Hunting: Good Or Bad For The Environment?

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Dear EarthTalk: Hunting seems to be a real controversy among environmental advocates. Can you set the record straight: Is hunting good or bad for the environment?

Like so many hot button issues, the answer to this question depends upon who you ask. On the one hand, some say, nothing could be more natural than hunting, and indeed just about every animal species, including humans, has been either predator or prey at some point in its evolution. And, ironic as it sounds, since humans have wiped out many animal predators, some see hunting as a natural way to cull the herds of prey animals that, as a result, now reproduce beyond the environment’s carrying capacity.

On the other hand, many environmental and animal advocates see hunting as barbaric, arguing that it is morally wrong to kill animals, regardless of practical considerations. According to Glenn Kirk of the California-based The Animals Voice, hunting “causes immense suffering to individual wild animals”¦” and is “gratuitously cruel because unlike natural predation hunters kill for pleasure”¦” He adds that, despite hunters’ claims that hunting keeps wildlife populations in balance, hunters’ license fees are used to “manipulate a few game [target] species into overpopulation at the expense of a much larger number of non-game species, resulting in the loss of biological diversity, genetic integrity and ecological balance.”

Beyond moral issues, others contend that hunting is not practical. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the vast majority of hunted species, such as waterfowl, upland birds, mourning doves, squirrels and raccoons, “provide minimal sustenance and do not require population control.”

Author Gary E. Varner suggests in his book, In Nature’s Interests, that some types of hunting may be morally justifiable while others may not be. Hunting “designed to secure the aggregate welfare of the target species, the integrity of its ecosystem, or both”, what Varner terms ”˜therapeutic hunting’, is defensible, while subsistence and sport hunting, both of which only benefit human beings, is not.

Regardless of one’s individual stance, fewer Americans hunt today than in recent history. Data gathered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its most recent (2006) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, show that only five percent of Americans, some 12.5 million individuals, consider themselves hunters today, down from nine percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1996.

Public support for hunting, however, is on the rise. A 2007 survey by Responsive Management Inc., a social research firm specializing in natural resource issues, found that 78 percent of Americans support hunting today versus 73 percent in 1995. Eighty percent of respondents agreed that “hunting has a legitimate place in modern society,” and the percent of Americans indicating disapproval of hunting declined from 22 percent in 1995 to 16 percent in 2007.

Perhaps matching the trend among the public, green leaders are increasingly advocating for cooperation between hunters and environmental groups: After all, both lament urban sprawl and habitat destruction.

CONTACTS: The Animals Voice, www.animalsvoice.com; HSUS, www.hsus.org; National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/fishing.html; Responsive Management Inc., www.responsivemanagement.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php. EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

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Comments

  1. First off, let me say that I do not hunt. I admit to being far too squeamish. However, I grew up in a very rural area where hunting was appreciated not only as a sport but also as a means of survival in times of hardship.

    I had a college biology teacher that was a vegetarian for environmental reasons but she said she had no problem whatsoever with hunting deer. Without natural predators here, they quickly overpopulate leading to more car accidents (my husband rolled our car trying to avoid one) and also to their own starvation. Human hunters simply take the place of other animal hunters (and whose to say the other hunters are more “natural” as humans & humanoids have been hunting animals for millions of years.

    I have a lot of respect for hunters. Many of us eat meat, but not a lot of us look our food in the eye and see it for what it is. Do they take pleasure in it? Yes. Though, I think most hunters will tell you that it’s not just the thrill of the kill, it’s also being in nature. Hunters I have met have a great appreciation for nature and are therefore very eco-minded (even in conservative states), despite the impression that people might get. And whose to say that animal hunters don’t take pleasure in the kill! Watch a cat play with its prey and you realize that we aren’t the only creatures to hunt for sport. Furthermore, in the end don’t we all take pleasure in eating whether enjoying a succulent roast or vegetarian sushi?

    Furthermore, I think meat from wild sources is more moral than factory-farmed meat. The animals get a chance to live their lives in the wild without the added cruelty of factory-farm conditions. It’s even healthier thanks to their grass fed diet. And, in the case of deer, the alternative would be to let them starve themselves out or kill them all and removing them from the local ecosystem. As much as I love watching deer, I am willing to sacrifice a few to keep them around.

    Of course, there are hunters who are needlessly cruel and there are hunters who are wasteful and not eco-minded at all. But that doesn’t mean that they all are.

  2. I was raised in the big city, and have never hunted, but I really want to do it sometime, especially now that I’ve learned to use a bow.

    I’m Wiccan, and hunting can have special significance in Wiccan tradition as a way to experience the God’s sacrifice, and the interdependence of life and death.

    Certainly hunting excessively, without regard for the population of your prey, is a bad idea. So is wasting your kill, instead of using it to sustain your life and the lives of your clan and your neighbors. A good first step toward right hunting is respect for your quarry and recognition that you are connected in the great Circle of Life.

  3. In the more balanced areas of rural life, the predator takes out the weak and the old, along with some of the young and the slow. Not the strong, which are needed to keep that group of prey strong. And some of the stronger predators that would keep the deer in check, are seen as being bad for the cattle owners. Who I wish would find taller and higher fences, so the battle with wolves would get over with. They could keep things in balance with the deer, elk, cougars, and other animals that get overpopulated.
    Like the town put in the middle of the trail taken by the polar bears every year, it reminds me of people who decide to live way out in the middle of rural area, then complain about the animals that were already living there.
    We need to find a way to balance things out, amicably. We use to be able to do that better, and not do verbal attacks on the person, but keep on the topic at hand. We can get back to respecting each others opinions and treating each other with respect.

  4. Well said, Meg! I do hunt, and I agree with all of your points.

    On the matter of enjoying hunting: Why does it surprise animal rights activist that omnivores and carnivores enjoy hunting? Isn’t it totally obvious that natural selection would favor the genes of animals (including humans) who enjoy hunting, and therefore hunt a lot, and therefore get more vital protein into their diets? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    For the record, I don’t relish the kill. I relish success, because it is never guaranteed. But taking a life is a sobering matter, and most hunters I know say the minute you stop regarding it as such is the minute you should stop hunting.

  5. Yes, hunting, both for the pleasure of the sport and the practical means, is a great solution the the overpopulation of some species. Truly, though, hunting should not be the only solution since it is going down in popularity. Careful management and perhaps the reintroduction of natural predators in some areas would be best if combined with hunting.

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