“Celebrating Our Past, Creating Our Future.”

Hunters’ Valuable Contributions to Forest Conservation, Wildlife Restoration and Public Land Acquisition

By Francis Zumbrun

Early Float Exhibit: If You Want Good Hunting, Obey Game Laws

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

A Century of Conservation and Recreation: Fall Color Festival, Oakland, Md. - 2006

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 conservation.

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 Hunting at Green Ridge State Forest (1936-2006)

By Francis Zumbrun

Clarence Alonzo O'Neal (circa 1936) camping at Green Ridge State Forest Clarence Alonzo O'Neal (circa 1936) hunting at Green Ridge State Forest.

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.

/centennial/Bacil-O'Neal.jpg alt="O'Neil's hunting cabin at Green Ridge State Forest, a converted mule shed. 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 fishing.”

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.

Overlook from Point Lookout in Green Ridge State ForestPoint 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 Service

Federal Aid in (Pittman-Robertson)


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 projects.

The Act was amended October 23, 1970, to include funding for hunter training programs and the development, operation and maintenance of public target ranges.

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 equipment.

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 non-federal source.

- Reprinted from the http://federalasst.fws.gov/wr/fawr.html


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.

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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