Humans are meant to hunt, not to debate its morality
By JIM MATTHEWS
There is a dust storm surrounding hunting and meat-eating today. Should human hunters and trappers kill predators? Is any hunting or trapping moral? Is eating meat wrong, especially if you don’t personally take responsibility for the death of the animal you’re eating?
The questions have led to two distinct trends, both growing: First, the anti-hunting camp that believes humans should foster wildlife preservation without human interference, and second, the new “foodie” camp that has spawned a new generation of hunters who are looking to put natural, healthy protein on their tables in a sustainable way.
There are quasi-scientists who are trying to debunk the models of game management in this country and around the world that have fostered the care, protection, and “management” of game species (and the other wildlife using associated habitats) for over 100 years, leading to the restoration and species that were once endangered. The enlightened thinkers in this camp are definitely anti-predator hunting, and most are against all human hunting and trapping of wildlife.
These people like to play the moral card: How can anyone who claims to care about wildlife and habitat also be a hunter? There are whole books written about the subject; some trying to paint the fathers of wildlife conservation and habitat protection as sadist murderers; and some trying to explain how hunting and conservation are sides of the same coin and not mutually exclusive of each other.
But trying to convince someone emotionally bonded to the anti-killing side of the equation never get the simple point: Humans are part of the natural environment, not apart from it. While they can accept the idea of a wolf or mountain lion killing an elk calf or a coyote eating a cottontail, they don’t see humans on the same level as wolves, lions, and coyotes.
This is incredibly ironic for a group that generally rejects religious doctrine that gives man dominion over the earth; but then touts our evolution as setting our place in the natural world. Well, they do that until you point out to them that humans are at the top of the evolved food chain. We indeed have biological dominion through evolution, too. Then they want to rile about how we have evolved beyond needing to kill wildlife, for any reason, ever. There is no evidence this is true except in their minds. Their circular thinking is that they can imagine why anyone would shoot Bambi, so shooting Bambi is wrong, so no one should shoot Bambi. If we ban shooting Bambi, then no one will shoot Bambi. That is proof of evolution. If that makes sense to you, you are a lost cause.
Also, don’t ask if the anti-hunter is vegan. In the United States, less than two percent of the population is vegetarian, and fewer than half of those are vegan. Surveys have also shown that many people who identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan will occasionally eat fish, poultry, or red meat. So the number of people who walk-the-walk is a very small. The anti-hunters try to take the moral high ground, but it’s more slippery slope than high ground. Besides, nature and evolution don’t have a lot to do with morals. Do you think, mountain lions face a dilemma about whether or not they should eat the young mule deer buck? Does it matter to the buck if he dies by fang or a hunter’s bullet?
Most people, even a lot of vegetarians who prefer that diet for health reasons, accept hunting of wildlife if two criteria are met: First, the meat must be utilized by the hunter; and second, the harvest must be sustainable.
It is this basic precept that has led a lot of people who were not raised in a hunting community to become hunters. They looked into the mirror and realized they were eating animals raised in less-than-desirable conditions – feed lots, chicken coops, small pens – and filled with hormones and antibiotics that ended up on their dinner plate. They loved to eat meat, but decided it was time to look at taking responsibility for the meat on their plate either by hunting or raising their own. They wanted healthier, more natural food. They also wanted to remove the insulation from the death they caused.
Sadly, both the new hunting “foodies” and the anti-hunting crowd may come together in opposing predator hunting. California recently banned all trapping and the commercial sale of bobcats pelts. There is increasing pressure on the Fish and Game Commission (which sets hunting seasons in the state) to ban all predator hunting. The anti-hunter groups make runs at different types of hunting bans every year through legislation or regulation proposals. Each year, they win more and more restrictions or bans because it resonates with a growing number of people.
This is all OK, right? We’ve evolved past using furs or simply trying to keep predator numbers at low levels. Correct? Well, no, that attitude ignores reality.
A friend of mine likes to say that there is “nothing wasted in the nitrogen cycle.” He unapologetically shoots ground squirrels in his alfalfa pasture and leaves them lay for the crows and magpies and raccoons and coyotes to eat. The alfalfa he raises allows the squirrel population to boom on the artificial food source, and he feeds the squirrels to a whole host of scavengers and predators. They are not wasted, and he saves a few bales of alfalfa for market with his diligent shooting.
We had a vendetta in this country against wolves, mountain lions, grizzly bears, and coyotes almost since the first immigrants from Europe arrived, and by the end of the 1800s there was a government agency charged with trying to eliminate the predators, especially in the West. The idea was that we were protecting livestock running the range lands, and using traps, poison, and guns, we eventually got rid of nearly all the wolves in the lower 48 states and knocked down the grizzly bear and mountain lion numbers to very low levels by the 1960s. (We didn’t really do squat to the coyote population because they are so adaptable and prolific.) The result was booming wildlife populations throughout the middle part of the last century, especially big game. Game laws were enacted about the same time the war on predators was hitting its peak, and wildlife (except the predators) that had been scarce rebounded to all-time highs. Yet, those are considered dark times by today’s environmental crowd.
What no one points out is that the human predator (that utilizes all the wildlife and domestic animals to our benefit) did exactly what all other predators do: We reduced and competition from lesser or near-equal predators. We became the top dog. It was a natural process.
The wolves have hammered the coyote population in Yellowstone, killing them off by the thousands. This has saved meadows full of ground squirrels and deer, elk, and pronghorn fawns for the wolves by trying to eliminate the coyotes. Now, there are testy wolf encounters with grizzly bears. You can bet that grizzly bears have killed a few wolves, maybe digging out a den or two and killing the pups. And you can also bet a wolf pack may have hamstrung a grizzly cub or two or killed them outright. It’s all about turf. The wolves don’t apologize. So is what we did for most of the last century wrong? Or were we just being a good top predator?
The idea that we have evolved (or should restrict ourselves) to be mere “watchers” in the natural world strikes me as wholly unnatural. I don’t want to see us wipe out the wolves or grizzly bears as we nearly did in the last century, but I am also pretty sure we can strike a balance between having lots of elk and mule deer and viable predator populations. Why should humans give up having one or the other when we can have and utilize both? The problem is the shrill voices that say predators need total protection? That is unnecessary and naïve.
This attitude is also fundamentally wrong because it denies are basic genetic make-up. There’s a primal part of us that relishes the hunt. There are canines in your mouth for a reason. I have used the example many times from my grade school days. I can remember a number of times when a jackrabbit had strayed onto the huge, fenced dirt “playground” when the recess bell rang. The tetherball courts, jungle gym sets, basketball and dodgeball courts all were vacant as a thundering herd of young human predators took flight after the jackrabbit, vainly trying to outrun it, hurling rocks and baseballs after it. The hare would turn on the afterburners, cut across the lawns in front of the classrooms, and bolt across the street into the vineyards where it lived. It was in our DNA and we were bound to give chase.
Emotionally, it is easy to understand the distaste for trapping or hunting of predators. Many of us own dogs and cats and we see our pets’ eyes in our mental images. But the bans don’t make any sense. We are either going to utilize and manage wildlife, all wildlife, or we are going regulate ourselves into spectators, which denies our own evolution.