By Regis Giles
A conservationist is someone who advocates or strongly promotes preservation and careful management of natural resources and of the environment, as defined by thefreedictionary.com. Imagining what a conservationist looks like from this definition, you might picture your typical PETA and Humane Society activists who wears all things made of hemp or natural fabrics, TOMS vegan shoes and has some sort of body piercing, tattoo or dread-lock on them. However, most people would never think that the most helpful and resourceful conservationist is someone who wears camouflage, caries a rifle or bow and arrows and sprays scent cover up on them. Yes, hunters by far have helped the environment more than you can imagine.
How is this possible though? Hunters hate the environment and wildlife because they kill animals; this, however, is a misguided thought that popular culture has been lead to believe by anti-hunting groups. The reality is that hunters are infatuated with the outdoors and wildlife and you can tell through their writings. Authors such as Ernest Hemmingway, William Faulkner, Archibald Rutledge, Peter Hathaway Capstick and Fiona Claire Capstick are just a few hunters who gush over the beauty and mystique of the outdoors in their writings. An example is Rutledge expressing his love for deer when he wrote “No other creature seems more a shape of the moonlight than does the deer” (Miniter, 16). No one would write something so beautiful and poetic about an animal if they hated it. The truth is that hunters anxiously wait for their next opportunity to be engulfed by nature.
Lady Florence Dixie, a 19th Century Victorian huntress, wrote in her book Across Patagonia what every hunter desires when embarking on a hunt, “I wanted to escape somewhere I might be as far removed from them (civilization and its surroundings) as possible… to taste a more vigorous emotion than that afforded by the monotonous round of society’s so-called ‘pleasures’” (Capstick, 70). Hunters crave to be amongst the outdoors, to understand the way nature operates and they do this by hunting wild animals. Even psychologist Erich Fromm understood this concept when he penned this statement, “In the act of hunting, a man becomes, however briefly, part of nature again. He returns to the natural state, becomes one with the animal, and is freed from the existential split: to be part of nature and to transcend it by virtue of his consciousness” (Miniter, 21). It is within this immersion of nature where hunters can find full knowledge of how the wilderness operates. With this knowledge hunters find respect and compassion for wild animals.
Often, hunters are portrayed as blood thirsty humans that aimlessly harm animals, with no regard for injuries or pain of their prey. This is not the case though. To expose hunters in this light you would have to completely remove their humanistic qualities of feeling, compassion and respect for the nature that they love; replacing them with animal instincts. Watch National Geographic Wild channel and you won’t see a killer whale be emotionally affected by the squirms or barks of the baby seals they play with before eating them. However, watch the Outdoor channel and you will see a hunter not take a shot because they know it won’t be a one shot kill and the animal may possibly suffer from a badly placed shot. As PETA stated in their column Why Sport Hunting Is Cruel and Unnecessary “animals suffer prolonged, painful deaths when they are injured” (PETA, par. 4). This is a hundred percent true and no one knows this more than the hunter; who is emotionally affected tremendously if this ever were to happen. Here is an account of Lady Florence Dixie’s deer hunt in Patagonia gone wrong,
“Lady Florence took aim, intent on killing with one clean shot, as is the credo of any responsible hunter. For whatever reason, the animal did not go down at the first shot… One of the guides then shot with his revolver, breaking one of the legs. Lady Florence was outraged. Her husband also took aim but the deer was still alive when another of their guides finally managed to end the deer’s life with a hunting knife. Lady Florence was deeply affected by this incident… haunted for a long while afterwards by that semi-bungled hunt…” (Capstick, 75-76)
Clearly, Lady Florence, the huntress, never intended for that animal to suffer and it so greatly affected her that she refused to hunt deer the rest of her trip in Patagonia. The passage goes on to state that, “Nothing was wasted, however, and the meat of the deer provided a welcome change in the now monotonous diet of guanaco and rhea” (Capstick, 76). Whether an animal is killed with one shot or suffers from multiple shots, hunters always appreciate the meat that their quarries provide. Through their understanding of the animal’s habitat, life cycle and diet, hunters value their meat more than the typical grocery shopper. Hunters understand that an animal had to give its life in order for them to have meat and they admire the animal even more for that. Due to the hunter’s genuine appreciation for wildlife, they want to make sure it lasts, which is why they are the true conservationists.
Though the early market hunters of 19th-century America (who thought wildlife populations were inexhaustible) were to blame for wildlife populations to greatly decrease, it was the realization of their mistake that helped protect wildlife and brought about conservation. One such hunter, and the most well known conservationist, was President Theodor Roosevelt. Famously known for his hunting expeditions to Africa and across the great plains of America, he spent his presidency by not only protecting the nation’s people, but its wildlife and their habitat; “Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country [wild animals] as inexhaustible; this is not so” (theodoreroosevelt.org). In his efforts to conserve the “inexhaustible” wildlife populations he created “five national parks, four big-game refuges, fifty-one national bird reservations, and the National Forest Service” (Miniter, 111). This hunter conserved almost 230 million acres of land in order to ensure the safety and growth of the wildlife population.
Following Roosevelt’s example, hunting organizations have been able to pass laws to help preserve lands and bring animal populations back up; some of which are the “Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937… Dingell-Johnson Act in 1950 [and the] Dingell-Goodling Bill in 1972” (Miniter, 112). These laws place extra taxes on hunting and fishing supplies in order to raise money for state fish and wildlife agencies to support their conservation programs. In 1900 only a few states had wildlife conservation agencies; today, however, all fifty states have these agencies in place that are primarily financed by hunters. Because of the efforts of Roosevelt, these laws and many other hunters, several animal species have been removed from the endangered species list. One such animal is the elk.
Elk had once roamed from sea to shining sea, from the Atlantic to the Pacific; but because of the vast supply and their tasty meat, market hunters found this animal to be a limitless resource. However, in 1900 only forty thousand elk were left in the United States. This was a wakeup call. Now, due to regulated hunting seasons and land protection, put into place by hunters, there are some 1.2 million elk and the heard is spreading! Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania all have growing elk herds. One such group which has helped preserve critical elk habitat is the hunter-funded conservation group, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. They have been able to permanently protect more than 1,000 square miles of this critical elk habitat and improve another 3.5 million acres of elk country (Miniter, 115). Again, this is just one species whose population has been rejuvenated due to hunters. Others include the pronghorn, wild turkey and other bird species, whitetail deer, buffalo, as well as exotic species whom are endangered in their native lands but thrive here in the states (the scimitar oryx and blackbuck to name a few). Clearly hunting works for the conservation of wild animals, but how about non-lethal methods?
The most popular non-lethal method being promoted is immunocontraception, which is a fancy word for birth control. It is a “…non-hormonal form of contraception, based on the same principles as disease prevention through vaccination. An immunocontraceptive causes the production of antibodies against some essential element of the reproductive process, thus preventing pregnancy” (www.pzpinfor.org/pzp_faqs.html). One drug which does this is called procine zona pellucid (PZP); a natural vaccine derived from pig eggs. Once it is injected into the muscle of the female mammal “…it stimulates her immune system to produce antibodies against the vaccine. These antibodies also attach to the sperm receptors on the ZP of her own eggs and distort their shape, thereby blocking fertilization” (www.pzpinfo.org/pzp.html). It has been said that this drug could control free roaming wildlife populations and has been tested. The Fire Island National Seashore community of New York (a small island off the shore of Long Island) welcomed the experimentation of this drug on their free roaming deer. Thus far, it has worked; “In 2005 deer densities in Kismet-Lonelyville, the most heavily treated area on Fire Island, were 55 percent of what they had been in 1995 when surveys were first started according to Allen Rutberg, Ph.D.” (www.pzpinfo.org/pzp_faqs.html). Immunocontraception is an interesting approach to conservation and the Humane Society of the United States has been a big supporter of this drug (PZP); in fact they are one of the largest funders. However, there still seems to remain a few complications with the drug, as well as the concepts behind it.
One issue is that the free roaming herds of deer which were subjects to the PZP experiment lived on an island that is thirty-two miles long and half a mile wide. So, though they are free roaming, they are still in a controlled area. It took a decade for the Humane Society (the experimenters on this project) to actually see results on one of the deer herds on that island. In the process they found that it was hard to track which female deer had received the immunocontraceptive. Administers of this drug suggest the best way to see effective fertility control is to “[dart] as many deer as possible… the first year without looking for any significant results for that year and then given a booster the second year” (http://www.pzpinfo.org/pzp_faqs.html). In other words, there is no organization as to which animals received the drug and they are just darting at random. Moving this experiment out on to the mainland, where large free roaming herds of deer live, will cause complications.
Most deer do not travel in herds throughout the year. The only time you will see them together is during the rut, which is their matting season. When they are not together the females are with their fawns, babies, and the males by themselves or in a small bachelor herd. They live within thick brushy areas during the day and will only venture out into the open in the early mornings and late evenings. With their habits, being able to administer the PZP drug to a free roaming deer herd will be next to impossible and will take years, more so than the Fire Island experiment, to see any affect on the free roaming deer population. Like the pzpinfo.org website stated, “Contraception is not a good way to reduce population numbers rapidly. It takes time for animals to die off…” This non-lethal form of conservation is neither practical nor productive, which is why hunting is a much better solution.
When hunted, deer populations are immediately affected which is a good thing. Their numbers decrease, allowing an increase in food supply for the rest of the deer. As well, when dominant male deer are hunted opportunity for the less dominant males to mate opens up, creating a healthy cycle for the reproduction of the deer population. Hunting also contributes to the human population. Not only does the wildlife supply healthy meat to consume, but also when a species is hunted around urban areas, they are less likely to roam into city streets or back yards. This keeps the animals safe from getting hit by a vehicle and the humans safe from being injured by such a collision. With immunocontraceptive drugs it will be a “lifetime commitment” to actually see results (http://www.pzpinfo.org/how_many.html). While waiting for results, there is the risk that the animals may be eaten by a predator, hit by a car or died from disease. Once results do finally come the herd would have completely died off. There would be no reproduction of the animal what so ever, which completely disrupts the natural cycle of life. The idea to conserve a species is to save, keep and preserve it. No one will be able to conserve a species if the method is to allow the animal to “die off” without the ability to reproduce (http://www.pzpinfo.org/how_many.html). Hunting is natural, it is what has been used for centuries and obviously, it works.