Monetization of many outdoor industries is a foregone conclusion, however, is a competing market for a single resource a good move for conservation?
It is no secret that the sportsmen community is nearly completely responsible for the financial support of managing game animals and their habitats. More investment dollars originate from the pockets of John and Jane Q. Public than from any other source when conservation efforts are concerned.
Singularly-focused nonprofits like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Pheasants Forever serve as middlemen to put these collected dollars to work year after year. The means they come by these investments and donations are competitive, primarily altruistic, and results driven. That competition is not a direct result of the resources they are trying to help manage, but rather the dollars they are pursuing.
What it means for us
The whole formula seems relatively benign. If you like elk and elk hunting, you can give to the Elk Foundation or purchase a tag. If your passion is mule deer, the Mule Deer Foundation is a great marriage of ideals. If you can only afford to buy your tags and the ammunition or equipment necessary to pursue and harvest your quarry, find comfort that special taxes on those vital pieces of equipment are earmarked for conservation and management projects.
Perhaps your financial obligation is to pay the outfitter/guide that you takes you on your hunt and provides you with the experience you so desire. Those folks are so ingrained in the conservation movement (it is their livelihood) that your dollars end up indirectly as investments in innumerable conservation causes and management practices. The overreaching financial model is pretty simple, in that, more money is invested into outdoor recreation than is directly a result of its production.
The new competition
Enter shed hunting. It's an activity with a memorable and long lasting sense of tradition that within the last decade has surged in popularity due to ease of access and possibility of individual financial gain.
Shed hunting currently sits as the one major outdoor activity where very little if any initial direct investment (permit/license/stamp/guide/weapons/ammo) is required. Yet, a direct result is cash in hand of the participant. That monetized component of the activity is where the potential for short and long term harm will generate.
A hypothetical likeness within the hunting world would be the sudden and unregulated open market for game meat, a practice that has a history of legal endorsement as it does of prohibition in our country.
At its foundation, shed hunting can arguably have the least impact and be one of the most rewarding of outdoor recreational activities. The question that needs to be addressed is whether or not an unencumbered seek and cash out practice can be harmful to the ecosystem where it takes place.
Idealistically, any person that recreates in the great outdoors does so with the highest ethical and respectful standards. Realistically, as with hunting and fishing, there are and will continue to be those that see ethics and respect as a problem for everyone else to consider.
Problems that do exist within the current springtime activity are a direct result of the aforementioned bad behavior exhibited by a minority of participants. Though poor practices are in the minority, their far-reaching effects extend potentially years down the road.
There is evidence supported by wildlife managers that the female populations of big game herds that undergo undue stress in the early spring months, either through overt predatory pressure or human-enacted hazing, are more susceptible to late term abortions. Throughout the West, hazing wintering big game herds remains a violation, but the resources available to enforce or track this practice are at best limited. Anecdotally, a single shed hunter "jogging loose" a herd could be responsible for numerous deaths within the herd without ever firing a shot.
The highest value
It is within general standards and practices in the outdoor community to place the highest value on the health and well being of the game we pursue, which is why there exists the argument to have shed hunters include some skin in the game rather than the contrary. In order to ensure this standard remains in practice throughout the scope of recreational events, the emphasis needs to shift back to the experiential rather than the potential profit. This mentality exists within the shed hunting community in a silent majority populace, and, especially now, needs to gain volume and traction as the baseline.
In order to see the continuation of such a great memory maker and outdoor pastime continue, outdoorsmen need to continue a level of accountability that spans all seasons. As you observe yourself on the valley floors and creek bottoms of this country seeking out shed bone, be fully aware that the character you exhibit by yourself has the potential to be a direct representation of the community you have membership in.