Hunters’ Valuable Contributions to Forest Conservation,
Wildlife Restoration and Public Land Acquisition
By Francis Zumbrun
Aldo Leopold, Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot are names that most people
recognize as great leaders of the North American conservation movement; however,
most people probably don’t realize they were also hunters. It has been said that
hunters were the first conservationists. Hunters, fishermen and outdoor
enthusiasts have a close, personal attachment to the forests, fields and streams
that support wildlife and fish habitat.
Early in the 20th century hunters including Leopold, Roosevelt and Pinchot
recognized that certain activities such as unregulated hunting, large-scale land
clearing, wildfires, and soil erosion were having dramatic impacts not only on
our wildlife, but on their habitats and on forest health as well. Along with a
growing movement of like-minded individuals, they saw the need for stricter laws
and regulations, for government to manage and protect both wildlife and lands,
and for sustainable funding to carry out this mission. The abundant natural
resources that we enjoy today and the public lands that help ensure access to
them are a testament to their efforts.
In 1936, the O’Neal family began camping and hunting at Green Ridge State
Forest (see story below); one year later, one of the most important pieces of federal legislation
was passed. Known as the Pittman-Robertson or Federal Aid in Wildlife
Restoration Act, it directs that 11 percent of the purchase price for firearms,
ammunition and archery equipment go to the federal government and then to state
natural resource agencies for wildlife conservation. As a result, hunters have
contributed over two billion dollars annually to national forest and wildlife
conservation efforts since 1937.
A Century of Conservation and
Recreation: Fall Color Festival, Oakland, Md. - 2006
Sportsmen have also contributed an estimated $185 million per year to forest and
wildlife conservation through the purchase of hunting and trapping licenses or
tags. Over the last century, it is estimated that hunters such as the O’Neal
family have contributed over $5.5 billion toward forest and wildlife
Hunters continue to make significant contributions to Maryland’s economy.
According to a 2001 national wildlife survey, the estimated annual economic
impact of deer, squirrel, turkey and grouse hunting statewide was about $301
million. In honor of Maryland Forestry and Parks centennial year, we pay tribute
to hunters like the O’Neal family for their considerable contributions to forest
and wildlife conservation in Maryland.
The O’Neal Family: Seventy Years of Camping and
at Green Ridge State Forest (1936-2006)
By Francis Zumbrun
Clarence Alonzo O'Neal (circa
1936) camping and hunting at Green Ridge State Forest. The O'Neils
began camping at Green Ridge five years after the State Forest was
founded, and seventy years later, the family tradition continues.
For seventy years, five generations of O’Neal and Murphy families have camped
and hunted at Green Ridge State Forest. I recently stopped by the family’s
campsite on Howard Road to visit with them. On this particular day, brothers Bob
and Jim O'Neal and their cousin Ron O'Neal, were present.
“Your family’s been camping and hunting in Green Ridge since 1936. What keeps
bringing them back?” I asked.
Bob answered simply, “We are returning to the place of our youth. Every hollow
and ridge holds a memory for us.” Then he continued: “Our grandfather, Clarence
Alonzo O'Neal, started it all. He was from Mount Savage. Rabbit hunting brought
him to Green Ridge State Forest.”
I mentioned that in 1936 remnants of the famed Mertens’ apple orchard still
existed. The orchard once provided great rabbit habitat. Today hunters still
kick up corrugated wire tree protectors from under the leaves on the forest
floor where apple trees once grew.
Over the years, the O’Neals have camped and hunted primarily at three different
locations within the 15 Mile Creek watershed at Green Ridge. They started with
tent camping off of M.V. Smith Road near Catpoint Road; then in the 1940s, they
converted a mule shed into a hunting cabin on the Shircliff property, a private
tract in the forest. When their lease expired around 1969, the O'Neals returned
to tent camping, mainly on Dug Hill Road and Howard Road.
“As kids we knew we were about to take ‘the mountain trip’ to Green Ridge when
our grandfather announced it was time to go to camp,” Jim said.
The O’Neals explained to me that when school let out they spent the first two
weeks of their summer vacation at Green Ridge. “We were dropped off at our
campsite and Grandfather O'Neal looked after us,” Jim said. “Sometimes you’d
find us wading in the 15 Mile Creek swimming hole; other times you’d find us
Grandfather O’Neal instilled respect for gun safety in his grandchildren. “We
were told to break down a gun as soon as we walked out of the woods and unload
immediately,” Ron explained. “Grandfather would tell us: Don't point a gun at
anything you don't expect to kill, don't shoot anything you don't expect to eat,
and know what you're shooting at and what's behind it."
Jim continued, “We started hunting with supervision as young teenagers - it was
a rite of passage. We did shoot a few groundhogs at the age of nine, but we had
to eat them.”
The O’Neals have never hunted deer, choosing to stick with squirrel, grouse and
turkey. I asked them how conditions have changed at Green Ridge over the years.
According to Ron, grouse were more plentiful in the 1950s and ‘60s. In the ‘50s,
grouse habitat was better in much of the forest because it was in an earlier
stage of development, providing ideal ruffed grouse habitat.
“Green Ridge State Forest was packed with hunters back then. You coughed to let
others know you were around,” Bob remembered. “We are proud that since 1936, no
one in our family has received a citation for a hunting violation.”
I asked the O’Neals if they ever observed a rare squirrel migration at Green
Ridge. My research showed that the last great squirrel migration occurred in
1968 in the eastern United States.
Bob recalled that as teenager he observed what might have been such a migration.
He remembered seeing large numbers of squirrels passing at one time through the
forest, and the older men saying that the animals were following the feed and
moving on to another area.
I shared with them a naturalist’s account recorded in 1811 of a vast migration
observed in the Ohio Valley: "A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some
great and universal impulse which none can know but the Spirit that gave them
being, left their reckless and gamboling life, and the ancient places of retreat
in the north, were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands… to the South..."
We paused to contemplate the wonder of it all. Later as I made to leave, the
O’Neals thanked me for visiting their campsite and taking an interest in them.
But I thought I should be thanking them. For it is through the significant
contributions of dedicated outdoorsmen like the O’Neals that Maryland’s forest
health, public land acquisition, and restoration of wildlife habitat efforts
have been possible.
Lookout in Green Ridge State Forest
Point Lookout in Green Ridge State Forest really is one of “Maryland’s
best-kept secrets.” Not to be confused with the southern Maryland state
park of the same name, visitors to Point Lookout have a spectacular view
of the ancient Potomac River valley. DNR established the area around Point
Lookout as wildlands, thus protecting the view on the Maryland side.
Visitors to Point Lookout today can enjoy the same view that the Union
troops had 140 years ago when they used Point lookout to observe
Confederate movements through the valley. Also from this historic
overlook, one can survey 243 acres of land once owned by George
Washington, first President of the United States.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Federal Aid in
THE FEDERAL AID IN
WILDLIFE RESTORATION ACT
Where Does the Money Come From
The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, popularly know as the
Pittman-Robertson Act, was approved by Congress on September 2, 1937, and
begin functioning July 1, 1938.
The purpose of this Act was to provide funding for the selection,
restoration, rehabilitation and improvement of wildlife habitat, wildlife
management research, and the distribution of information produced by the
The Act was amended October 23, 1970, to include funding for hunter
training programs and the development, operation and maintenance of public
Funds are derived from an 11 percent Federal excise tax on sporting
arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and a 10 percent tax on handguns.
These funds are collected from the manufacturers by the Department of the
Treasury and are apportioned each year to the States and Territorial areas
(except Puerto Rico) by the Department of the Interior on the basis of
formulas set forth in the Act. Funds for hunter education and target
ranges are derived from one-half of the tax on handguns and archery
Each state's apportionment is determined by a formula which considers
the total area of the state and the number of licensed hunters in the
state. The program is a cost-reimbursement program, where the state covers
the full amount of an approved project then applies for reimbursement
through Federal Aid for up to 75 percent of the project expenses. The
state must provide at least 25 percent of the project costs from a
- Reprinted from the
Francis "Champ" Zumbrun....is the
forest manager at Green Ridge State Forest. He has worked as a professional
forester for DNR since 1978. He is currently researching the life of Thomas Cresap (1694-1787), Maryland's great pathfinder, pioneer and patriot. In 1733,
Cresap cleared the Old Conestoga Road between York, PA and Union Bridge, MD.
Francis is interested in hearing from anyone who has information about this
colonial road and its original alignment. You may contact him at
Note: Green Ridge is the second largest of Maryland's
State Forests consisting of a 44,000-acre oak-hickory forest. It is located in
eastern Allegany County, approximately eight miles east of Flintstone off I-68
at Exit 64.
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Ridge State Forest
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