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4 Places Where Hunters Are Working to Protect Game Animals

In Washington State, North Dakota, South Carolina, and the western U.S., hunters and fishermen are working to ensure the survival of the very species they target.

As a dove hunter, Charles Lane spends hours crouched in the South Carolina woods, waiting to hear the telltale flap of wings rise into the air. But he is also a conservationist working to set aside riverways that are home to waterfowl in the heavily populated eastern U.S.

While it may seem dubious to some that people who seek to kill animals could take part in saving them, many hunters and fishers are committed to restoring natural habitats and maintaining America's wild places. (See "More Women Give Hunting a Shot.")

In Washington State, North Dakota, South Carolina, and the western U.S., hunters and fishermen are working to ensure the survival of the very species they target. Whether it's lobbying against development or restoring habitat with a shovel and an ax, hunters have made some serious inroads into saving species.

In fact, as you can see in the video above, it was largely thanks to hunters like Lane that the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Basin (dubbed the ACE Basin) remains the largest undeveloped estuary in the eastern United States.

Lane, a real estate agent, served as the chairperson of the ACE Basin Task Force from its inception 1989 until 2004. Since then, the task force has gone on to protect more than 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares) of river corridor.

"Whatever my personal feelings about hunting are, as a scientist, hunters contribute to conservation. I don't think there's any doubt about that," says Stuart Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and a conservationist of the more traditional stripe.

Outside of the classroom, Pimm works to preserve habitat and prevent extinctions. Unlike Lane, Pimm does not own a gun and can't imagine putting a bullet through an animal. But he understands, at least in part, why hunters do what they do. (Related: "Lion Hunt Photo Touches Off Heated Conservation Debate.")

"Many of those hunters like to be out in the very same places that I go out," says Pimm. "They celebrate being in nature in the very same way that I celebrate being in nature."

Finding a Balance in the Badlands

There are many competing interests for the badlands of North Dakota: More than 90 percent of the state's land is privately owned and holds farms, ranches, and more recently, oil and gas drilling rigs.

The state is the second largest producer of crude oil in the U.S., with a 177 percent increase in production just between 2010 and 2013.

However, with all that development comes concerns for the state's environment and wildlife. For instance, the oil-and-gas boom is fragmenting habitats of mule deer, a common game species that undertakes huge migrations. (Related video: "A Deer Migration You Have to See to Believe.")

That's why the Mule Deer Foundation is collaborating with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the University of Missouri, and the North Dakota Petroleum Council to conduct an impact study to better understand what effects oil drilling may have on the state's mule deer.

"We need a balanced approach to agriculture production, to oil development, to managing rangelands for livestock," says Ryan Krapp, state chair of the North Dakota chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation and a hunter. "That's been my mantra over here: 'a balanced approach to development.'"

Krapp and his colleagues at the foundation are also responsible for on-the-ground conservation work such as prescribed burns, habitat restoration, and youth-education programs.

The Real Duck Dynasty

Love them or hate them, many people across the world now know what a duck call sounds like, thanks to the A&E show Duck Dynasty. What you may not realize is that there's a far more influential group of duck-hunting enthusiasts, and they've been around a lot longer than reality television has.

The group is called Ducks Unlimited, and it's an international nonprofit organization that has set aside more than 13 million acres (5 million hectares) of waterfowl habitat throughout North America. According to the organization's website, Ducks Unlimited members have raised almost $3.5 billion for conservation since 1937. (See National Geographic's backyard bird identifier.)

For instance, the Preserve Our Prairies Initiative seeks to raise a total of $100 million over five years to protect around a million acres (400,000 hectares) of key prairie habitat stretching from South Dakota and Wyoming north to Alberta, Canada.

The initiative encourages farmers to plant waterfowl-friendly crops and provides incentives for landowners to restore wetlands and grasslands—actions that protect nesting and nursery grounds for waterfowl. (Related: "'Walking Wetlands' Help Declining Birds, Boost Crops.")

Suburban Salmon Run

In many classrooms, kids learn about biology by raising hamsters or chickens. In some schools in Washington State, they rear coho salmon—a fish that was once common in streams up and down the coast but has declined greatly due to loss of habitat and pollution.

John Muramatsu is a dentist most days of the week, but as a longtime member of Trout Unlimited, he spends his days off teaching kids about salmon biology and water quality—that is, when he isn't restoring streams by hand or casting a few lines in the surf himself.

As part of his Salmon in the Classroom program, Muramatsu and his local chapter of Trout Unlimited—which is not related to Ducks Unlimited, by the way—provide classrooms with tanks and salmon eggs. (See "5 Unconventional Ways to Get People Hooked on Nature.")

The students raise the fish from fry until they're big enough to return to the wild. Muramatsu then takes the kids on a field trip to show them how to release the fish into suitable streams.

He knows it's unlikely that most of these students will grow up to be fishers, but Muramatsu thinks the program is important because it helps connect people with the land.

"The kids get really invested in these little fish," says Muramatsu.

"It teaches them that everything they do in the community has impacts on the stream. What they do or their parents do in their yards, what happens on the streets, it all goes back to the streams."

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