North America is home to the most robust wildlife populations in the world, but it wasn’t always that way.
As a young American nation expanded to the west, many game species dwindled with some teetering on the brink of extinction due to overharvesting, and the commercial pursuit of meat, hides and other body parts, combined with the erosion of habitat.
The numbers bear that out.
By 1900, an estimated 41,000 elk are all that remained as well as 12,000 pronghorn antelope, 100,000 wild turkeys, 500,000 whitetail deer and a plummeting waterfowl population.
Hunters and conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell were gravely concerned and rallied sportsmen. They passed legislation, outlawed the commercial take of big game, pushed for stringent hunting regulations and spearheaded the formation of conservation initiatives and groups to benefit wildlife and wildlife habitat.
Hunters supported the creation of an excise tax on their guns, ammunition and archery equipment, willingly paid for hunting licenses and fees, and contributed to conservation groups.
Those combined efforts –that continue to this day– generated billions upon billions of dollars for conservation and wildlife management, allowing populations to strengthen and rebound.
Take the wapiti or elk, for example.
By 1984, the elk population grew to 550,000.
That same year, four elk hunters officially formed the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation – a conservation movement with a mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.
Over its 35-year history, RMEF worked with partners to successfully introduce elk back onto their historic range in Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.
It also carried out more than 12,400 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects that protected or enhanced more than 8 million acres of wildlife habitat – an area about six and a half times larger than Grand Canyon National Park.
And that translated into a current thriving population of more than one million wild, free-ranging elk across 28 different states.
The numbers tell the same story for other species. There are now more than 1.1 million pronghorn antelope, upwards of 7 million wild turkeys, 32 million whitetail deer and more than 44 million ducks.
When you size it up and look at the big picture, it clearly shows that hunting helped restore ailing wildlife populations…and that Hunting Is Conservation.