Mars or the High Desert?
I grew up in a dusty town in Southern California’s High Desert. The area was typically described as a boring dustbowl by the kids who were dragged out by their parents from the cities an hour south. My family, like many others, moved out from the inner cities of Los Angeles to more affordable and safer areas in the High Desert in the ‘80s and ‘90s. As far as I was concerned, my parents may have as well moved us to Mars!
Gone were the busy, crowded smoggy streets of Whittier, California. Goodbye green grass! Goodbye, Taco Shop! Goodbye, Paletero-Man! Hello, Joshua Trees! Hello, Goat Head Thorns! Hello, sand! Hello, Hesperia, California!
In those days, there were more empty lots and less neighbors than there are now. Those wide spaces opened into endless desert. The landscape was alien to me. And brown. The local wildlife was plentiful and you often had encounters with them in and around your home (to my mother’s dismay). Wildlife was plentiful! Cottontails, jackrabbits, coyotes, tortoises, horny toads, tarantulas, centipedes, just to name a few. As I got to know my new town and its inhabitants, I was introduced to a funny little bird. It often traveled by foot in small groups. In the High Desert, they ran across the streets in formation before cars could mow them down. I did not know it then, but this little bird would change my life forever. In those days, you would see a mix of both California (Valley) and Gambel’s quail everywhere! I am not exaggerating when I say they were everywhere.
Today, I reminisce of those days. I moved away from the desert over a decade ago. Since then, people have kept on moving up there. The small sleepy town has grown. Crime actually exists there now. They have more than one movie theater. Driving around these days I scoff at the luxuries that today’s residents take for granted. Public transportation? Major food chains? Back in my day I had my two feet and had to travel 10 miles for a burger!
Another thing I notice is that my beloved quail are no longer as prevalent as they were in those days. I have hunted in and around the area well over 20 years and have seen the change since then. Over the years, I have seen bad quail seasons and some so-so seasons come and go. Here in California, the drought and lack of habitat has done a number on quail and other wildlife. I talk to old timers that speak of the days when 100 bird coveys were the norm on opening day in California. Surely, some of those mega-coveys exist somewhere out there, but they are far in between. What is causing the decline of quail populations? This is a question asked time and time again and again. Many factors exist. Lack of predator control. Drought. Greedy politicians. One of the main culprits is habitat loss.
It is evident that the human population is growing at a rapid speed across this nation and there is no sign of it slowing down. As people multiply in these cities and towns, they are bound to spill out from overflowing cities and suburbs. They have to go somewhere. Expansion of people means encroaching onto already sparse habitat for wildlife, including upland game. With such a large population to feed, agriculture has become a booming industry. An industry that takes up precious land. While we cannot dictate what the weather does, protecting wildlife habitat is something we can do. When it comes down to it, if wildlife does not have habitat, they are going to cease to exist. Period. What can you do? I am glad you asked!
To Be a Passive Conservationist or Not to Be
If you are reading this, you are probably a lot like me. Just a normal guy, with a job, a family and a love for hunting. What can an “Average Joe” like me do? Well, as a sportsman and a carrier of hunting licenses, stamps, tags, etc., you do quite a bit without you even knowing it. Buying a hunting license and paying any taxes towards those fees, for example, is your passive participation in conservation. Your well spent money not only affords you the ability to pursue your wild game of choice, it also contributes to conservation efforts in your State. Easy as pie, right? Well, that is a great start!
Hunters and anglers have always been the main contributors to state and federal preservation and conservation efforts and these agencies rely heavily on our cold hard cash. Money makes the world go ‘round! You pay. You Play. The government puts that money to work. But wait… do you know how that money is divvied up? Are those funds going to legitimate programs that are going to enhance and protect habitat for wildlife? Great question, right? My home state of California has been accused of not having the best interest of habitat or hunting programs in mind when they decided to fund some questionable programs (I think climate change studies are handled by another department, right?). Some people have even accused California Fish and Wildlife officials of (gasp) unethical conduct and fraud. Is this where your money goes? Now this is an extreme scenario, but my point is, as the major contributors to conservation, we should in some way be more involved and know what is happening with these funds. Check with your Wildlife and State agencies. Disagree with it? Tell them! Are they doing it right? Tell them you are proud of what they are doing! Hold them accountable to managing conservation funds.
So, what’s my point? You already throw hundreds, if not thousands of dollars towards licenses and fees? Great! Again, we are the only ones on the front line. We as hunters are the only groups who throws millions of dollars at conservation in hopes we can enjoy wild places and wildlife for a long time. We are the true warriors of conservation. Not the bird watching non-hunters. Not PETA. Not the judgmental vegan bagging your groceries at Whole Foods, who throws out way too many non-solicited Morrissey quotes (MEAT IS MURDER!). My point is we must be active participants in this. Conservation is the only reason why we can enjoy hunting today. Today more than ever hunting, habitat, and the species we pursue are in even more danger of disappearing altogether! We cannot just obtain a golden egg and expect it to hatch into another golden egg-laying goose without more work. It needs to be looked after, cared for and raised. I think our hearts are in the right place. But there is more we can do. Becoming more involved is the key and there are a few ways to do it.
A Call to Arms
So, my brothers and sisters. It’s time to do something. It’s time to get involved. Paying for a hunting license will not cut it. Don’t have time? All you have is money to throw? If that is all you can do, then there are many great organizations out there that you can join for a minimal fee and you probably score some cool swag. They do the fighting for you. Think of them as mercenaries. Conservation groups like Quail Forever, Pheasant Forever, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have made it their mission to being our voice when it comes to habitat conservation and advocacy. They educate the public, landowners and are involved with the nitty gritty of acquiring habitat and preserving said land for conservation, recreational and hunting use. There are many great likeminded organizations out there that represent just about any species out there. If you want to get a little more involved, there are many volunteer opportunities that focus on repairing wildlife guzzlers or enhancing habitat and more. Join and contact them for more details!
If habitat loss by human population growth and mismanagement of funds has not riled you up, then knowing that your very own public land ownership is being pulled from your very hands, might get you red-hot-mad. Were you aware that you and I and everyone in between own millions of acres of public land? Well, stop the presses, I am here to tell you that as a US citizen, regardless of your creed, background or wealth or lack thereof, you have inherited public lands for your use. That includes areas you can hunt wild game in their habitat. Currently there are greedy industries out there who have pals in Washington DC that have nefarious plans for your public lands. No heads up. No chance to protest. They are making it easier to sell off land that is rightfully yours to fill their own pockets. And you won’t even be aware that it happened! Many of the organizations I mentioned to you will keep you informed and help you fight these greedy bloodsuckers, but at some point, you are going to have to risk getting a little political! Call and email your State Representatives… hell! Call or e-mail President Donald Trump! Tell him you’re pissed (in a very nice and professional way) about this and you will not stand for it! Keep public lands public!
Lastly. Take a child or a someone new to hunting or fishing out with you one of these days. Without future interested generations, no one else will be left to fight for this legacy that was handed down to us. Today, hunters are nearly a nostalgic thing of the past. If there are no longer hunters around, hunting disappears. No one will care about a little species like the quail. They will disappear. Although some regions claim better or steady hunting license holders, much of the country has seen a decline in hunters. Today’s youth is inundated with technology that is quick and easy to use. Can you blame them from just googling about seeing the beauty of a sunset in the Arizona desert without having to actually do the work and experience it firsthand? How many adults do you know that do not hunt? Remember the awe and wonder you had your first year of hunting? Think about the time where you knew nothing about hunting and where you are now. If no one was there to guide you probably would not be here today. There are many future hunters out there that do not have the know-how or understand the difference between a shotgun and an activity that involves a set of keys and a beer can. But they have that same awe and wonder you did. They need mentors. Guess what? That is you!
As hunters, we all have a responsibility to pass on our legacy to future hunters. This is a call to arms. The future of Upland Hunting and all other Hunting and Fishing activities are at a risk. The above are just some ways we can get more involved with protecting this legacy not only for ourselves, but for future generations to come. Theodore Roosevelt, like some our other heroes, was a pioneer for conservation efforts. He ensured that the steps were taken, policies written, and the land he set aside would benefit others and future generations to come. It is time for us to stop riding on the coattails of what others have done and to start making our own impact for conservation.
What does the future hold for Upland Hunting? That depends on what we do today. I don’t have a clear answer. I know what I want though. I long to see quail running across the street again. But mostly, I long to know that the land I hunt on will exist for my daughter when she finally picks up a shotgun and goes wandering around for quail on her own.
God bless and Happy Hunting. – JR
PS – If you are looking to get involved, these are some great organizations to get involved with: