Those of us who have been around for more than a few winters will probably remember reading or hearing the story of the Little Red Hen, a folk tale that entertained and taught the values of hard work and making a contribution to something beyond oneself. Today, that storyline is being played out in real life and the end result could have a direct impact on America's sportsmen, our hunting heritage and the wildlife we have worked so hard to restore and conserve.
As the story goes, the Little Red Hen lived on a farm with a dog, cat and duck. The Little Red Hen found some seeds and decided to plant them. She invited the others to help, but the dog, cat and duck all had something else to do. So the Little Red Hen went to work and planted the seeds. Eventually the seeds grew into wheat and needed to be harvested, the harvested wheat had to be taken to the mill to be ground into flour, and the flour had to be kneaded and baked into bread.
At each of these steps the Little Red Hen invited the others to help. And at each step the dog, cat and duck had something else to do. However, the story changed when the hot bread came out of the oven and its aroma filled the air. "Who will help me eat the bread?" asked the Little Red Hen. This time everyone stepped up and volunteered to help.
Like the Little Red Hen, America's sportsmen and women have been busy. It all began 75 years ago as the future of many of America's wildlife species was in doubt. In the depths of the Great Depression, organized sportsmen, state wildlife agencies and the firearms and ammunition industry urged passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. Also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act for its primary sponsors, this law extended the life of an existing excise tax on firearms and ammunition used for hunting and directed those funds be distributed among the states for wildlife restoration efforts. Those taxes were later extended to include handguns and archery tackle, and a similar program was eventually created for fishing tackle and boating fuel.
In the years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Pittman-Robertson Act into law in 1937, hunters and anglers have served as "the cornerstones of the North American Model (of Conservation) with sportsmen and women serving as the foremost funders of conservation these conservationists have generated more than $14 billion for wildlife and habitat conservation," according to the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.
In addition to the funds generated by Pittman-Robertson, hunters have contributed hundreds of millions more through such organizations as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Nevada Bighorns Unlimited and the Fraternity of the Desert Bighorn. These organizations have spent those funds on the purchase, rehabilitation and protection of wildlife habitat across the country. Rarely mentioned are the millions of hours of volunteer labor sportsmen provide each year for habitat and other projects benefiting wildlife, often at their own expense.
As a result of these contributions, many game species that had nearly disappeared by the early 1900s are now nearing record numbers and are hunted annually during state-managed hunting seasons. Unfortunately, now that the work of sportsmen has brought us so far there are those who want to step in and eat the bread, so to speak. Many of those who oppose hunting have been content to let sportsmen carry the load for wildlife, and they have no problem with letting them continue to do so, but at the same time they are calling for steps that would shove hunters and anglers to the sidelines in the wildlife management process.
While it is true that Nevada's wildlife belongs to all of us, it would be more than a little shortsighted to forget the Little Red Hen who has done and continues to do so much for wildlife. Isn't there a saying about remembering who brought you to the dance?
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.