When they arrived to the “New World”, European settlers found a continent brimming with abundant wildlife, vast resources, and a seemingly limitless horizon. It didn’t take long for native wildlife like bison, wolves, and salmon to start suffering from the realization of our Manifest Destiny.
As Americans gained an appreciation for the limits of natural systems and the damage we were capable of inflicting on ourselves and the landscapes on which we depend, those values were enshrined in bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, and the creation of public lands. Twenty-first century science and cultural values are increasingly embracing the importance of native wildlife.
An appreciation for native wildlife and the big wild places they call home are core American values and at the heart of our conservation ethic. As a result, some native species like wolves, elk, bald eagles, and gray whales are getting a second chance. However threats to native wildlife remain. Many once common species are on the decline. Recovering species face growing obstacles. And important, but less charismatic species are often overlooked.
To some, basic environmental safeguards are an impediment to easy profits. The Endangered Species Act is under assault from a well-funded campaign that also seeks to privatize and devolve management of public lands to provincial interests.
Climate change is providing new challenges to wildlife exacerbated by reckless development and past abuses. Hundreds of thousands of miles of roads fragment habitat and irresponsible actors threaten wildlife by poaching, overharvest of fish and wildlife, using ATVs on sensitive landscapes, and introducing invasive species.
Ignoring 21st century science, values, and economic realities, some still yearn for a return to logging what remains of Oregon’s mature and old-growth forests, defend the continued use of poisonous lead ammunition, outdated grazing practices, suction dredge mining, and some of the nations most lax trapping laws.
Public agencies charged with managing wildlife for all citizens are struggling to carry out their conservation mission due to dwindling budgets and political meddling.
Hunters, birdwatchers, anglers, and photographers alike have an interest in leaving a legacy to future generations that includes healthy abundant populations of native wildlife. However a well-funded campaign from extractive interests continues to misinform the public, drive politics, and divide Americans who share a long conservation heritage. However we’ve come a long way. With continued vigilance and dogged determination, we’ll continue to protect and pass on a state with abundant wildlife, vast resources, and healthy landscapes to future generations.