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The True Value of Wild Harvest

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“Being able to get groceries from nature, sustainably, is yet another affirmation that our system works.”

We live in a modern, fast-paced country that never slows down, until it does. For most of us, that slowdown occurred in mid-March 2020. Going to the grocery store and seeing several aisles of near empty shelves was shocking, and eerily unsettling. Fortunately, most items were back on the shelves relatively quickly, but seeing empty shelves at the grocery store, even once, can be a hard image to forget. For many of us, having a freezer full of wild harvested fish and game meat available to share with family and friends is a huge comfort, something we may have taken for granted before March 2020. Food security through wild harvested foods is a luxury most people in other parts of the world do not have, but this level of food security is not an accident, it’s by design.

The luxury I am referring to is not just having a freezer full of the highest quality, organic food available to share with family and friends. It’s also knowing that once that meat is consumed and gone, the freezer can be refilled, year after year, albeit at a price. Each spring most of us will buy a license, apply for tags, purchase tags (if we are fortunate enough to draw them) and buy a few new pieces of hunting or fishing equipment. It is a cost, but it is also an investment. All of the money spent on licenses and tags goes to our state wildlife agency where it may help pay for a game warden’s salary, fund wildfire restoration, pay for hunter education, or even fund a bighorn sheep reintroduction. Regardless, the money will be used to help conserve, manage, and restore the wildlife resources we care about. As for the new hunting and fishing equipment purchased each year, a portion of that money finds its way back to wildlife too. This is done through federal excise taxes on guns, ammunition, archery equipment and fishing equipment that is collected by the federal government and redistributed to state fish and wildlife management agencies. It’s this cycling of money from the user, to state wildlife agencies where its spent-on wildlife conservation that ultimately conserves wildlife resources, affording us the ability to bolster our food supply and food security while also creating and maintaining future hunting and fishing opportunities.

The user-contributed funding essentially foots the bill to make sure wildlife is conserved, but it hasn’t always been this way. In the early 1900’s, many of the wildlife species that call North America home were in dire straits. The wild west had been tamed, exploited, and many wildlife species we would deem relatively common by today’s standards would have been at the top of the Endangered Species List (if it had existed at that time). Market hunting for food and hides without regulated hunting seasons or bag limits had pushed many species to the brink. Fortunately, hunters of the day realized the urgency of the situation and were looking for opportunities to distinctly set themselves apart from Europe and the kings’ deer mentality. Through the passing of several legislative acts pushed forward by these early conservationists, market hunting was outlawed, and the ownership and responsibility of wildlife was bestowed upon the American people.

Along with enacting legislation, trailblazers like George Bird Grinnell and President Theodore Roosevelt founded the first wildlife-centric conservation organizations including the Audubon Society and the Boone and Crockett Club. These hunters and others like them helped influence an entire generation of Americans to value the conservation of wildlife and wild places. I do not exactly fashion myself after anyone from that era, but I certainly appreciate what they’ve done for us. Backpack archery hunting in the Jarbidge wilderness, eating freshly caught trout from a small alpine lake in the Ruby’s, and hunting chukar in any number of mountain ranges isn’t something anyone would be able to do without this chapter of American history.

For many of us, going to these wild places and hunting with our friends and family is what we look forward to most each year. Imagining what kind of people we would be without these trips and experiences isn’t difficult, it’s impossible. What we learn and what we experience while hunting often cannot be replaced. Hunting is where most of us learn mental toughness as we tackle how to navigate obstacles, overcome unique challenges, and push ourselves further than we ever would in our day-to-day lives. After a hunting trip we come home physically exhausted, but mentally reinvigorated. We are grateful for the animal and the pursuit, appreciative for the food (if we come back with meat) and we constantly cycle through memories of the trip before planning our next adventure. These are just a few of the reasons why we are excited to pick up a rod, bow, or rifle before racing out the door but, explaining that “why” to someone else can be difficult. If you are like me, it can be one of the hardest things to explain without appearing offensive or insensitive to other’s perspective.

My perspective and connection to wildlife as a consumable food started at a very young age. For as long as I can remember my uncle has run a small wild game meat processing business. Helping him butcher and package game on top of having it for dinner every other night has framed the way I see the world. I feel fortunate to have gained that perspective so early in life. Many of my friends and neighbors can’t conceive butchering an animal or know the first thing about hunting, fishing or even camping and that’s perfectly okay. I cannot expect that everyone has been afforded the same opportunities and experiences that I have, that’s life, but if you told me to put myself in my neighbors’ shoes, I’d be uncomfortable. Imagine if the only place you knew you could get food from was the grocery store. How would you have felt over the past few months?

Sustainable wildlife harvest that provides healthy food to millions of people that rely on it to feed their families is the envy of the world, but simply our way of life here. While I cannot speak for millions of people, I can speak for myself. It is one thing for me to fill my freezer with fish, big game, and upland game that I have harvested and processed throughout the year. It is entirely something more to share that food with my friends and family, and I know many of you feel the same way. Long before I ever started hunting, I fished as much as I could and when I found out how much my great aunt enjoyed “pan-sized trout” I always made sure she had some in her freezer.

Sharing fish and wild game is not new, it is in our blood, it is part of what makes us human. So please share your harvest and if nothing else be thankful we live in a place where any person can get at least some of their food from wild places that are not completely reliant on the global supply chain.