What Is Sustainable Use Wildlife Conservation?

By John McLaurin, SCI President

Originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of Safari Magazine.

The more polarized the world becomes, the more important it is to use the right words to convey the right message at the right time to the right audience. This is because, more and more, the anti-hunters deliberately mischaracterize what is said when it does not align with their predetermined, unalterable views. 

But is it really the “right words?” Is there really a verbal silver bullet that’ll make a difference or turn the tide? Likely not. Whatever words are used, attempts will be made to twist or vilify them at best. Then what matters?

For me it is all about engagement, utilizing the facts, the science, the truth. No different than SCI’s Advocacy approach. Bear in mind it is not necessarily with anti-hunters (who constitute only a small portion of the world). They’re just loud. When you’re wrong on the truth, try to shout the truth down so it can’t be heard. But engage with legislators, courts, media (print, radio, social). 

That is where the real public resides. People who appreciate and recognize the truth. When we do engage in a positive and truthful manner, terminology does have meaning and consequences. So, it is important employ the basic terminology that SCI employs as it is accurate, truthful, clear and effective.

Nowhere is this more evident than in wildlife conservation. When hunters talk about it, we mean the effective conservation of wildlife. We call that sustainable use wildlife conservation because it is critical that those receiving the message not be confused about what we mean.

What sustainable use wildlife conservation means is conservation that results in the use of wildlife resources at levels that are sustainable. In other words, no net loss at the very least, and increased resources in many, if not most, instances.

As hunters, we are stewards of wildlife, which means that we recognize the moral responsibility to take good care of what nature has provided. Many species of wildlife that now are abundant likely could have become extinct without the money and efforts of hunters. These include species like bison and pronghorn in North America, for example. 

That money and the sweat equity of hunters produce the resources for anti-poaching and game management by wildlife professionals that ensure the future of wildlife. It is often said that were it not for hunters paying for licenses, hunting and the needs of wildlife, there would be no wildlife to conserve. Those are not idle words. That is the truth!

When we talk about sustainable use conservation, we mean effective conservation that leaves wildlife better off today than it was yesterday.

This is in stark contrast to what many others mean when they use the term “conservation.” Anti-hunters often mean preservation when they use the term conservation. Yet, the two terms are not interchangeable.

“Preservation” of wildlife presumes a limited quantity and that anything taken cannot or will not be replaced, while “sustainable use wildlife conservation” is an open-ended term that assumes the ability to maintain and even grow numbers of wildlife. For some, this may seem like a semantic difference as part of a word game, but it makes a huge difference in how messages to the public are received and perceived.

Whenever I talk about hunting and sustainable use wildlife conservation, I make it a point to add the words “sustainable use” because the idea is to conserve wildlife resources in a way that wildlife can be sustained indefinitely for all future generations.

I invite all SCI members to use the same terms when discussing conservation. If we all speak with one voice, we can positively influence the way non-hunters view us and hunting.

We may never change the minds and rhetoric of anti-hunters, but anti-hunters are a small minority. For sure, there are more active hunters. But that leaves about 80 percent of Americans, who, according to research, have a positive view of hunting. 

But unless they hear, see or read about how it is that hunters are the ones who actually pay for wildlife conservation; unless they are told and shown the truth about hunting and hunting conservation practices, they only hear empty, baseless, non-scientific rhetoric which has been known to unduly prejudice. 

Hence, it behooves us, as hunters, to help non-hunters understand what we mean when we talk about sustainable use wildlife conservation and why it is important, especially for the animal species that face potential disaster if the money from hunting is not there to ensure a bright future for wildlife in wild places around the world.

Sustainable use conservation is achieved with applied science, not emotion. How anti-hunters feel about wildlife matters only if non-hunters believe the antis’ delusions.

As hunters, we are the good guys. Thank you all for being members of SCI and for doing what you can to help save hunting for the future. Good hunting!

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