|Love of Nature Grows in the Field
We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
-Aldo Leopold: Foreword to A Sand County Almanac, 1949
Aldo Leopold's words come to mind as we observe National Hunting and Fishing Day. You probably won't see it marked on your calendar, it's rather obscure, something akin to National Pickle Week, but let's not overlook it.
I fully realize there are many who see no reason to pay tribute to hunters. Their sport is scorned by many, most of whom don't appreciate the role hunters play in wildlife management far beyond financial contributions via licenses, stamps and permits, the proceeds of which are spent mostly for wildlife management and the acquisition of lands.
There are others more extreme who would even decline to give recognition to fishermen, whom they complain inflict injury on fish. To those of both groups, I pose the question:
Where would we be today were it not for the hunters and fishermen of past and present?
Through the history of this nation, it was the hunters and fishermen at the forefront in the preservation and conservation of land, water and the fish and wildlife therein.
Nature Is the Field
Put a rod in their hand - whether they're young or old, man or woman; whether the rod's a fine Orvis split bamboo that set 'em back many hundreds of dollars or a cheap bamboo pole - and a person associates with nature and natural surroundings to pursue the sport.
The same with the hunter, whether the weapon is a bow or a costly Parker shotgun.
Fishermen and hunters meander through the countryside, learning what nature, conservation, fish and wildlife are all about. Their proximity to the outdoors make them aware of what is right, what is wrong - and what is ominous.
And not solely because of selfish reasons of harvest, they are willing to spend and to fight to preserve or even improve the land and waters, the very habitat so vital to their fish and game. They have a vested interest. Also, for the most part, they have compassion.
And they have a unique knowledge gained via their trips afield. They have seen changes, most of which weren't to the benefit of the land and waters or the creatures that inhabit them. They know what development and change can mean, and they can be vocal and effective in fighting for the interest of game and fish and their habitat.
Who Pays the Bill?
Because they hunt and fish, they appreciate the vulnerability of wildlife when habitat is developed and fish when dredge spoil silts their waters. They have witnessed it. They know the needs of fish and wildlife, and with few exceptions are more than willing to pay to promote their well-being, preserve their habitat.
Few non-hunters realize it, but the funding for many non-game species, also endangered species, comes from hunters via their purchase of licenses, permits and stamps. For many years, the bulk of management for non-game species has been paid for by hunters - anything from the cardinals at backyard bird feeders and graceful white swans to eagles, bobcats and the Delmarva fox squirrel.
From where else would the money come? From the coffers of the state treasury? Not in this state, where the Maryland Park Serve is so neglected it could hardly operate were it not for volunteers. Our politicians talk big, and spend big. But fish, wildlife and habitat are not high on their list of priorities when it comes to budgeting.
So, on this occasion, hail the hunters and fishermen, the people who saved Assateague Island, Site 104 on the Chesapeake, the Woodmont tract in Western Maryland, the small darters of the Susquehanna complex and the native trout of the Gunpowder, also the wild turkeys now evident in every county across Maryland. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.
If just plain hunters and fishermen sounds too vague - a mass of nameless faces - let's talk individuals.
There's Teddy Roosevelt, the big game hunter of lands from the American West to the jungles of South America and Africa. His experiences afield were the foundation of his interest in conservation - and no president before or after did more to foster wildlife.
It was the old Roughrider himself who probably set aside more acreage of habitat than any other 10 presidents combined for national parks and forests visited by millions of Americans and foreign tourists of today.
The name is two-thirds the same, so also think of Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, the Maryland governor of the '50s, who loved to hunt and fish though a city boy with deep roots in Baltimore. It was while fishing on the Susquehanna above its confluence with Deer Creek that he got the idea to not only save the pristine wilderness on the west side of the river but to make it available for public use.
I know that story firsthand. I was on the rowboat with him that day when the late Joe Wolney, a self-proclaimed river rat, gave us the grand tour. Today, that area is the popular Susquehanna State Park, a mecca for campers, hikers and fishermen. Teddy Roosevelt McKeldin led the charge.
Think of the late State Comptroller Louis Goldstein, also an avid hunter and fisherman, who saw in Assateague Island not another Ocean City - as was on the drawing boards at the time - but a public seashore with no development beyond parks.
Think of the late Millard Tawes, a fishermen from down Crisfield way. When he became governor in the late '50s, he revamped the old Tidewater Fisheries Commission into what eventually became the Department of Natural Resources. He was at the helm when the state saved Assateague and plans were made for popular Point Lookout and Shad Landing State Parks.
Think of Marvin Mandel, another ardent hunter and fisherman, who guided acquisition of lands for more state parks and wildlife areas. While he was governor, our state park system was among the very best and most user friendly in the entire nation.
Today, much of the philosophy has changed. It's save the forests, but little mention is made of the trees or the wildlife within. It's dredge, develop, enhance the business and industry base while giving lip service to the true meaning of environmental enhancement.
What we need are more well-informed leaders to save our forests, marshes, swamps, waters, fish and wildlife - and we'll get them as long as we have hunters and fishermen learning afield.
Enough said ...