Ask the Conservationist

What Is The Nature Conservancy's Stance on Hunting?

Hunting is a topic that can bring out a wide range of opinions. One reader wants to know: does The Nature Conservancy allow hunting on our preserves? 

Read below for the answer.

Dr. Nik D of Milwaukee, WI writes: I recently listened to a public radio interview with the Wisconsin State Parks Director, Dan Schuller, about the approval of hunting in state parks. Mr. Schuller was very positive about the law, but I disagree with it. What is the Conservancy’s stance on hunting? What is the impact of legislation such as this, and does the Conservancy allow hunting on its land at all?

Casey Eggleston, Wisconsin’s government relations coordinator, answers:

This is a good question, because it definitely brings out the opinions of many. The short answer is this: Hunting policies vary across the Conservancy from state to state and country to country, but is never allowed where we believe it will do harm to an endangered or threatened species.

But the long answer is that in many places, hunting is a critical tool in controlling wildlife populations that are damaging the species and habitats we are concerned about. For example, populations of species like white-tailed deer have increased dramatically in many places as agriculture has provided better food sources for them and natural predators have declined. Too many deer can have dramatic effects on habitats by stunting tree regeneration in forests. Allowing hunting on some of our preserves can reduce this impact and help mimic a more natural system.

Another example of where hunting is important in our work is in the control of invasive species, such as feral hogs. In many areas of the country this species is a top threat to our preserves. Feral hogs can out compete other animals for food, and may consume the nests and young of many reptiles, ground-nesting birds and mammals.

Everyone who hunts must have a hunting license – and these licenses provide a large percent of funding for improving and protecting natural habitat! Though hunting certification procedures vary from state to state, it’s important to know that certification can often entail a mandatory class in which the potential hunter learns about the ecology of the land – things like carrying capacity of the land – and also humane hunting skills.

This doesn’t mean, however, that hunting is right in all places at all times. Access for hunting needs to be balanced with public safety and competing recreational uses. It is important to the long-term health of our environment that everyone is able to enjoy nature and understand why it is critical that we protect it.

There are many places at which you can enjoy hiking, cross country skiing or bird watching where hunting is not permitted, including some Nature Conservancy preserves, other land trust properties, and many county and state parks. Contact your local Conservancy chapter and they can help you find places to enjoy your outdoor activities.

Editor's note: After publishing the article above, we received a follow up question from Ms. Stephanie L. from Perrysburg, OH: My question refers to the subject of The Nature Conservancy allowing controlled hunting of certain species. Do you not agree with natural selection or relocating a problem species to another preserve? I know relocating would be a huge task but isn't it worth it?

Casey Eggleston weighs in:

Those are several good questions. In an ideal setting, natural selection and a balance between predators and prey would keep checks and balances on an ecosystem so that flora and fauna would both thrive. In many of the places we work, however, the systems have been altered by human activity so that these balances are no longer in place. Predators have been removed from systems and invasives have been introduced so that some populations explode at the expense of other species. In some cases the reintroduction of predators, such as wolves in the upper Midwest, can help bring these populations back into check in a natural way, but this option isn't viable everywhere we work.

Relocation is also used in some situations. It has been used with over populations of beavers and otters at a few of our preserves. Relocation is not an option, however, with species like feral hogs. They are an invasive to the Western hemisphere, so relocation to the environments they belong in is simply not realistic.

We do recognize that many people do have a moral objection to hunting and that our position does conflict with that point of view. Our hope is that while those people may not agree with our position on hunting, they would recognize that our use of it on our land is done in an attempt to improve the health and resiliency of all species.

Originally posted in December 2012.


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