Pugh Continues Advocacy for Hunting in Alabama
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
After 35 years of public service, it would be understandable if Corky Pugh took that clichéd route of disappearing into the sunset. Yet, for those who know the recently retired Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director, they realize that is not his style.
Instead Pugh will maintain his public presence through a pair of entities that will promote the hunting legacy of Alabama, as well as being an advocate for the average hunter in the state. Pugh has established the Hunting Heritage Foundation to spread the word about how important hunting is to the fabric of society in Alabama.
“The foundation will be a positive voice for hunting in terms of helping people understand the significance of hunting, both societally and economically,” Pugh said. “Most people don’t know that hunters have paid for management and protection of wildlife resources for 75 years. And those wildlife resources are enjoyed by everybody, whether they hunt or not.
“The economic impact of those wildlife resources and associated hunting activity benefit everybody. The state and local taxes that spin off of money that hunters spend is astronomical. Those are the things I want to make sure will stay on people’s radar.”
Pugh said a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey indicated that the economic impact just from the hunting side of the equation in Alabama is $1.4 billion annually. Hunters account for $847 million in direct retail expenditures. That generates $83 million in state and local taxes.
“But it’s way beyond the economic impact,” he said. “If you ask citizens about things that are important to them, knowing there are healthy wildlife populations is important. A lot of people think that their tax dollars are paying for managing and protecting wildlife, but they’re not.
“It’s the hunters’ license dollars matched by 3-to-1 federal assistance dollars that come from excise taxes on firearms and ammunition that pay for the protection and management of wildlife. Were it not for that funding that comes from hunters, the state of Alabama would have no money available to pay for wildlife biologists who manage wildlife populations or conservation enforcement officers, who provide protection for wildlife resources. This is probably more true now in these tough economic times than ever.”
If not for those hunter-generated funds, there wouldn’t be the 761,000 acres of public access throughout the state in 37 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).
“But it goes way beyond WMAs,” Pugh said. “The thing I like to tell people is the next time you see a deer or a turkey or an eagle, for that matter, thank a hunter, because the hunters paid for restoration of those species.”
Pugh said he plans to accomplish this outreach and education in a number of ways.
“There will be a website for the foundation,” he said. “I intend to write a weekly column, plus articles on a regular basis. I’ll probably go on a speaking tour. The audiences that are out there, whether they be business people or school children or anybody in between, it’s really important for all those folks to understand the contributions that hunters make through the purchases of licenses and those excise taxes.
“Certainly now most people don’t understand how it all works.”
During Pugh’s tenure at Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, the youth outreach included youth dove hunts, a model nationally for the recruitment of young hunters. Researcher Mark Duda singled out the Alabama youth dove hunts for special recognition as a tool for recruitment and retention of hunters. Special youth hunts are also held on WMAs, and the special youth deer and turkey seasons were expanded during his 12 ½ years as director. Pugh said as the foundation grows there are plans to provide funding for youth hunting events.
The other vehicle Pugh will use to further his efforts is HUNT Alabama.
“HUNT stands for Hunters United Now and Tomorrow,” he said. “The purpose of that is to establish a grass-roots political entity with which to lobby for sound public policy on hunting issues. Neither of these is going to be membership based, as far as people paying fees to belong to something.
“When you look at the demographics on Alabama’s hunters, most of our hunters are not that avid. They don’t participate that often. Sixty percent of our hunters do not hunt every year. It’s going to be challenging to engage people who are not as avid as you and I. But when you look at the importance of hunting in that funding mechanism that pays for the management and protection of wildlife, every hunter counts the same, regardless of how avid he or she may be. That guy who gets to hunt one day a year is just as important in that funding through licenses and the 3-to-1 federal match as the person who hunts every week. We want to do everything possible to maintain that broad base of hunters. That’s important not only in terms of funding, but also in terms of the base of public support for sound public policy on hunting issues.”
Another of Pugh’s major goals is to do everything possible to unify the hunting community to ensure a solid front against those groups who would limit hunting activity.
“Hunters have an unhealthy tendency to divide up into factions,” Pugh said. “It’s kind of like what David King of the NRA (National Rifle Association) said: ‘Bird hunters don’t like the deer hunters. The deer hunters don’t like the bird hunters. And the turkey hunters don’t like anybody.’ That’s true to some extent.
“While we’re dividing up into factions, the anti-hunters are sitting gleefully on the sidelines giggling while we’re beating up on each other. The truth is there’s room for everybody, so we want to foster unity as much as we can among hunters. The old saying of united we stand, divided we fall is very applicable to this.”
Pugh also said that HUNT Alabama supports the reauthorization of Forever Wild, which will be on the ballot in November.