CA - Business of Hunting LTE to the SF Chronicle
SF Chronicle to
To The Editor:
Tome Stienstra’s recent article uncovered many things about the
business of sport hunting, including that the number of hunters has
declined by 400,000 in the past 10 years throughout the West and that
"wildlife management” is funded by hunters. In a twist of irony, the
agency that is entrusted to protect wildlife depends on programs
designed to destroy wildlife. It is the ultimate case of the fox
guarding the hen house.
While the outlook for hunting is bleak, the Department of Fish and
Game can look toward wildlife watching as the future of wildlife
management and protection. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently
reported that last year, over 5.25 million people spent time feeding,
observing, and photographing wildlife in California, while only
Let’s replace the taxes on weapons, ammunition and hunting/fishing
equipment and replace it with a similar tax on outdoor-related equipment
such as binoculars, backpacks, and cameras used by wildlife watchers.
Funds collected from these alternate taxes can be dedicated toward the
protection and preservation of wildlife and the areas where they live,
making the need to depend on hunting, weapons and violence obsolete. To
protect wildlife and the areas where they live please visit
Joe Miele, Vice President
Wildlife Watch, Inc.
How hunters can protect wildlife
September 9, 2007
In a shocker, 96 percent of hunters are white, according to a survey
released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In California, only 1 out of 620 residents hunts ducks. That's even
though duck hunting success in California is better than in any other
state in America, an average of 28 birds per hunter in a season.
Across the West, the number of hunters declined by 400,000 in the
past 10 years, and by 10 percent across the country.
Yet in the same span, the number of wildlife watchers, including
birdwatchers, increased from 62 million to more than 71 million.
"The problem with this," said the Bay Area's hunting guru, James
Swan, "is that wildlife management and game wardens are funded by
hunters, not birdwatchers or other people who don't fish or hunt. So if
there's a decline in hunting, ultimately wildlife will suffer."
As crazy as this might sound to non-hunters, a decline in hunting
means fewer birds, animals and fish, according to Swan.
That's because hunter dollars from licenses, fees and taxes on
firearms, ammunition and other gear pay for habitat management and
acquisition and wildlife protection. In addition, game laws are set up
like lucrative bank accounts. That is, hunters are allowed to take the
annual interest but never to cut into the base capital. The quality of
habitat thus determines wildlife numbers.
These facts hit the news this week in anticipation of the opening of
deer season across the mountain country of California next weekend. At
the same time, Swan is producing a film called "Endangered Species: The
Fish and Game Warden," to raise awareness of the critical shortage of
game wardens in California, and also is co-author of a new book,
"Chasing the Hunter's Dream," the first complete guide to all hunting
destinations in North America.
Swan, 64, who lives in Marin County, is one of the nation's leading
spokesmen for hunting. He is a former professor, a Ph.D. who taught
psychology and natural resources, an outdoors columnist on the Internet
and an actor who has appeared in 20 films ("Murder in the First,"
"Jack," and as a stunt double for Patrick Stewart in "Star Trek: First
Contact"). Lately he has been making news across America for his
provocative support of hunting and wildlife.
Game wardens gutted
With the pending deer opener, Swan was out scouting this week in the
Sierra foothills in Nevada County with Fish and Game wardens looking for
poachers, when "by complete accident," they spotted the deer of a
"None of us had ever seen a mountain blacktail like this one," he
said. "It was a 5-by-6, atypical, where the antlers looked like branches
on a crazy tree, and it must have weighed 230, 240 pounds. It stared at
us for three, four minutes, then just vanished into the brush. It was
like a dream."
For hunters, it would be more like a mirage. The average success in
many areas is about 10 percent; 90 percent do not get their buck.
"Even though hunting deer is very difficult, it's a calling of the
primal soul that many people can't resist," Swan said. "Every person's
instinctual chemistry is different. You either feel it or you don't."
It's been well-documented by many surveys and studies that if you
don't grow up fishing and hunting, you likely never will fish or hunt.
The ongoing transformation of California to a largely urban population
that includes many immigrants from non-hunting countries has resulted in
far fewer hunters in the field each year. As old hunters die, they are
not replaced by young hunters.
The result is less money to pay for wildlife management and game
wardens. For instance, before new construction is permitted in a deer
habitat, state law requires a review of the impact on the local deer
herd, migration routes and wintering grounds. But this is never done
because there is no money for it. In addition, the number of game
wardens in California is only 1 per 185,000 residents, the lowest in
"This is stunning," Swan said. "Wardens are the front line of
conservation. Their absence is translated into declining fish and
wildlife populations all around the state."
In response, Swan is working with game wardens to produce an hourlong
documentary that describes the acute shortage of game wardens and its
Finding your spot
A passionate hunter since age 9, Swan has spent much of his life in
the field. In the process, he has seen hunter numbers decline partly
because so many in California and beyond simply do not know where to go.
That's why he co-wrote the new book, "Chasing the Hunter's Dream."
"Because people are living in cities, they don't have that personal
contact with locations," Swan said. "They have to travel farther to find
a place. Access to private land has become increasingly scarce or very
One consequence is that the casual hunter, the guy who would go out
for a few hours, for instance, no longer has close-to-home opportunity,
Swan said. I can identify with this. I used to spend a few evening hours
with my old buddy Archie Rich, hunting cottontails along the edges of
the fields of Brussels sprouts near Pescadero. That doesn't happen
The book is 515 pages and incorporates Swan's lifetime of passion in
Given present trends, I asked Swan if he thought hunters themselves
would become endangered species.
"Definitely, this could happen, unless hunters can mount a campaign
to create a positive image of hunting in mainstream television and
films," Swan said. "We need a film like 'A River Runs Through It' for
hunting. Mass media is what drives perceptions, especially for people
who have no experience with hunting."
How does Swan respond to those who think hunters are evil?
"Stereotyping is a side of naivete," Swan said. "Hunting can be a
great teacher of reverence for wild things. This is why hunters can be
the ultimate conservationists. They love what they see out there. Many
live for it."
Pike update: A story on Thursday's Outdoors page had the incorrect
date for the start of DFG's poisoning of Lake Davis. The northern pike
extermination program will begin this week.
About the book
The book "Chasing the Hunter's Dream" by the Bay Area's James Swan
and Jeffrey and Sherol Engel is the definitive guide to hunting
destinations in North America and beyond. "The aim of the book is to
help people find the best places to hunt, wherever they are," Swan said.
It will be published Sept. 25.
This is the only book of its kind, that is, a guide to virtually all
hunting destinations. That includes fish and wildlife refuges, all state
game areas, national forests and exotic trips, such as hunting geese in
winter under the northern lights in Iceland. The book is 515 pages,
retails for $19.95 and will be available in book stores and online.
For information, go to harpercollins.com .
E-mail Tom Stienstra at