Emily Iehl was sliding down a peaceful river in the middle of the night, just listening to the slide by the canoe when she heard a huge slam on the water.
“It made me lose my mind because I had no idea what would happen there in the middle of the night,” she said. “And it turned out to be a beaver flapping its tail on the water right in front of our canoe.”
Iehl, who is the R3 – recruiting, retention and reactivation – and sport shooting program specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the experience was like a dream, and not something she would have experienced had it not been on a hunting trip with her husband.
“You go there day after day – not at a specific time – it gives you a feeling of beauty in the world,” she said. “But that’s the whole experience, the things I went through were amazing, for lack of a better word.”
Hunting has a long tradition in Wisconsin, and it’s not just about chasing animals, for many it’s more about being in the wild and feeling a connection to the land. Although urbanization is on the rise and hunting is in decline, it continues to play an important role in the conservation and management of the territory.
With that turnout – down about 50% from 50 years ago – conservationists fear conservation efforts, which rely on funding gun taxes and fees license, suffer.
Yet Buddy Huffaker, executive director of the Aldo Léopold Foundation, sees an opportunity to remind people how important hunting can be in connecting people and the land.
The Aldo Leopold Foundation recently published a new manual, “Why hunt? A guide for lovers of nature, local cuisine and outdoor recreation“, which offers a guide to hunting through the prism of conservation.
“We have recognized that there is this kind of increased interest and attention to the environment and we want to make sure that people understand the kind of economic, ecological and social benefits and values associated with hunting,” did he declare.
Hunting is the main economic driver of conservation in terms of land protection and wildlife management, Huffaker said. And not just for hunters, these funds are used to restore non-game populations and wildlife habitats.
“The estimated economic impact of hunting is approximately $ 26 billion per year, which makes it a bigger business – as a business if you can add it all up – than McDonald’s, ”he said.
Hunting today is very different from what it was before the turn of the 20th century. It is highly regulated and scientific, and concerned about the health of wildlife populations, Huffaker said.
Take the white-tailed deer. Huffaker says many wildlife biologists agree there are too many white-tailed deer in Wisconsin. For humans, this means more car crashes and more health problems. like Lyme disease. For deer, they are overcrowded and more prone to chronic wasting disease.
“It doesn’t even take into account the impacts that too many deer have on the landscape in terms of consuming wildflowers and stopping tree regeneration,” he said. “At this point, hunting is really the only way we have to manage the white-tailed deer population. “
Part of what keeps people who might be interested in hunting are the negative and unethical stories that can surround it, Huffaker said. He thinks that’s understandable, and given the declining turnout, something the community needs to understand.
“This is an issue that the hunting community may not have been so thoughtful about,” he said. “He needs to do a better job of communicating positive values and the ways you address and alleviate those concerns.”
Hunting is growing among a group, women, but not enough to make up for the loss of male hunters, Iehl said.
Both Huffaker and Iehl are aware of the lack of diversity and hope the guide will help make the hunt more accessible to those who didn’t grow up around her.