AR-FAQ - #65

#65 Doesn't hunting control wildlife populations that would otherwise get out of hand?

Hunters often assert that their practices benefit their victims. A variation on the theme is their common assertion that their actions keep populations in check so that animals do not die of starvation ("a clean bullet in the brain is preferable to a slow death by starvation"). Following are some facts and questions about hunting and "wildlife management" that reveal what is really happening. Game animals, such as deer, are physiologically adapted to cope with seasonal food shortages. It is the young that bear the brunt of starvation. Among adults, elderly and sick animals also starve. But the hunters do not seek out and kill only these animals at risk of starvation; rather, they seek the strongest and most beautiful animals (for maximum meat or trophy potential). The hunters thus recruit the forces of natural selection against the species that they claim to be defending. The hunters restrict their activities to only those species that are attractive for their meat or trophy potential. If the hunters were truly concerned with protecting species from starvation, why do they not perform their "service" for the skunk, or the field mouse? And why is hunting not limited to times when starvation occurs, if hunting has as a goal the prevention of starvation? (The reason that deer aren't hunted in early spring or late winter--when starvation occurs--is that the carcasses would contain less fat, and hence, be far less desirable to meat consumers. Also, hunting then would be unpopular to hunters due to the snow, mud, and insects.) So-called "game management" policies are actually programs designed to eliminate predators of the game species and to artificially provide additional habitat and resources for the game species. Why are these predator species eliminated when they would provide a natural and ecologically sound mechanism for controlling the population of game species? Why are such activities as burning, clear-cutting, chemical defoliation, flooding, and bulldozing employed to increase the populations of game animals, if hunting has as its goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation? The truth is that the management agencies actually try to attain a maximum sustainable yield, or harvest, of game animals. The wildlife managers and hunters preferentially kill male animals, a policy designed to keep populations high. If overpopulation were really a concern, they would preferentially kill females. Another common practice that belies the claim that wildlife management has as a goal the reduction of populations to prevent starvation is the practice of game stocking. For example, in the state of New York the Department of Environmental Conservation obtains pheasants raised in captivity and then releases them in areas frequented by hunters. For every animal killed by a hunter, two are seriously injured and left to die a slow death. Given these statistics, it is clear that hunting fails even in its proclaimed goal--the reduction of suffering. The species targeted by hunters, both the game animals and their predators, have survived in balance for millions of years, yet now wildlife managers and hunters insist they need to be "managed". The legitimate task of wildlife management should be to preserve viable, natural wildlife populations and ecosystems. In addition to the animal toll, hunters kill hundreds of human beings every year. Finally, there is an ethical argument to consider. Thousands of human beings die from starvation each and every day. Should we assume that the reader will one day be one of them, and dispatch him straight away? Definitely not. AR ethics asserts that this same consideration should be accorded to the deer. DG

Unless hunting is part of a controlled culling process, it is unlikely to be of benefit in any population maintenance. The number and distribution of animals slaughtered is unrelated to any perceived maldistribution of species, but is more closely related to the predilections of the hunters. Indeed, hunting, whether for "pleasure" or profit, has a history more closely associated with bringing animals close to, or into, extinction, rather than protecting from overpopulation. Examples include the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. With the advent of modern "wildlife management", we see a transition to systems designed to artificially increase the populations of certain species to sustain a yield or harvest for hunters. The need for population control of animals generally arises either from the introduction of species that have become pests or from indigenous animals that are competing for resources (such as the kangaroo, which competes with sheep and cattle). These imbalances usually have a human base. It is more appropriate to examine our resource uses and requirements, and to act more responsibly in our relationship with the environment, than to seek a "solution" to self-created problems through the morally dubious practice of hunting. JK

...the American public is footing the bill for predator-control programs that cause the systematic slaughter of refuge animals. Raccoons and red fox, squirrel and skunks are but a few of the many egg-eating predators trapped and destroyed in the name of "wildlife management programs". Sea gulls are shot, fox pups poisoned, and coyotes killed by aerial gunners in low-flying aircraft. This wholesale destruction is taking place on the only Federal lands set aside to protect America's wildlife! Humane Society of the United States

The creed of maximum sustainable yield unmasks the rhetoric about "humane service" to animals. It must be a perverse distortion of the ideal of humane service to accept or engage in practices the explicit goal of which is to insure that there will be a larger, rather than a smaller, number of animals to kill! With "humane friends" like that, wild animals certainly do not need any enemies. Tom Regan (philosopher and AR activist)

The real cure for our environmental problems is to understand that our job is to salvage Mother Nature...We are facing a formidable enemy in this field. It is the hunters...and to convince them to leave their guns on the wall is going to be very difficult. Jacques Cousteau (oceanographer)