December 2018

Vol. 46, No. 6

Birders and Hunters: Allies in Habitat Conservation

Peter Jacobson

2018-2019 Federal Duck Stamp, featuring a pair of mallards, art by Bob Hautman of Delano, Minn. Credit: USFWS

It has always been my belief that there are important similarities between hunters and birders. Both tend to be motivated by a love for nature. And both are natural allies in habitat management and conservation.

Caren Cooper and a group of researchers from Cornell Lab of Ornithology set out to test the assumption that outdoor nature-based recreation, such as birding and hunting, was a predictor of positive conservation behaviors. Their study found that hunters and birders were four to five times more likely to engage in pro-conservation behaviors than non-recreationists, and that birders and hunters had a near equal engagement in pro-conservation behaviors. The pro-conservation behaviors included donating to local conservation efforts, enhancing wildlife habitat on public lands, participating in local environmental groups, and advocating politically for wildlife (Cooper et al. 2015 ).

While there are certainly differences between birders and hunters, it is their similarities as lovers of the natural world and their resolve to conserve and manage habitat that make them tremendous allies.

Most birders are familiar with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but may not be aware that the history of early conservation legislation shows hunters, too, working with government to conserve our natural resources for future generations.

In 1934, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (Duck Stamp Act) became law. (Its name was officially changed to the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp in 1977.) The law requires that all waterfowl hunters over the age of 16 must purchase and display a migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp (Duck Stamp). Ninety-eight percent of the cost of the duck stamp goes directly to purchasing or leasing wetlands and other wildlife habitat for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since the inception of the Duck Stamp Act, 800 million dollars has been used to protect more than 5.7 million acres of bird habitat.

As birders we should appreciate the foresight of our nation in enacting such an effective conservation law and for the hunters paying the fee. We, too, can join hunters in supporting this program by buying and displaying Duck Stamps. [See Paul Baicich's article, "Duck Stamp? Why Us?" (Bird Observer 2015).] Birders can buy federal duck stamps at post offices, national wildlife refuge offices and admission booths, or online from USPS or>. In addition, birders can buy Duck Stamps and Duck Stamp holders/keychains from Brookline Bird club> or from Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp>. For more information about the National Wildlife Refuge System, go to Fish & Wildlife <>. For information on the Stamp, go to the FWS Duck Stamp page <>.

In 1937, Congress, passed The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman Robertson Act). The key provisions of this act and its subsequent amendments are an 11% excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. The funds raised are granted to state fish and wildlife agencies for projects that restore, conserve, manage, and enhance wild birds and mammals and their habitat.

Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar wrote in the foreword to a US Fish and Wildlife publication celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act:

In the middle of the Great Depression in 1937, America faced an unprecedented environmental crisis. The Dust Bowl afflicted much of the nation's heartland. Unwise development ravaged millions of acres of wetlands and other vital wildlife habitat, and many species were near extinction. In response to this crisis, the nation's sportsmen successfully lobbied Congress to pass what is arguably the most effective conservation law in history -- the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act.

In effect, sportsmen selflessly convinced Congress to tax them to fund conservation. (Salazar 2012)

This highly effective law, in its first ten years, acquired roughly 900,000 acres of conserved land and remains a key source of revenue to conserve habitat today. Would birders follow the hunters example and advocate for an excise tax on binoculars, spotting scopes, and field guides to provide funds for habitat protection?

In Massachusetts, the state division of fisheries and wildlife describes its mission on its website: "MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy." .

MassWildlife has over 200,000 acres of permanently conserved land, including 160,000 acres in its Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system and, on a yearly basis, adds acreage to the WMAs. In 2017, over 4,000 acres were conserved by MassWildlife at a cost of $5,651,000 ( These lands acquisitions are paid for by Wildland Stamp (hunter revenue) and open space bond funds (tax payer revenue). As stated on the MassWildlife website:

In the early 1990's, sportsmen and women (hunters and fishermen) realized that the cost of land was escalating. Through an organized effort, they passed legislation requiring the purchase of a Wildlands Conservation Stamp ($5) when buying a fishing, hunting, or trapping license. Revenue from the "Wildlands Stamp," as it is commonly called, goes to the Wildlands Fund, which pays for the cost of acquiring wildlife habitat. Lands purchased with this revenue are open to fishing, hunting, trapping, birding and other passive wildlife related recreation. (

Not only does MassWildlife manage its own lands for rare species, it also provides technical and financial assistance to aid in the habitat management of municipal and private conserved lands. In 2018, the MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program made $300,000 available to aid private organizations and municipalities in managing conserved lands for our most imperiled species. In 2017, MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Program made $500,000 available, including nearly $100,000 to aid Mass Audubon in managing young forests and shrubland in three sanctuaries ( and Jason Zimmer, personal communication 2018).

Through advocacy and action, birders and hunters can help MassWildlife acquire more lands:

  • Let the governor and the legislature know that land conservation is a top priority .
  • Purchase a fishing or hunting license.
  • Make a direct donation to the Wildlands Fund by sending a check payable to Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Wildlands Fund to MassWildlife, 251 Causeway St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114.

At the Federal level, there is an important conservation bill in Congress (as of this writing, October 2018)—the Recovering America's Wildlife Act (RAWA) that has bipartisan support. According to the National Wildlife Federation's website:

The Recovering America's Wildlife Act will redirect $1.3 billion of existing revenue annually to state-led wildlife conservation efforts, effectively allowing the states to more fully implement their State Wildlife Action Plans. This legislation follows the recommendation of a diverse group of energy, business, and conservation leaders. This group, known as the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, determined that an annual investment of $1.3 billion in revenues from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters could address the needs of thousands of species, preventing them from needing to be added to the Endangered Species Act. (

This bill provides a clear funding source for our nation's most imperiled species and is endorsed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society along with other conservation organizations. Andy McGlashen, a former editorial fellow with Audubon, wrote, " a time when the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and other landmark environmental laws are under attack, the deep bipartisan support for the RAWA is encouraging."( McGlashen 2018) In New England, RAWA has the support of Mass Audubon, Connecticut Audubon Society, New Hampshire Audubon, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and Audubon Vermont.

Advocate for RAWA's passage by writing to United States senators and representatives and urging them to support the Recovering America's Wildlife Act.

The Massachusetts WMA system and the National Wildlife Refuge system provide a good foundation for an alliance of birders and hunters—working together—to conserve and manage land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy. Here are some specific actions you can take to support their efforts:

  • Write to lawmakers to support of the National Wildlife Refuge System and MassWildlife's WMAs, and to pass legislation such as RAWA.
  • Report rare species. If you have information on the location of a rare species or a vernal pool and would like to help the Massachusetts NHESP keep its database current, submit your observations through>. The information on rare species will affect decisions in managing existing Wildlife Management Areas and could affect decisions to acquire new properties. For recording data on state-listed species, NHESP can use only the information submitted on the state forms; the state cannot use eBird data (Andrew Vitz, personal communication, 2018).
  • Build a love for the natural world in your local community. Lead a walk or organize a series of walks in your town to highlight local habitat gems and explain how they are important to wildlife. Initiate local programs that help people create backyards that are bird, amphibian, insect, and wildlife friendly. Collaborate with local garden clubs to get the word out.
  • Be active in your community in management of open space. Stand up for existing open space and make sure it does not get converted into the next school administration building or DPW garage.
  • Advocate for habitat management with users of WMAs. Often the early stages of a management project appear to be disruptive or even destructive. Clearing trees to build young forest, shrubland, or grassland habitat can look a lot like a construction site to the uneducated eye. Educating yourself and then explaining the value of the project to others will help MassWildlife.
  • Contribute on your state tax form. Look for line 33A on the Massachusetts state income tax form to contribute. Or tell your tax preparer that you want to donate to the Endangered Wildlife Conservation Fund. You can donate even if you are not owed a refund.

Through action and advocacy, hunters and birders can work together to conserve and manage land for wildlife.


Peter Jacobson was born and raised in Brockton, Massachusetts, and now lives in East Bridgewater. Pete is a member of South Shore Bird Club, which he represents at the Association of Massachusetts Bird Clubs.

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