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EYES ON THE ENVIRONMENT

Wildlife conservation changes on the horizon

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Turkeys

Turkeys take a stroll on the Grand River in South Dakota.

Mike Gutzmer

“Things aren’t what they use to be”. Wow, is that an understatement. North America and the world are undergoing unprecedented change in the world of wildlife conservation (and of course a whole lot of areas too).

The social and ecological context for fish and wildlife conservation in North America is changing rapidly. Habitat loss and change, invasive species, agricultural and industrial impacts, declines in biodiversity, and the impacts of climate change are becoming more and more evident as each day passes. The trend in globalization with increased connectivity, improved technology, increased mobility of people, urbanization, an aging population, broad socio-economic change, are all affecting the conservation of fish and wildlife.

At the same time, society is increasingly diverse, urban, and disconnected from nature. The pandemic kept more people at home and allowed for a greater exposure to bird watching and nature and hopefully generated some natural history appreciation. Waters becoming clearer around the globe was evidence of even short term impacts of our presence and how our “footprint” is significant.

According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife agencies the number of hunters and anglers – the historic funding base for state fish and wildlife agencies – is declining. The cost of outdoor recreation in general and the challenge of getting access to private lands for hunting and fishing is a growing problem. If you don’t have the money, hunting, as many baby boomers know it, will go by the wayside.

As the percentage of people who hunt and fish declines, the base of people who are aware of, participate in, value, and support conservation must be expanded beyond traditional constituencies who can no longer disproportionately shoulder the financial burden. This lack of understanding and engagement by a large segment of society could have implications for the sustainability of fish, wildlife, and their habitats. The private sector needs to be involved.

Values toward, fish and wildlife; declining or stagnant participation rates in hunting, angling, and trapping; and increasing numbers of people who do not have a personal connection to the natural world are happening before our very eyes. Traditional views toward conservation are being comingled with newer views that put pets on pedestals and assumptions that wildlife –in the wild- will take care of them-selves as they have in the past. Certainly this is not true.

As conservation issues become more complex, new skill sets and out the box strategies will be needed for long term management of many species (There are 12,000 species listed on the species of greatest conservation lists need taken from State Fish and Wildlife Action Plans).

The traditional government “expert model” is outdated and a broad range of constituents need to be involved, especially landowners and the private sector. In response to these trends, fish and wildlife agencies must find ways to engage and serve broader constituencies to expand the financial and political support necessary to ensure the future of North America’s conservation legacy. Broader constituencies are individuals and groups of people who are not currently engaged in conservation or with a conservation agency.

This Thanksgiving is another reminder we should be more thankful, grateful, kind and respectful to our fellow man and the natural world God has blessed us with. It has been so easy to get caught up in all media hype, political rhetoric and negative attitudes toward each other and our beliefs from the past couple years.

Maybe it’s time to press the reset button this holiday season and be a lot more positive. William Shakespeare once said “One touch of nature can make the whole world kin”. We all want the same things that drive the human soul and the core of our being, maybe it’s time to relish those wild things left and appreciate each other a whole lot more…"

Michael P. Gutzmer, PhD is principal and owner of New Century Environmental LLC and provides environmental consulting services in the Great Plains. NCE works with water, wetlands, habitat development threatened and endangered species and pollution problems. Please email me at mgutzmer@newcenturyenvironmental.com.

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