[While I’m busy scrubbing poop from diapers and other articles of clothing, several friends have been kind enough to provide content for this site, through a program we’re calling Blogbaby. Today’s contribution comes from my friend Kristin.]
When you get older and have to make your way in life I hope you find a way to make a living doing something you like. Even better, I hope you work for something you like and even care about. I’m lucky to be making a living working for a wetland conservation organization, and it never occurred to me until I started how much better I feel about working hard for something I care about versus for people I like or a nice business. That’s great, but being part of something bigger means a lot.
You and Clementine are very fortunate as you are children of the Great Lakes. These lakes hold about 21 percent of the world’s fresh water, and 84 percent of North America’s surface water. Those statistics are bandied about in a lot of political ways, but don’t get caught up in that. Get caught up in the fact that your state is surrounded by vast bodies of water, and those bodies have associated watersheds, wetlands, tributaries and the like. Your state is wet, and wildlife is abundant and easy for all of us to enjoy. I’m not going to talk about water quality, fish passages, or availability of invertebrates. I’m going to talk about access, and that’s where you and your tiny ilk come in.
Up until now we have all benefitted from something called The North American Model of Conservation. Your forbearers did a magnificent job coming up with a way of ensuring that land and wildlife remained a public resource in North America. In Europe, land, and everything on it, belonged to royalty or large landowners, and regular citizens had no right to partake of the property or anything on it, including food sources such as fish or game. I’m guessing it was the same way in China, where the other half of your people are from, but when I search “China refuges” Google corrects me and gives me listings for “China refugees,” and that’s another conversation. When Europeans got to the Americas, a new system came into play, one where the vast resources of our nation were recognized as just that. Resources. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages refuges, using science to guide them, from sea to shining sea on your behalf, and you get to visit them more or less whenever you like, because they are yours. Here’s how we pay for those.
At this point hunting and fishing (which we call angling-who knows why?) are the primary source of funding for conservation. Long ago people realized that in order to preserve land and wildlife someone needed to take responsibility for them, and somebody had to pay for that service. Hunters and anglers tax themselves through license fees and something called excise taxes. Those taxes are a few pennies on equipment purchased for hunting, shooting, archery and angling equipment as well as taxes on boating fuels that have collectively generated 45 billion dollars for habitat and wildlife since 1937. The federal government collects these taxes and distributes them amongst the states, which also collect money from people who buy state fishing and hunting licenses. The money gets combined and is used to preserve habitat mostly for game species, but also benefits many other species and people. Let me be clear. The hunters and anglers pay for our public land. They pay for Yellowstone. They pay for Chincoteague. They pay for every refuge in which you’ll hike, swim or bike.
(Arlo, I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge your congressman, John D. Dingell. He has done some hard work designing legislation to protect wildlife, and you also have an amazing resource in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge – the first international wildlife refuge – less than an hour from your house, thanks to him. We should all hope to leave a legacy like that with our work.)
Here’s the thing. People don’t hunt for their food much anymore. What used to be very commonplace activities like deer hunting, fishing, and waterfowling, are becoming increasingly unusual, though it won’t feel that way every November 15th. Those people who have willingly born the cost for our open spaces are shrinking in number. They are not going to be able to pay for the resource by themselves for much longer.
Nobody has come up with a plan to replace that money that was generated by sportsmen and women for so long. A few states are using part of their sales tax, and that’s working out great, but we don’t have a large scale replacement for users of the resource to give back. I’m hoping you’ll step in and make it happen. If it’s not you, encourage your outdoorsy college roommate. Tell my kid to do it. I know someone in your generation is going to come up with the administrative fix we need to preserve our staggering natural resources for your kids to enjoy one day.
Love your little nose,