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Becoming a Friend to Wildlife… One HSWLT supporter’s story

“When I protect my property, I want to protect all of it, not just the land and trees,” says Fred Ziegler, a friend and supporter of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust (HSWLT), and a member of Friends of the Wild, a special advisory group of the Trust. The sentiment mirrors those expressed by other landowners who contact HSWLT to enquire about preserving their land, knowing that it is noted for prohibiting hunting and trapping. Ziegler’s intentions for his land—and his strong support of the Trust—reflect a shift in perspective for him, though, made a number of years ago, after having been a hunter for much of his life.

How does a transformation like that happen? Not by way of a sudden epiphany, Ziegler says, but “over a lot of years” and “in little steps,” too numerous and personal to recount. He still recalls one friend’s compelling words from many years ago, though—someone upon whose land he wanted to hunt at the time: “If you ever buy a piece of property, these animals will become your friends, and you won’t do that anymore.”

A prophetic comment, it turns out. Not only does he refrain from hunting but believes other land owners have the same feelings. He also lends his support and helpful insights to HSWLT in its mission to create safe habitat for wildlife. On his path to discovering that he could enjoy being in the wilderness just as much without hunting, he found new ways of engaging and expanding his knowledge of wildlife, and he continues to think creatively about the possibilities.

“I’m probably a lot more intense as a hunter now than I ever was,” he quips, explaining that now he uses his ability to predict where animals are most likely to go to photograph them or just enjoy watching them. Another non-lethal way he “hunts” is to go out in late winter and early spring and look for deer antlers, which are shed naturally after each year’s rut. He keeps track of where he finds them to add to his knowledge of the animals’ use of and movements through his land. In addition, he enjoys simply taking long, leisurely hikes—the kind where it’s not about how far you walk but how much you experience along the way.

Ziegler is concerned about how few people get out and spend that kind of time in the wilderness. Part of the problem, he says, may be the lengthening of hunting seasons, which can extend from September till January. “That makes other people afraid to go out there—a big part of the year is not available to them,” he points out. Because people tend to focus on protecting what they know and love, he thinks support for habitat preservation would be strengthened if people could feel safe enjoying wild places for more months of the year.

When asked about how he thinks hunters view land owner restrictions against hunting and trapping on private lands, he says there’s likely a wide spectrum of views, but that most would respect a landowner’s right to make that choice for their land. “Whether and how to protect your land is a personal judgment,” says Ziegler, noting that financial considerations make the question different for each family. “But I would encourage folks to protect all the parts of their land—the animals and everything else—you don’t lose any of the real enjoyment of it.”

“And whether you have land or you don’t,” he says, “you can be supportive. Just getting involved has been good for me. We can’t always solve the big environmental problems, but I want my kids and grandkids to know that I did what I could personally do for the earth we’re leaving to them.”

Owls Close-up

You can help owls by preserving their habitats and using organic methods rather than chemicals to eliminate agricultural pests.

 

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