On August 24, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will reveal which national monuments he’ll recommend to reduce in size or abolish. The direct challenge to Teddy Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act is unprecedented and threatens to put the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of those of the American people. That it’s unpopular with environmentalists isn’t a surprise, yet they haven’t proven to be the most outspoken—or effective—opponents. That honor belongs instead to hunters.
In cities, hunting has developed something of a bad rap. Blame Duck Dynasty, Walter Palmer, and Elmer Fudd. Yet America’s public lands and America’s tradition of sport hunting are so intertwined that they’re virtually synonymous. And the latter is responsible for conservation in this country.
Here’s the brief history lesson: public lands and modern sport hunting were both created by the same person—ol’ Teddy—around the beginning of the 20th century. He realized that without giving nature a value, people would never protect it. So he created a system for setting aside vast tracts of land for public ownership and use—including resource extraction, so long as it didn’t destroy the land. That resource extraction included managed hunting of wildlife: Roosevelt’s sport-hunting system regulated the numbers of animals hunters were permitted to take, as well as taxed them for the game, with the revenue going right back into funding public-land management.
That’s conservation, in a nutshell, and it’s been enormously successful. Today, populations of animals like deer, elk, bear, antelope, and game birds have rebounded across the country. Hunters pay billions of dollars that go toward protecting this habitat. It’s a marvelous, self-sustaining system, a proud…