Hunting and fishing have been integral parts of the American way of life since our country’s founding. Our pastime’s values of respect, responsibility, stewardship, conservation, patience, and yes, a large amount of humility, are passed along to our children, just as they were imparted to us by our fathers and grandfathers. Those lessons I learned as a boy hunting and fishing across North Carolina have guided me for a lifetime. While those principles may seem old fashioned or out of step with today’s norms, they are quintessentially American ideals, and worth preserving.
Regrettably, America’s hunting and angling heritage is embattled on many fronts. Increased urbanization, the allure of HDTV over a walk in the woods, attacks on the Second Amendment and the softening of our national character all conspire to create an uncertain future for our outdoor sporting traditions.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the future of our sport is that we are losing access to places to hunt and fish. As more and more private lands are subdivided, fragmented or placed off-limits, sportsmen are hanging up their shotguns and leaving their deer stands and fishing rods in the garage rather than heading into the field.
Nationwide, the loss of access is the number one reason cited for why Americans discard their hunting and fishing roots. For many of us who love the outdoors, our sport is more than something we do, it defines who we are. When the places that we have hunted and fished for generations disappear, our connection to the past and part of our identity is lost.
This is why hunters and anglers care so deeply about America’s public lands, especially those of us who live in cities and suburbs. They are our birthright as citizens of the greatest nation on Earth, and absolutely vital for the enjoyment and preservation of the outdoor sports we love. In my home state of North Carolina, we use our incredible network of wildlife refuges, game lands and national forests to cultivate the next generation of sportsmen through youth hunting and fishing programs. In the West, seven out of ten hunters and anglers depend on public land for access to fields and streams.
As our nation’s original conservationists, hunters, anglers and shooters have contributed vast sums to protect and preserve America’s outdoor treasures for this and future generations to enjoy. The taxes and user fees we pay on guns, ammunition, archery equipment and fishing tackle go directly to enhance habitat, increase wildlife populations and maintain access for hunting, fishing and shooting on public land.
The license fees we pay through Duck Stamp purchases are set aside to protect wetland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) protects land, water and wildlife resources across the country and keeps public lands truly open to the public. For 50 years it has been our nation’s most important tool to ensure sportsmen have access to public lands to hunt and fish in their local communities. Along the way, American families have created countless unforgettable memories while enjoying our country’s bountiful resources.
Our forbearers had the remarkable wisdom to conserve the most special places in the country for the permanent enjoyment of the American people. Ken Burn’s called it “America’s best idea,” and it is hard to argue with that. I have hunted and fished all over the world and there is nothing on Earth as special as what was bequeathed to us. As a citizen of the United States, we are all part owners of the most majestic real estate in the world. Each of us is entrusted with leaving this remarkable legacy better off than we found it.
Sportsmen take this responsibility seriously. For the sake of our sport, and the values we want to pass on, we must be vigilant in protecting our outdoor heritage. Let us remind our fellow Americans of the tremendous contributions of sportsmen and women to the conservation of our great outdoors and rededicate ourselves to strengthening our public lands, so that these great traditions will continue to thrive in next generation and beyond.
Robin Hayes, an avid hunter and angler, served 5 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing North Carolina’s 8th district from 1999-2009 and was the Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.