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Conservation vs. Preservation: Which is Better for Wildlife?

Safari Club International (SCI) advocates for the rights of hunters and their leading role in conservation across the globe, although many wrongly view hunting as antithetical to conservation. This idea is mistaking conservation and sustainable use for preservation. Conservation is a method of species and ecosystem protection made possible by sustainable use, active management, and revenue generation. On the other hand, preservation means total protection and minimized use of nature and resources, and while idyllic, is unrealistic and impossible to implement. Unfortunately, many confuse the two terms including activists who fight for preservation and total exclusion of humans from participation in nature, starting with hunters. 

The United States depends on the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, in addition to multiple use, for the conservation of species and habitat across the country. This originates from the conservation ideology of Theodore Roosevelt to both protect and enjoy the outdoors. Dollars generated from participation in the outdoors, such as park fees, hunting licenses, and ammunition taxes fund conservation of habitat and species. Most of these funds come from hunters and directly provide for conservation. Should this method be abandoned for a preservationist approach, the incentive structure of conservation and hunting would be discarded. Without public participation, revenues for habitat would shrink and land can easily be converted to other uses such as agriculture, natural resource extraction, or development. 

Preservationist ideology can be applied to an ecosystem altogether or to individual species. “Animal rights” groups frequently capitalize on emotions surrounding charismatic species and landscapes; it is easy to frame hunters as destroyers of nature. They don’t just fundraise on the charismatic species, however; their preservation efforts are often singularly focused on one and neglect all the others. In addition to providing the revenues for conservation, hunters participate in active management of species, helping to ensure that their populations remain stable and healthy in the ecosystem and in local communities. This has an umbrella effect, protecting the game species as well as their habitat and all species in it and is one of the most effective strategies for biodiversity. 

The most well-known example of hunting as a conservation and management tool in the U.S. is the Whitetail Deer, which has grown from a population of 500,000 in the early 1900s to over 32,000,000 today. Hunters play an active role every year in maintaining a healthy population for the ecosystem and deer, and without hunting they would grow to unsustainable levels. 

This same debate is being had around the world, especially in Africa. Preservation without hunting is detrimental to both rural Africans and African wildlife as it exacerbates human-wildlife conflict, includes no management, and provides less funding for wildlife and habitat. For example, elephants require management strategies, much like species in America, but because of their charisma they are prime propaganda pieces for preservationists. While there are many ways to generate funds for conservation through non-consumptive use, such as photographic safaris, hunting remains the main driver of conservation in Africa and around the world. 

Without management by hunters, wildlife is managed without bringing in revenues or benefits to communities. The reality is that humans and wildlife must coexist, but beautiful wildlife can be dangerous and adjacent communities must have incentives to tolerate potential hazards. The loudest voices against hunting and management are often the ones most removed from the realities of wildlife. They ignore local communities and stakeholders for the idea that total preservation is the only way when conservation is vital for both species and people. 

The world needs more wildlife, and the most effective method to increase biodiversity is through sustainable, well-managed hunting. SCI will continue to be First for Hunters as hunters are always first for conservation. We need your help…add your name to our petition and tell the Biden Administration the importance of committing to a “No-Net-Loss” of public hunting and fishing access across the country.  

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