Public Lands & Waters photo

Sportsmen who get involved in environmental issues – I’m talking policies and laws affecting what goes into and comes out of our air, land and water – are often asked “Why?” There are still many Americans who don’t understand why we give a damn about something that doesn’t concern how much we can catch and kill.

Well, the answer is simple: Habitat. Without enough quality habitats – air, land, and water – we won’t have anything to catch or kill, not to mention any place to do that.

Of those concerns, the fight over land habitat is the most urgent, and unrelenting. Polluted air and water can eventually be cleaned. But when a forest, wetland, or prairie is converted to subdivisions or row crops, a fracking field or copper mine, it is almost always gone forever. And as our population continues to expand, the pressure to remove the land we have set aside for wildlife also grows.

It’s a battle American sportsmen must fight continually if they are to honor the next generation. We can’t pass down our traditions without passing down habitat.

Unfortunately, it’s a fight we’ve been losing over the last two decades.

Coastal areas are taking the biggest hit, because that’s where the greatest amount of development has been taking place. Recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that between 1996 and 2011:

• 64,975 square miles in coastal regions–an area larger than the state of Wisconsin–experienced changes in land cover, including a decline in wetlands and forest cover, with development a major contributing fact.

• We’re losing 61 football fields of wetlands a day in this year.

• Forest changes overall totaled 27,515 square miles, equaling West Virginia, Rhode Island and Delaware combined. This total impact, however, was partially offset by reforestation growth. Still, the net forest cover loss was 16,483 square miles.

Those dismaying facts come on top of a report by NOAA earlier this year showing that between 1998 and 2004, coastal watersheds had lost 361,000 acres of wetlands, with 60,180 acres of that coming from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Those findings and many others can be found in the agency’s Land Cover Atlas. It’s a report sportsmen should take the time to review. It gives a clear picture of why this fight over regulations protecting air, water, and land are so important to our future.

It’s always about the habitat. And right now, the groups fighting our battles need our help more than ever.