Field and revenue stream: How hunting contributes to wildlife conservation

Waterfowl Hunting __ Photo by Chuck Traxler, USFWS

Waterfowl hunting // Photo by Chuck Traxler, USFWS

In some parts of Minnesota, it’s no big deal to see trumpeter swans flying overhead, their black bills in stark contrast to their white bodies. It’s exciting to hear the trumpeting sound they make and exhilarating to feel as much as hear the thumping sound their wings make as they fly overhead. And while trumpeter swans are relatively common in Minnesota today, that wasn’t the case 40 years ago.

In the mid-1980s, after trumpeter swans had been declared extirpated from Minnesota, wildlife officials from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) joined other groups concerned about the species and embarked on a project aimed at bringing the birds back to the state. They acquired trumpeter swan eggs from wildlife refuges in other states—Alaska, most notably—and then hatched the eggs and reared the birds before beginning to release them in 1987. The initial goal was modest: to create a breeding population of 15 birds. The goal later was revised to 500 individuals. Today, the state’s trumpeter swan population is booming, and the DNR’s most recent estimate pegs the number of swans that call Minnesota home at more than 17,000.

The comeback of trumpeter swans in Minnesota is without a doubt one of the state’s greatest conservation success stories, but also is a useful example of the array of funds that go into successful land and animal conservation. To fund the reintroduction, the DNR used donations from the Nongame Wildlife checkoff on state income tax forms, according to Carrol Henderson, DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor. The checkoff allows citizens to make donations at tax time. But there would have been no restoration without good wetland habitat, which was in place in large part due to proceeds from the state and federal duck stamps required for all waterfowl hunters.

“That’s the kind of teamwork that conservation requires,” Henderson said. “The word habitat itself underscores all of our conservation efforts. There is no distinction in nature between game and nongame—they all require quality habitat.”

Duck Stamps at Work :: Photo by Alex Galt, USFWS

Proceeds from federal duck stamps go toward wetland habitat preservation and restoration, among other things // Photo by Alex Galt, USFWS

There are a variety of funding sources when it comes to conservation in Minnesota. The Nongame Wildlife Program, for example, relies on the Nongame Wildlife checkoff, funds from which are matched by dollars from sales of Critical Habitat license plates (the plates that have images including deer, flowers, moose or pheasants) and additional matching funds from the State Wildlife Grants program.

License sales revenues from fishermen and hunters go into the Game and Fish Fund, which, according to the DNR, is its “most important fund for delivering fish, wildlife and law enforcement programs. It is used, among other things, to manage 5,400 fishing lakes, 1,400 wildlife management areas and support 150-plus field conservation officers. Nearly $100 million flows in and out of this account each year. The revenue is primarily the product of hunting and fishing license sales, federal reimbursements, and a sales tax on state lottery tickets.”

In addition to buying licenses, hunters need special stamps when hunting for some species, including pheasants and waterfowl. Because stamp proceeds go directly to conserving grassland and wetland habitat in Minnesota, Henderson urges everyone to buy the stamps, even if they don’t plan to hunt or aren’t hunters.

“Don’t hesitate to go buy them,” he said. “These all contribute toward habitat for [a wide variety of species]. Whenever habitat is preserved, from whatever pool of dollars, it benefits literally hundreds of native species that we all enjoy throughout the year.”

Next page: Conservation of Minnesota’s game species and beyond

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