelievable levels. Deer in states such as Ohio went from a population of zero in the year 1900 to over 650,000 in 2015. Wild Turkey has been reestablished in much of their native range. We now have populations of elk in five states east of the Mississippi that can be sustainably hunted. Wolves have been reintroduced to western states and are thriving. Grizzly bears are ready to come off of the endangered species list. And this is just a sampling of what has been accomplished by sportsmen.
Hunters and anglers are the leaders in conservation. Everyone has benefited from what they have done. Hikers, kayakers, and campers reap the benefits of the wild places that modern day sportsmen have worked for and paid to preserve. So when you look out your back door and see a wild world thank a hunter because it did not happen by accident.