Monday, December 10, 2007

The Truth About Hunting

Over at The American Thinker they have a highly interesting interview with Frank Miniter a senior editor of Outdoor Life magazine and also the executive editor of American Hunter magazine who recently wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting. In the interview he addresses some of the most common myths about hunting:

Miniter: Many nonhunters think hunters are simply bloodthirsty. I dare any nonhunter who feels that way to go to a hunting club, lodge, or hunting show and meet hunters, or simply to read a hunting magazine. If they do they'll find that hunters care deeply about our natural resources. I'm a bird-watcher, hiker, kayaker, wildlife photographer, and yes, hunter.
Another underlying myth about hunting is that if you don't hunt, eat meat, or wear leather products you are somehow beyond reproach. This myth falls apart when you realize that every farmer-and this goes double for small organic farms-has to control wildlife populations lethally in order to have crops left to harvest. If farmers don't use hunting to control deer, elk, geese, and other wildlife populations then those species propagate to the point and eat their crops. When you step back and look at the big picture you realize wildlife and humans are living in the same ecosystems. We're all competing for the same resources. We have to balance our needs with those of the wildlife around us. This is why farmers need hunters and why even vegetarians owe hunters.

Another myth I hear every time I debate someone who has a negative view of hunting is that hunters only want to kill "trophy" animals. The truth is that hunters today kill more does (female deer) than they do bucks. In fact, many states have "earn-a-buck" programs that force hunters to kill a doe before they can shoot a doe. From a big picture perspective, hunters kill 8-10 million whitetail deer every year in the U.S. There are an estimated 32 million whitetail deer in the U.S. right now (there were only 20 million when Columbus discovered this continent-there are more today because of farms and other habitat changes we've made). As a result, wildlife biologists who work for state wildlife departments see hunters as their best tools for our nation's burgeoning deer populations. Right now there are already 25,000 people injured and 200 people killed every year in deer-auto collisions. What would happen on our roadways and farms if hunters weren't killing those 8-10 million deer per year?

Glazov: Tell us some of the benefits that hunting provides us.

Miniter: Hunters pay the bulk of conservation funding. Hunters pay the Pittman-Robertson taxes of 10% on ammunition, firearms, clothing, and other goods. This tax raises about $150 million annually. This money is sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and then funnelled back to the states where it has to be used for conservation projects. Hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, and so on don't pay these taxes. Hunter license fees and other expenditures also fuel conservation, habitat restoration, and even endangered species protection efforts.

Glazov: What effect does hunting have on the environment?

Miniter: Deer, when left unchecked, are a threat to themselves and to every other animal in our fields and forests. When a deer herd grows beyond what its habitat can support deer begin to over browse the habitat. When they do this they eat everything they can reach; as a result, other species begin to disappear. Many species of songbirds, for example, can't live in an over-browsed forest, because they need nesting cover. Other animals, such as rabbits, grouse, woodcock, groundhogs, and turtles, all need vegetation on the ground to survive. This is why the New Jersey Audubon Society recently opened up their lands to hunting. And this is why Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, where hunting is forbade, is desperate for a way to control its surging population of elk.

Another good example of how hunting helps the environment is happening in Louisiana where the state's Marsh-to-Market Program has been credited with saving millions of acres of wetlands. Here's a synopsis: Landowners are allowed to kill alligators that are over a certain size every year. These gators are taken to state-processing sheds where their meat and skins are sold. The funds raised then go to the landowners and to fund alligator-conservation projects. This program gives landowners an economic incentive not to drain and develop swamplands. There is also an added side benefit: By killing the largest alligators they are also saving human lives. Louisiana has an estimated 1.5 million alligators; Florida has an estimated 1 million alligators; Florida has had over 400 people attacked and 21 killed by alligators since the 1950s; in Louisiana no one has been killed or even attacked in recorded history. This is because Louisiana's program aggressively uses hunting to control its alligator population-hunters in Louisiana kill nearly 10 times as many alligators as hunters are allowed to in Florida.
Miniter touches on a few of the pros of hunting but I think he missed a few of the more important ones. For example back when the GOP ran the show it was only a coalition of hunters and anglers that were able to stop the gutting of the EPA, prevent a massive public lands sell off at bargain basement prices, and stop the the weakening of EPA standards in regards to the clean water act. Simply put when the GOP runs the whole show sportsmen are the last line of environmental defense. Additionally hunting continues to provide much needed dietary and economic relief to rural poor. Simply put every dollar not spent on food enables them to better afford things like clothes, health care, and pay their utilities on time.

During the Great Depression at age 12 my Grandfather used to take two shotgun shells, shoot two rabbits, trade one for two more shells, and feed the family with the other. Of course if he missed one he just traded the one for two more shells.My father began hunting in the Appalachian mountains to supplement his family's diet around the same age and continues hunting 50 years later. He feeds the homeless with his excess through a program called Hunters for the Hungry. I myself began hunting around the same age to supplement my families stores although since I was raised on an organic homestead it was more about self sufficiency than survival.

The long and short of it is that hunting has always been an integral part to humanities success. And if those opposed to hunting would bother to set aside their anti-gun and/or pro-animal bias and check their Darwin's Manual they'd find that not only are we fulfilling our role, given the fact that we have minimized our competition, we are also ensuring the survival of many of the species we in America are preying upon.