HOWL Colorado

Editorial: Co-existing with hunters

[large thumbnail url=”editorial-co-existing-with-hunters” filename=”editorial” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”13″] [thumbnail icon url=”editorial-co-existing-with-hunters” filename=”news” year=”2010″ month=”05″ day=”13″] HOWLColorado is not an anti-hunting organization. We feel this would be not only politically foolish, but also a tad hypocritical – wolves are predators after all.

This article will focus on the reasons why hunters should be approached to assist our cause in creating a balanced ecosystem in Colorado – and why many would. It will also explore the reasons for why, more often than not, hunters have a strong adverse reaction to the messages wolf advocacy groups seek to push.

Aldo Leopold

Some consider Aldo Leopold to be near perfect combination of sportsman, environmentalist and conservationist.

He did not start out this way.

However, after experiencing the great outdoors over a long career, he saw changes to the landscape as a result of human activity which concerned him deeply and changed his philosophy. Instead of doing what many people might do and switching to a position which represented the polar opposite to his former viewpoint, Leopold was wise enough to realize that the natural world was a “community to which we belong.”

For Leopold this included ethical hunting, a topic he addressed in a collection of essays published posthumously in the book A Sand County Almanac.

“A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter obviously has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of this conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscious, rather than a mob of onlookers. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this fact.

Voluntary adherence to an ethical code elevates the self-respect of the sportsman, but it should not be forgotten that voluntary disregard of the code degenerates and depraves him. For example, a common denominator of all sporting codes is not to waste good meat.”

Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac – 1949

In some ways this simple, and well stated philosophy regarding hunting, is what defines for HOWLColorado the difference between a responsible and irresponsible hunter.

This line is often loosely drawn to separate a subsistence hunter and a trophy hunter. However, many trophy hunters shoot a large buck with an impressive rack of antlers and then field dresses and prepares the meat and donates that to a local food bank (hopefully they use copper bullets or at least bullets not designed to leave lead in the meat). What does one do with such a hunter if the differentiation is made so black and white?

It became clear that the ethics of a hunter was not simply reflected by the type of prey the hunter might decide to stalk.

Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunting is harder to find an ethical justification for. By its very definition – whether done as an angler seeking the biggest fish, or a deer hunter looking for the most impressive buck, or hunting the biggest, most dangerous predator you can find – it is contrary to the natural rules which govern every other predator.

The hunter seeks to take an animal at the prime of its life, after it has achieved the difficult task of surviving both natural predation and a number of seasons of human hunting. By defying the odds, an animal becomes a more desirable target to a trophy hunter.

Is there ever a point where trophy hunting can be thought of as ethical? If so, is there a point where trophy hunting abandons any form of ethics?

Jim Posewitz, writer of Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting, believes that yes, trophy hunting can be ethical, but also can be the quickest to jump over the line and become an irresponsible hunting philosophy. He states that a trophy hunter who seeks the tougher hunt through selecting the much more difficult to find prey is challenging themselves and as such can uphold the ethics of responsible hunting. But, he cautions…

“If, on the other hand, you pursue a trophy to establish that you, as an individual hunter, are superior to other hunters, then you have done it to enhance your personal status, and that crosses the ethical line. No animal should be killed for that reason.

Hunting is not a contest between humans. Trophy scoring and big game contests come perilously close to, and sometimes cross, the line of proper ethical practice. In other words, trying to take a trophy to get your name in a record book is taking a fine animal for the wrong reason. Contests between hunters that require killing animals should be prohibited. Trying to kill the “big buck” to win a contest or a monetary prize also represents pursuing and killing wildlife for the wrong reasons.”

Jim Posewitz – Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic and Tradition of Hunting – 1994

Does such a contest sound barbaric and uncivilized and therefore rare? Sadly not. Even in the last six months three such contests were held in Idaho – with corporate sponsorship no less – to kill predators. Wolves were worth three points.

Dealing with addiction

It is interesting to do a Google search for the term “hunting addiction.” It returns 1.68 million results. Many are sites where the hunters classify themselves as addicts.

While many people are incapable of hunting – encountering a mental barrier of actually pulling the trigger once the reality of killing the animal is presented in front of them – there are some who are addicted to the sensation.

This makes complete sense if you think about it. It is interesting to consider what other activities people participate in to capture the same sensation as hunters feel during the thrill of the hunt. It could be using substances, or leaping out of a plane, or other darker activities.

The problem is that addiction leads to a certain amount of irrationality. Taking away, or threatening to take away the source of an addiction leads to exaggerated reactions.

George Wuerthner, a wildlife biologist and former hunting guide, wrote in an article responding to comments by David Allen of the Rocky Mountain Elf Foundation, that “most hunters are single minded about what is important and ecological integrity takes a backseat to ‘getting their elk.'”

In truth this observation may be simplistic and overly generalized. What is true, however, is that the hunting addicts are the most vocal, most unreasonable and most extreme – and if you limit this statement to those who are the most vocal, it is hard to argue with even a generalization.

Hunters are a primary source of finances for wild space conservation. To paint all hunters with a brush of anti-wolf, or more broadly, anti-ecological integrity, is unfair. Many hunters, while not relishing the idea of losing some of their potential prey to wolves, are not selfish and maintain a broad world view. A philosophy not unlike that of Aldo Leopold.

To portray hunters as the enemy is a mistake which many conservation groups make. The most vocal hunters are not the individuals who do the best job of representing their group.

However, HOWLColorado and other organizations must deal with the loud, fear-inspired rhetoric of the addicts and we must do so through reaching out to the moderate, responsible and ethical hunters.

– The hunter who would like to see wolves on the landscape.
– The hunter who understands that natural predators, with reasonable compromise and necessary limits to human hunting, are not a threat or even significant competition.
– The hunter who understands that a wolf is a member of a healthy ecosystem – the result of which is a better environment for all involved, including their favorite prey.

In short, we should not make enemies where we could find allies. We should challenge the anti-wolf rhetoric with cool heads and cold hard facts. The Lolo herd data is pretty damning towards wolves if you start the clock in 1994. It is far more revealing and relevant if you wind that clock back to 1980 – for example.

It is hard to ask hunters or ranchers to co-exist with wolves if we can’t even co-exist with each other.

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