In the Seattle Times, February 01, 1995
Hunting plays a key role in habitat conservation
by John A. Baden, Ph.D. and Tim O’Brien
MANY environmentalists oppose hunting. They find the idea of killing animals for sport repulsive and incomprehensible. For these people, sport hunting is an obsolete remnant of our barbaric past, one excised by civilized cultures
This position is empathically understandable, but logically paradoxical because hunters are important supporters of wildlife habitat protection. Hunters save habitat as individuals and through organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Ruffed Grouse Society, Quail Unlimited, and North America Wild Sheep Foundation. Sportsmen and women know that without habitat there is no game.
Members of the environmental community have recurrently tried to stop hunting on national wildlife refuges, and hunting is forbidden in national parks. Tensions between hunting and the animal-rights wing of environmentalism are complex and emotional. They are wrapped up with New Age religion and with "junk" science that falsely claims animal populations naturally regulate themselves without degrading their habitat. (The latter is a fiction propagated for political reasons by "scientists" within the Park Service.)
Tensions also stem from demographic changes that insulate urbanites from nature's unpleasant realities. Prosperity has fostered an appreciation for the intrinsic value of life. But few people understand that predators, harsh winters and extensive range are necessary to preserve healthy wildlife populations. Only if "challenged" individual animals die will healthy populations survive. By eliminating major predators and winter range, people have sharply increased the danger of destructive crashes of whole animal populations.
It is simply wrong to argue, as some do, that hunting does not promote environmental protection. Though hunting is not a cure-all, it is an important tool for promoting habitat conservation. It also substitutes for the natural population checks eliminated by human activity.
A failure to accept the importance of hunting underlies the actions of John Lilburn, a member of the group, Fund for Animals. In 1990, Lilburn interfered with a state-supervised bison hunt near Yellowstone Park by interposing himself between hunters and the bison. Though we may marvel at his affection for bison, such passion threatens the bison's well being. Without natural predators, bison populations grow beyond their food supply and wander out of the park. They carry brucellosis, a disease causing cattle to abort. In terms of sound wildlife and livestock management, removing the bison was necessary.
But, certain environmentalists resent people's enjoyment of hunting. They don't understand or accept that love of the hunt has deep cultural and perhaps biological roots. It is intellectually irresponsible to wish the love of hunting away. By accepting that hunting is loved by millions, environmentalists could tap a powerful reservoir of support for conservation.
Hunters already pay big money for sport hunting. The Turner Ranch near Bozeman charges $9000 for a four-and-a-half day trophy elk hunt and limits the number of hunters to 30. These fees compensate the ranch for nearly $250,000 worth of grazing provided to wildlife that is not hunted.
In Arizona, a hunter paid $303,000 for a Desert Bighorn sheep permit. That money went for wildlife research and habitat protection. Payment for hunting preserves game habitat and thereby saves less charismatic, but ecologically important species.
If landowners and local communities cannot profit from wildlife, they may favor environmentally destructive sources of income, such as poor logging practices, or mining. This lesson holds not only for big-ticket species, but for animals with lower hunting values: deer, elk and waterfowl. Fees from hunting far exceed those from primitive recreation, bird watching, or photography.
Hunters are a major force behind Ducks Unlimited (DU), a conservation organization with more than 600,000 members and 3,700 chapters across the United States and Canada. DU manages more than four million acres of wetland in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It has acquired rights to these wetlands through purchases, leases and easements.
The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887, is one of the United States' first conservation organizations. Early on, it helped protect Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The Club's 6,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch in Montana is winter range for hundreds of elk and mule deer and harbors grizzly bear, white tailed deer, cougar, eagles, falcons, hawks, and cutthroat trout. It is also home to a research station conducting field work in conservation. Boone and Crockett recently endowed a professorship at the University of Montana through a $1 million gift.
A desire to accommodate hunters has changed the forest-management practices of several important timber companies, including Champion, International Paper, and Temple Inland. The companies provide more "edge" along clear-cuts and more diverse ecosystems as they strive to offer habitat for prime game species. These efforts sensitize employees to the importance of wildlife habitat.
People love nature in different ways. Not everyone empathizes with today's naive but politically correct preservationist ethic. Most people opposed to hunting are well intentioned. And some people's opposition to hunting is religious. To them, ecological science is irrelevant. But the facts are clear; hunters cannot be dismissed as enemies of animals, and their efforts help preserve healthy ecosystems.
John A. Baden, Ph.D., is Chairman of FREE and Gallatin Writers.
Tim O'Brien contributed to this report.