Hunters and conservation leaders find common ground preserving a long tradition
Julie Johnson’s first memory of the outdoors was when she was 12. She would follow her mother, Mary, into the woods in the early fall morning hours to hunt blacktail deer in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. On most hunts, they would stop along their hike to flip through worn pages of bird books to identify songbirds, kneel to identify plants along their path, and marvel at shadows lifting off the horizon. The sun would set before they were ready to leave the forest, and they would arrive at camp more often with memories than with meat.
Each of us interacts with the land in ways that have varying impacts, some we may never completely understand or agree on. In a time in which land is not only scarce, but continually subdivided, it’s imperative that we each develop a land ethic as we go about interacting with wild places. It is equally important that we appreciate how individuals strengthen their personal connection to the wild, and even more so, how we each choose to protect the land.
Today, Julie is an award-winning nature photographer, working alongside her husband, M.D. Johnson, an outdoorsman and author. Together, they have published six hunting books highlighting stories of being outdoors, their deep appreciation for nature, and what hunting has taught them on the value of life.
Conservation and hunting aren’t always mutually exclusive pursuits. One of Columbia Land Trust’s founding members was a waterfowl hunter, who was inspired to become an advocate for conservation in the Northwest. Historically, hunters and conservation leaders joined with allied interests and contributed substantial achievements toward conservation efforts in the United States, including passing the Wilderness Act of 1964. This landmark bill provided the first definition of ‘wilderness’ in the United States and protected land in perpetuity.
During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt, an ardent hunter, took dramatic action to preserve priority habitats and provided federal protections for more than 230 million acres of land. He ensured the protection for 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, and five national parks. Many of the wild places he helped safeguard are available for recreationists, hunters, and birders to enjoy today.
In the state of Washington, spending by hunters, fishers, and wildlife watchers generates more than $4.5 billion annually for the state’s economy. Hunting activity alone contributed $313 million, with an associated 5,595 jobs, according to a report published in 2010 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Many of the agency’s restoration and wildlife recovery projects are funded by the dues and taxes charged to recreationists, including hunting fees.
Much of the land Columbia Land Trust has conserved was traditionally available to hunting communities with deep-rooted cultural bonds. Treaties with Northwest tribes today provide rights for hunting and fishing across public lands, but as development surges and wildlife habitat is fragmented, available hunting opportunities are diminishing. The Land Trust allows hunting of waterfowl, deer, elk, and turkey with permissions at select conserved sites to respect historical and traditional uses of land, while at the same time managing hunting to meet conservation priorities.
“On our conserved lands, we use the best available science, state and federal regulations, and our own observations to inform our land management decisions property by property,” said Natural Area Manager Lindsay Cornelius, “but ultimately our decisions are driven by the conservation values that drive our work.”
There is no one definitive answer in balancing the needs of ecosystems and human values on the role hunting plays in our Northwest communities. “Our job is to be observant, to experiment, and to be honest about the reasons we make the decisions we make and the values we’re trying to protect by making them,” said Cornelius.
Julie and M.D. illustrate just one way in which a connection to nature can be made and the two are passing on a positive land ethic to those around them. Hunting, along with camping, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor recreation, can nurture a profound adoration for places and animals and motivate people to become great forces in defending the wild. For those who hunt, it requires early morning hours, arduous treks, sometimes through sharp plants, stinging nettle, poking branches, and mucky water, and for some people, it is a hard-won meal and a way of life that gives and takes.
The pursuit of each of our wild journeys, whether it involves simply peering through binoculars, finding a trail off the beaten path, foraging wild food, or bringing meat home, can all ignite a deep regard for the wild’s teachings. What matters most, is that we recognize that those wild places, once gone, may never be replaced.
Photos courtesy Julie & M.D. Johnson