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The Cost of Conservation

Intro text

Conservation is not without its costs and trade-offs.

By: Chris Hitzeman
UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting

Wildlife and Hunting Conservation Issues

Before I owned land, I used to think conservation was something somebody else did or was responsible for. Heck, I'm not even sure there is a common definition for what conservation is and means. Probably for some, and for me at the time, conservation meant things that resulted in having more wildlife around so the hunting would be better or "good".

Since starting waterfowl hunting at the age of 16 and becoming a private agricultural landowner at the age of 44, I've learned that conservation has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people. However, I do know for sure that we all live on one planet and at the very least we all have that in common. The rest seems to be up for debate.

For the purposes of this article I will refer to conservation as the issues that affect wildlife and the environment in the upper Midwest which historically has had both high agricultural yields as well as high wildlife populations. They have long since gone together and many have partaken in pheasant, waterfowl and deer hunting escapades as a result of the abundances of the land.

Seems like wildlife and agriculture have been trying to balance out as long as anyone can remember. When you think of extremes in conservation and land practices what images or word pictures come to mind when you think of the following words?: "Dust Bowl Days", "Grapes of Wrath", "Soil Bank", "CRP", "Erosion", "Water Quality", "Floods", "Habitat", "Monster Buck", "Bottled Water".

Now let's consider some present day terms and issues that face many of us: "Iraq War", "Fuel prices", "Ethanol", "$4.00 Corn", "Switchgrass", "Hunting Lease", "Pay Hunt", "Foreign Oil Dependency", "Biomass", "Wildlife populations", "Rising land prices", "Losing land access", "Public Hunting", "Pheasants Forever", "Ducks Unlimited", "CRP", "Farm Bill 2007".

Are you wondering what the relationship is between all these words and phrases? Excellent! We should all heavily ponder these images and impacts because they are all interconnected. When someone debates a conservation issue without knowing the facts and interdependencies of the issues, they will alienate the stakeholders. For instance, consider the present day issue of rising fuel costs. How does this affect fertilizer costs? Why do I care? I just want to hunt deer or pheasants. Fertilizer is a petroleum based product. Oil goes up, fertilizer goes up. What happens when fertilizer goes up? It acts upon everything that it is related to. Here's a list for starters: land prices, equipment, crop prices, cash rent, property taxes, pasture rent, beef prices, mechanical repairs. The list goes on and on.

The request seems so simple and I hear it over and over, "I just want a place to hunt". A similar yet less vocal request can be heard from the agricultural landowner, "I just want a place to farm". When I think of these requests I think of the word "entitlement". Let's look at the Wikipedia definition of the word "Entitlement".

Entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits because of rights, or by agreement through law. It can also refer, in a more casual sense to someone's belief that they are deserving of some particular reward or benefit.[1] It is often used as a negative term in popular parlance (i.e. a 'sense of entitlement'). The legal term, however, carries no value judgment, it simply denotes a right granted. It was issued in 1965 by Presidents Johnson's administration.

I think the key phrase in this definition is "sense of entitlement". If our belief of what we are entitled to is distorted from any "true or real" entitlements, we will be frustrated with the outcomes of those beliefs. Are we really entitled or granted much of anything in this life?

In a sense, conservation is really nothing more than what we do as individuals. I think of the daunting size of the issues in the 2007 Federal Farm Bill and its impact on our future. But even as large as the Farm Bill legislation is, it really comes down to what we want as individuals and what we will do about it.

Organizations like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited (among a few) have made great impacts in our environment through conservation. The bottom line is that they have done nothing without the contribution of individuals, and many of them. Not for free, but at a price.

In the end, conservation has a cost whether its time or money. What price will you pay for conservation today?