A Fam­ily Spring Rit­ual

Catron Courier - - Front Page - by Cliff Sch­leusner, USFWS

Spring: It’s the most won­der­ful time of the year in New Mex­ico. The woods are alive with sights and sounds, none greater than the courtship dis­play of wild tur­keys. New Mex­ico is graced with three sub­species of the wily bird. Over 14,000 hunters will go afield be­fore turkey hunt­ing sea­son is over in May to try and fool a strut­ting tom into range.

For the unini­ti­ated, it’s more dif­fi­cult than it ap­pears to out­wit a wild turkey. And in the com­ing days you can count me among those who will be sit­ting in the pon­derosa for­est, stock-still on a cold morn­ing yelp­ing and cut­ting with a box call at day­break, hop­ing to hear back that sig­na­ture sound that speaks to tur­keys be­ing nearby. Turkey hunt­ing re­quires alert­ness and aware­ness—a Zen-like liv­ing in the mo­ment—like no other en­deavor.

Lucky for me I have the priv­i­lege to be in the woods this spring once again with my fa­ther and my teenage son. With my boy, I will do what my dad has done with me go­ing on 45-plus years. It has be­come a rit­ual with my fam­ily.

But were it not for con­ser­va­tion, that rit­ual may have never come to be. There was a time when wild turkey faced ex­tir­pa­tion from un­reg­u­lated mar­ket­com­mod­ity har­vest and ru­ined habi­tats. The woods were hushed in April.

The tide turned 80 years ago with the pas­sage of the Wildlife Restora­tion Act of 1937, com­monly called the Pittman-Robert­son Act named for the au­thors of the fed­eral leg­is­la­tion. It was an in­ge­nious law.

Few are the folks who ac­tu­ally en­joy pay­ing more taxes, but you can count hunters among those who do. The Wildlife Restora­tion Act was sup­ported by or­ga­nized sports­men and women, state fish and game agen­cies and in­dus­try to tax firearms and am­mu­ni­tion with the pro­ceeds go­ing specif­i­cally to wildlife con­ser­va­tion.

The out­come has been noth­ing short of re­mark­able—for 80 years state agen­cies have been as­sured of a re­li­able stream of fund­ing based on li­cense sales and pur­chase of hunt­ing gear. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Game and Fish be­gan trap­ping and re­lo­cat­ing wild turkey two years into the new law, in 1939, to en­sure the ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion was com­prised of ge-

net­i­cally ro­bust an­i­mals. In 1940, the agency bought a reach of the Rio Ce­bolla in the Je­mez Moun­tains for wa­ter­fowl con­ser­va­tion, to­day’s Fen­ton Lake State Park. That was fol­lowed on by the pur­chase of an eight­mile reach of the Ci­mar­ron River and ad­ja­cent up­lands, and many other wildlife man­age­ment ar­eas across the state. The law funded sci­en­tific wildlife re­search, habi­tat man­age­ment and re­stock­ing. The agency was the first in the coun­try to cap­ture and re­lo­cate pronghorn at a time when the pop­u­la­tion was an ane­mic 2,400 an­i­mals. All this was fa­cil­i­tated by a tax on sport­ing arms.

In 1950, the Sport Fish Restora­tion Act was added to the mix for fish. In eight decade, $19 bil­lion has been re­turned to the states for con­ser­va­tion. This year, $21.5 mil­lion is avail­able to New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Game and Fish for con­ser­va­tion, paid for by hunters and an­glers.

When you buy that new turkey gun, ar­rows or a new bow, a box of shot­gun shells or fish­ing tackle you should know that you are mak­ing an in­vest­ment in con­ser­va­tion’s cy­cle of suc­cess. As much as 11% of your pur- chase will be divvied to the state fish and game agen­cies and re­turned to you in the form of sci­ence-based wildlife and fish­eries con­ser­va­tion; you help pay the salary of a bi­ol­o­gist; you buy fuel for air­craft that car­ries wildlife bi­ol­o­gists who con­duct aerial big game or wa­ter­fowl sur­veys. Your money feeds Rio Grande cut­throat trout des­tined to be re­stored to a high moun­tain stream.

In New Mex­ico, over 200,000 peo­ple an­nu­ally buy hunt­ing and fish­ing li­censes. This sup­ports over 7,900 jobs con­tribut­ing more than $8 mil­lion in spend­ing and la­bor while putting over $106 mil­lion back into public cof­fers. Hunt­ing and fish­ing is an eco­nomic boon for New Mex­ico.

But the great­est div­i­dends have im­mea­sur­able value: the splen­dor of watch­ing the first light of day awaken the woods; the sound of a talk­ing tom turkey fills the air from the ridge above me while I sit next to those I love the most. That’s some­thing I will never grow tired of.

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