In June, the Minority staff of the House Natural Resources Committee issued a report critical of hunting in Africa called “Missing the Mark.”  The report is best understood in the context of the Ranking Member’s long-standing opposition to hunting, no matter where it takes place. But politicians understand that hunting in America has the support of 75% of the American public, so they have chosen to focus their ire instead on hunting that takes place an ocean’s distance away.  And it reaches its conclusions by selectively citing evidence from only four countries in a continent that contains 50 other nations.

The title “Missing the Mark” is ironically quite descriptive of the report itself.  It begins by asserting that African game populations are depleted, examining carefully selected evidence to reach its preordained conclusion.  It ignores the existence of thriving game populations in countries that the report ignores.  But on a deeper level, it also fails to recognize that game populations in North America were nearly extinct at the turn of the 20th century.

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Had the authors examined the reasons that game populations on our continent are now at record highs, they would have found that hunter dollars were the nearly exclusive source of funding for wildlife conservation efforts that have restored both game and non-game species alike.  Hunters supported the creation of excise taxes on guns, ammunition and hunting equipment that provide the lion’s share – if you will – of conservation funding in America.  License and permit fees contribute even more.  Anti-hunters, on the other hand, contribute nothing to conservation -- but are generous with pious outrage and venomous, hateful rhetoric.

The timing of the committee manifesto, however, is propitious.  It comes right on the heels of the release of a legitimate report, conducted by Southwick Associates (www.conservationequation.org), on the economic contribution of hunting in Sub-Saharan Africa.  This report investigates the extent of hunters’ annual spending and the resulting economic contributions within a study area from 2012 to 2014.  The study area includes the four countries that are the subject of the committee report.  Results show that hunting contributes $426 million to the GDP of these African economies every year, hunters directly spend $326 million annually, and the industry supports over 53,400 jobs.

Having hunting on the landscape as a viable land use means conservation.  Many areas where hunting provides critical income are rural or not viable enough for photo safari operations.  Agriculture may also not offer reasonable economic opportunities in areas where hunting now occurs.  These considerations show that hunting provides important economic opportunities for many areas where other common forms of income are limited.  1.4 million square kilometers of land is conserved for hunting in Africa, more than all the formally protected areas on the continent combined.  For the sake of comparison, hunting land exceeds the total national park area by 22% -- more than twice the size of Texas.

Hunting changes attitudes of local communities and gives value to wildlife, providing incentives against poaching and mitigating human-wildlife conflict.  Funds are required to keep habitat in its natural state and to financially support wildlife research and law enforcement activities.  By providing jobs and income to local communities, hunting conveys a positive value to wildlife, which incentivizes communities to protect game species and the land they – and all wildlife species – depend upon.

Critics of hunting can perch in their ivory towers and question the reality of how conservation works on the ground.  But they cannot question the reality of hunters’ economic contributions.  Having lived in Africa for six years, I can tell you with certainty that hunter resources make the literal difference between life and death in impoverished communities.  By recommending new restrictions on hunting in Africa, anti-hunting politicians loom on the precipice of an economic imperialism that threatens not only game populations, but also human life.

Chip Burkhalter is director of government affairs for Safari Club International.