Outdoor Gear Manufacturers Are Investing, Literally, in Habitat Protection

Hang with me through this first part, because there is some very good news.

How many of us know that our federal government, using our tax dollars, spends less than one percent of the entire U.S. budget on conservation and protection of air, water and soil? That’s as of 2012. In 1980, the percentage was four times that.

As challenges have risen with our population, we—well, the people we elect—have chosen to slash the budgets for the very programs that have produced for us the American miracle of restoring wildlife and fisheries, and protecting clean water, air and wetlands. The figures for direct spending on what sportsmen rely on most—fisheries, wildlife, basic natural resources—are even lower: just 0.4 percent.

All of this budget cutting comes at a time when conservation funding has never had more public support, and when the U.S. outdoor industry—totally dependent on conservation and environmental protection—has exploded as an economic power: 6 million jobs, $730 billion annually, $49 billion in federal tax revenues.

Thankfully, a lot of entrepreneurs in that industry know exactly what is at stake. That is not only because these men and women sell guns and bows and high-performance clothing, but because they are out there fishing the rivers and creeks and hunting the public lands and high country themselves. They are people like Scott Robinson and Kenton Carruth, the founders of First Lite, who are avid hunters and fishermen and have long been supportive of public lands and conservation.

Anyone buying a product from these companies will have the option to round up the purchase price to the nearest whole dollar amount, or add any amount they choose, and the extra money will go to respected and effective conservation groups such as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, National Wildlife Federation, Pheasants Forever, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Patagonia Inc. has run its One Percent for the Planet campaign since 1985, and now has over 1200 partners in 48 countries, all contributing one percent of their sales to nonprofit, mostly conservation-oriented groups.

Cabela's also has a "round up" plan in which cashiers ask customers at the cash register whether they want to participate, and the company then contributes the money to one of its 20 partners, which range from the National Rifle Association to the Mule Deer Foundation.

All these programs will never replace the millions of taxpayer dollars we use to invest in conservation, nor is it intended to. What is clear is this: while the federal dollars that had been so effective will never be replaced, we can make a direct contribution to keep what we love, and choose where we want our money to go. Check out the listed groups, and see which one of them works for what you feel is most important. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have both made a recent and ferocious defense of public lands. Pheasants Forever is emerging as one of the most effective habitat groups in history, rising to an existential challenge faced by all sportsmen: the boom in agriculture and suburban sprawl that has been relentlessly dismantling our bird hunting traditions. Much of PF's work is focused on public lands accessible to all of us.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest wildlife conservation group, and among the oldest. Formed in 1936, it has played a powerful role in the wildlife restorations that produced the wealth of sporting opportunities that too many of us now take for granted, and it plays an equally crucial role in making sure that we can keep them.

This is the kind of partnership, and the kind of sportsmen-involved conservation, that must be part of our future. Every sportsman I know can point to some place where funds like these could be incredibly useful.

For instance, this story in the Great Falls Tribune details the effort to fix fences on public and private lands so that pronghorns can more easily use the migration corridors on which their survival depends.

This work does not cost millions of dollars, but it doesn’t come free, either. Nor is it a theoretical need. Neither my son nor I have drawn a pronghorn tag since the winter of 2011, which tells me just how vulnerable these Plains game animals (my favorite) can be. Hunting them used to be the ritual beginning of our big game season. We camped out under the wild skies of early autumn, Orion blazing above, and had the time of our lives. I have treasured recipes that I use pronghorn meat for, and nothing else. And then it stopped.

If you have read this far, and if you have time, please tell us what projects you would fund, in your part of the country, or wherever you hunt and know best. I’m genuinely curious.