There is art in the sport of hunting and fishing, a tradition often borne from the marriage between the need to provide food for the family and the love of the outdoors. For some, it is a deeply rooted and cherished family custom. Others, by comparison, are newcomers.
Regardless of where they come from, or their reasons for taking to the outdoors, dedicated hunters and anglers are stewards of the land—keenly aware that their roles are intrinsically tied to the respect and care of the land.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of the land and to have and maintain the personal connection- some would even say spiritual connection – to the outdoors,” said Jaime Schwartz, U.S. Forest Service partnership coordinator, shooting sport liaison and outdoor ethics program manager. “We, as hunters and anglers, need to be responsible stewards of what nature has given us. Outdoor ethics is a mantra the best hunters and anglers live by.”
It was, after all, this spirit of stewardship that prompted the U.S. Forest Service to lead the way in outdoor ethics.
The Forest Service has developed outdoor ethics principles that gave rise to Leave No Trace program in the 1960’s. The success of this program led to cooperation among the federal land management agencies. Additionally, the Forest service launched an awareness campaign in 1985 that five years later became the nonprofit organization Tread Lightly!, an organization dedicated to responsible outdoor stewardship and ethical recreation.
Modern outdoor ethics, on which so many organizations are based, can be traced back to the great conservationists that founded and molded the Forest Service as it is today. In fact, the lands managed by the Forest Service represent so much more to sportsmen and women than just the recreation opportunities they offer—they are the legacy of some of America’s greatest historical sportsmen and conservationists.
President Theodore Roosevelt, under whom the Forest Service was first established, said “in a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” Roosevelt’s own Boone and Crockett Club—of which the first Chief Forester of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, was a member of and a confidante to Roosevelt—championed “fair chase” hunting ethics, which later became the foundation for hunting and fishing laws in the United States.
Still, these outdoor ethics, age-old practices of sportsmen and women for generations, were not so much established as they were discovered. Aldo Leopold, renowned outdoor enthusiast and educator, was transformed by his experience as a forester working for the Forest Service. He had a great respect for outdoor sportsmen and women, saying “a peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than by a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.”
It is for this reason that since 1972, America has celebrated National Hunting and Fishing Day. This is a day that celebrates hunters, anglers, sports shooters, and their unique and critical contributions to the responsible and sustainable management of the great outdoors.
Today, hunting and fishing serve an important role in the conservation of the great outdoors, to include lands managed by the Forest Service.
Between hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed taxes on equipment, hunters, anglers, and sports shooters themselves pay for most fish and wildlife conservation programs. Together, they contribute almost $245 million dollars a day to wildlife, wildlife agencies, and to the economy.
Because of this commitment to their sports and to conservation, entire species which are now common, like wild turkey and white-tailed deer, have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
Even now, hunting plays an important role in the management of ecosystems, preventing overpopulation which can result in destruction of habitat, spread of wildlife illnesses like Chronic Wasting Disease, and threats to human safety as animals spread into populated areas. Sportsmen and women continue to play a key role in the conservation of wildlife and habitat while simultaneously supporting a robust outdoor sports economy.
On Saturday, September 23, take the National Hunting and Fishing Day pledge to take someone new out for their first hunting, sports shooting, or fishing experience. You may help to create not only a new generation of sportsmen and women, but the next generation of conservationists as well.
Whether it’s fishing for bass, bluegill and catfish on the Cherokee National Forest, or elk hunting on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the Forest Service offers unparalleled opportunity to experience the great outdoors through these time-honored traditions.