Fourteen years ago, I stood in the snow, struggling to digest what I had heard. A group of us, gathered to learn about monitoring and protecting wildlife habitat, had just discovered that our instructor—Sue Morse, founder of Keeping Track—was a deer hunter. I found the news disturbing. How could she work to safeguard the homes of animals she described as “neighbors” and then turn around and shoot one of them? I found it inconceivable that someone could be both an environmentalist and a hunter, a caretaker and a killer.
Today, I, too, am both. I understand that caring for animals and their ecosystems is not incompatible with participating in those systems as a predator. I recall how extreme the contradiction once seemed, but I now see how vital it is to bridge the gap.
Wildlife conservation faces serious challenges these days. Among other things, the climate is changing, development continues to fragment habitat, and many state wildlife agencies depend on antiquated funding models. The best way to meet these challenges is for hunter conservationists and non-hunter environmentalists to join forces—overcoming the mutual stereotypes and suspicions that obscure their common ground.
For many environmentalists, the word “hunter” suggests a mindless brute, an enemy of nature who loves guns, kills for fun, and cares nothing for biodiversity or ecological integrity. For many hunters, the word “environmentalist” suggests a self-righteous tree-hugger, an enemy of freedom who hates guns, has no respect for hunting, and imagines nature as a Disney-like fantasyland where humans should not tread.