COLLEGE STATION — A white-tailed buck is not worried about the sociological, ecological, and economic ramifications of wildlife management as he marks his territory with a scrape, but Texas Agricultural Extension Service wildlife specialists are trying to instill those qualities and an appreciation of the outdoors with the Conservation Education program.
Lessons on camping, outdoor cooking, fishing and shooting sports are included in each workshop’s curriculum, said Dr. Don Steinbach, Extension wildlife specialist. But participants are taught more than just how to read a compass or sharpen a knife. They are taught about wildlife habitat requirements, how hunters support conservation programs in the United States, and about the complexities of wildlife management in an increasingly urbanized society.
“Some of the participants may come to the workshops as non-hunters. That’s all right. We leave the decision to them,” he said. “We hope they leave there with an understanding of the interrelationship of hunting and wildlife management.
“We also try to instill in these kids that properly regulated hunting is not, has not, and will not lead to a extinction in the state’s wildlife, including endangered species,” Steinbach said. Modern wildlife management, funded in large by hunters, has brought back several species from the brink of extinction, including the white-tailed deer, elk, and wild turkey, he added.
Hunters, on the other hand, are feared to be on the brink of extinction. Their numbers have suffered a chronic decline since 1970 when 11 percent of Texans hunted. Today, that number is only 5 percent, and that figure continues to decay. Additionally, the average age of the hunting population is increasing, he said.
The contributing factors are many: urbanization, increase of fatherless households, changing demographics, lack of opportunity, expense, and even political correctness.
And, as hunting disappears, so does financial support for wildlife management programs, Steinbach said.
“If you enjoy wildlife in any capacity then you should be concerned about the fate of hunting,” he said.
Hunting and hunters contribute more than $3 billion annually to fund Texas’ wildlife management programs. Much of that goes to procure or improve habitat across the state, not just habitat for those species that are hunted, but for all wildlife species, he explained.
According to a 1989 study by Texas A&M University, 27 percent of Texans enjoy ‘nonconsumptive’ wildlife uses such as viewing wildlife, but most are reluctant to put their money where their recreation is. Only 48 percent favored a tax on drivers’ licenses and 16 percent favored an increase in utility bills to support wildlife habitat. “Hunters pay for wildlife conservation, both directly and indirectly,” Steinbach said.
Fees from hunting licenses and stamps, along with a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition, generate millions of dollars annually in Texas; more than $7 million were received by the state in 1994.
“About 11 percent of every firearm or ammunition purchase is earmarked for wildlife restoration through a federal excise tax,” he said.
These funds are used for a variety of wildlife purposes in Texas, including habitat restoration, research, and education.
The Conservation Education program is a joint effort of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Extension Service, part of The Texas A&M University System.
The program also got a special boost recently from Remington Arms Company and Dallas-based sporting good dealer, Ray Murski, acknowledging the significance of the effort by donating 10 Remington Model 1100 shotguns. These are used to train aspiring shotgunners in proper gun safety and use. More than 150 youth have been trained since the program began. The goal for the five-year project is to train 2,500 students.
“The shotguns donated by Murski and Remington demonstrate that both hunters and the hunting industry recognize the need to recruit new hunters in order to survive,” Steinbach said.
Workshops are held all over the state. For more information about the Conservation Education program contact Steinbach at (979) 845- 7471 or email@example.com.