Hunting, Land Conservation, and Blood Lust
February 8, 2013
Writing in The Gainesville Sun last week, Brian Block, an almost
twenty-year vegan, advocated opening land held under the Alachua
Conservation Trust to hunting. His argument, as it were, was not an explicit
endorsement of hunting so much as a roundabout utilitarian claim that
hunting would leverage greater support for conservation efforts. Get enough
people who like to blow away animals on board and you can prevent
undeveloped land from becoming a Walmart. This land preservation defense of
hunting is a common one. It’s so common in here in Texas, in fact, that one
can, as I did yesterday, hear a defense of it over breakfast at a vegan
macrobiotic restaurant in the center of liberal Austin.
As a general point, I think anyone who knows the first thing about
ecology understands that ecosystems are healthiest when left “unmanaged.” If
it is the long-term health of ecosystems that we have in mind, our best bet
is simply to leave them well enough alone. Of course, humans are short-term
thinkers. We’re also environmentally meddlesome to the point of destruction.
And arrogant. Thus we have convinced ourselves that we can, by allowing a
bunch of men and women with an arsenal of weaponry play Rambo amidst our
fields and forests, improve these inherently robust ecosystems through
federal and state run programs. We are—again as a long-term prospect—almost
always wrong about this. We don’t even fully know how these ecosystems work.
What makes us think we can accomplish something as complex as micromanaging
their species profile?
Theoretically, I suppose, it’s possible that a team of experienced
hunters could cherry pick a minimal population of doe in order to moderate
deer numbers, minimize subsequent starvation, and approximate the appearance
of effective land management in the short term. But it never works this way.
In reality, when bounties are placed on animals in the name of
conservation, hordes of weekend warriors trying to compensate for something
(perhaps a loss of power in some other area of life) dress up in cammo, buy
a case of Bud, and firebomb the weakest members of a species, thereby
selecting for the strongest. Advanced riflemen then seek out the biggest
buck, reserving their fire for specimen that might serve as an impressive
wall trophy. Together, the end result of these approaches is ecologically
counterproductive, if not disastrous. Populations that are perceived to be
too high are, in their violent reduction, rendered so weak they may never
recover, thus creating room for another, perhaps more invasive species to
proliferate that could be, alas, hunted.
“Conservation” thus becomes yet another example of a euphemism obscuring
our blood lust. The vast majority of conservation-driven hunting policies
are designed not to improve the quality of a particular ecosystem but to
improve the quality of the hunt. As with so many activities humans pursue,
we’d be so much better off letting go of the mythical associations of
hunting and reflecting on what it is within us that makes us want to kill.
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