By Bruce Auchly
FWP Region 4 Information Officer
A couple of weeks ago there was National Hunting and Fishing Day. Then came National Public Lands Day. Today it’s something like National Cup of Coffee Day.
It’s always national something day, and many represent a good cause. Some don’t but most do.
The problem is there are so many that most get ignored, especially the worthy ones that celebrate this nation’s outdoor heritage. So here’s a solution if you enjoy the great outdoors: "Hug a Hunter" and "Hug an Angler."
The trademarked idea comes from the Wildlife Council, a Colorado coalition of hunters, anglers and conservationists working together with livestock and agriculture organizations, and created by Colorado Legislature in 1998. Its mission is to design public information programs to educate everyone about the benefits of wildlife, wildlife management, and wildlife-related recreational opportunities, specifically hunting and fishing.
Since the 1930s, America’s hunters and anglers have footed the bill that allows the entire country to not only hunt and fish, but watch tweety birds at the bird feeder, laugh as our kids try to catch frogs in small, gurgling creek, or sometimes just lay in a canoe and drift down a beautiful river.
It wasn’t always that way. Fewer than 100 years ago, fish and wildlife were on their way out, down for the count. In the 1800s, wildlife seemed like an inexhaustible food source for the country’s population.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, including those wild places we call habitat.
Through a series of federal laws, starting with the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937—celebrating its 75th anniversary this year—that placed taxes on manufacturers of firearms and ammunition, states were able to combine hunting and fishing license dollars with federal dollars to study and restore fish, wildlife and habitat.
Imagine. Americans saying to Congress: We want a tax.
By the way, that original act passed a Congress grappling with the Great Depression and the devastating Dust Bowl. It wasn’t easy, gaining passage after groups like local garden clubs and birdwatchers joined hunters and anglers in lobbying for it, too.
Anyway, that pot of gold, and subsequent taxes placed on makers of archery and fishing equipment, has left us with countless projects and places that benefit all fish and wildlife.
How about Freezout Wildlife Management Area, a 12,000-acre wetland area that lies between Fairfield and Choteau, used by water fowlers and birdwatchers alike.
It’s a wonderful spot to watch marsh birds in the spring or, occasionally, a snowy owl in the winter. All courtesy of hunters who paid for the property and habitat improvements.
How about the work that takes place each summer tracking migratory songbirds like yellow warblers and orioles. This nationwide effort has nothing to do with hunting, yet is accomplished through the largess of hunters.
How about the state’s elk herd, currently estimated at near 150,000. Yes elk are hunted and they have rebound from historic lows 100 years ago thanks to hunters. But all those September busloads of elk watchers that head to the C. M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge on the Missouri River north of Lewistown get a free show courtesy of, you guessed it, hunters.
There are countless similar stories where a tip-of-the-hat goes to anglers.
So if someday you find yourself enjoying fish and wildlife or the wild places they live, hug the next hunter or angler you see. It's an idea that deserves to catch on throughout the West.
You can find more information about the Colorado Wildlife Council's campaign at www.hugahunter.com.