Are you a hero of conservation?

Are you on the front lines of protecting our wildlife from hunger or, worse, extinction?

If you slapped on some blaze orange and headed into the woods over the last two weeks, you are.

Like it or not, hunters are on the leading edge of the conservation movement.

Earlier this week, Time Magazine featured a cover story that dove into the role that hunters play in the "pest control" business. While I argue Mother Nature's creatures are anything but "pests," the controversial article puts hunters in the positive light they deserve.

For many folks outside the sport, hunters are simply selfish "rednecks" hanging on to an antiquated pastime. These folks see TV shows that focus solely on killing a trophy. They walk by "bragging boards" filled with shots of dead animals at the local sporting goods store. And they read about a local "hunter" that shot a farmer's cow.

But what they don't see are the leagues of sportsmen who devote much of their fleeting free time to conserving wetlands, saving forests from development or working overtime to stop the spread of a deadly disease.

Sure, the motives are often selfish. We want more game to pursue, so we do what's necessary to preserve the sport. There's nothing wrong with that. We live in a selfish world. Plus, selfish or not, if we didn't do it, nobody would.

Far beyond the woods and the water, sportsmen are a powerful force in the conservation effort. The lawmakers in Washington (and in Harrisburg) know that hunters are a formidable force. After all, groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited spend big money on lobbying each year and their members are strong voters.

That likely explains why more than half of U.S. senators and congressmen are members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. Again, it's selfish, but they know hunters can change a lawmaker's career path.

So yes, the Time Magazine article got it right. Hunters can keep deer from plowing into the side of your car. We can keep bears from knocking over your trash can. And we can keep geese from spoiling your lawn. But that's a mere fraction of our overall effort. Hunters do much more than control "pests."

Take a drive through Pennsylvania. You'll see hundreds of thousands of acres of unspoiled forests. Thank a hunter for it. Chances are you're looking at game lands that were bought using money provided by the state's more than 800,000 hunters.

And while you're on that drive, maybe you'll see some elk. Thank a hunter. For that matter, thank a hunter if you see a deer. Just over a century ago, whitetails were nearly entirely extinct in Pennsylvania. Hunters helped bring them back.

So next time you see a camo-clad pickup parked in a field on your way to work, don't scoff and think the hunter is selfishly wasting his time. Thank him for being a hero of conservation.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.