Hunting and the Environment - Are Hunters Environmentalists

Is hunting good for the environment?

Patience is the secret to a perfect shot
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Hunters call themselves conservationists and environmentalists, but an examination of the true effects of hunting on the environment calls these claims into question.

Hunters and Habitat Protection

In general, hunters support habitat protection and want to see wildlife and wild lands protected so that there will be plenty of hunting opportunities. However, many hunters view the lands in the same way that they view animals - they have little intrinsic value and exist to serve the hunters' purposes. An article about a massive proposal for the management of over a million acres of Colville National Forest in Northeastern Washington, including logging on 400,000 acres, sums up the position of hunters: "In a nutshell, hunters want to know, will the hunts of tomorrow be as good, better or worse than they were yesterday?"

Hunting and Habitat Manipulation

From hearing hunters talk about the overpopulations of deer, bears and other "game" animals, one would think they are practically tripping over this megafauna in the American wilderness. However, this is not the case, and both public and private lands are managed in a variety of ways to increase hunting opportunities, regardless of what is natural or necessary.

The most egregious example is probably clearcutting. In an attempt to boost deer populations, state wildlife management agencies, which are run by hunters for hunters and make their money from the sales of hunting licenses, will clearcut the forests on public lands in order to create the edge habitat that is favored by deer. In their literature, they seldom admit that this is the purpose of the clearcutting, and often vaguely claim that it benefits "wildlife" or "game." Many Americans believe we already have too many deer, and would not tolerate attempts to increase the deer population.

Hunters also tend to support logging on public lands because like clearcutting, logging creates edge habitat for deer.

Additionally, some hunters plant food plots to feed and attract wildlife, especially deer. Food plots artificially boost the deer population, cause deer to grow larger, and attract deer to the area. They are not good for wildlife and the ecosystem in general because they tend to be monocultures, which decrease biodiversity and foster the spread of crop diseases.

Another common method of habitat manipulation is baiting. Hunters begin baiting wildlife days or even weeks before they plan to hunt, to increase the chances that they'll be able to kill an animal on the day of their hunt. Everything from corn to apples to stale donuts is used to bait wildlife. Baiting is dangerous because the food can be unhealthy for all wildlife and accustoms the animals to human food. Bait piles also cause animals and their feces to concentrate in a small area, which spreads disease. Some hunters do not consider baiting to be ethical. Ironically, many states ban or restrict wildlife feeding by the general population but allow baiting by hunters.

Hunting and Lead

Hunters have repeatedly opposed attempts to regulate or ban lead ammunition. The fear is that regulations on lead ammunition will lead to other regulations of hunting and arms in general, despite clear evidence that lead is a poison to humans and wildlife. Lead ammunition has been proven to poison wildlife directly and also contaminates the water and soil. To their credit, the California Department of Fish and Game has now banned lead ammunition for hunting in condor habitat.

Hunting and the Wildlife Overpopulation Myth

Hunters claim to take the place of other predators in controlling the populations of prey species. There are several problems with this argument:

  • The populations of prey species do not need to be controlled. As discussed above, deer populations are artificially increased to maximize hunting opportunities. Hunters increase the deer population to create the illusion of deer overpopulation in order to gain public support for hunting.
  • Hunters do not act like other predators. While other predators target the old, the young, the sick and the weak, hunters target the largest specimens with the biggest tusks, antlers or horns. Instead of culling the weakest members of the species and helping the species to evolve to be stronger, hunters are what Newsweek magazine calls "evolution in reverse" and "survival of the weak and scrawny." Bighorn sheep now have smaller horns compared to thirty years ago, and fewer African and Asian elephants have tusks.
  • If the deer in a certain area become overpopulated and the food is scarce, the lack of food will cause weaker individuals to starve to death and the fawns will absorb more embryos and have fewer offspring.
  • In addition to artificially increasing wild populations of deer, state wildlife management agencies also breed animals specifically to be hunted. Predators do not breed pheasant and quail so they can be hunted.
  • Hunters often say that a population of animals is "overabundant," which is not a scientific term but misleads the public into thinking that the animals are overpopulated. Overpopulation is a scientific concept and exists when a species exceeds its biological carrying capacity. This deceptive terminology gains public sympathy for hunting and creates an illusion that hunting is desirable or even necessary.

Hunting Stocked Animals

Any possible argument that hunting benefits the ecosystem or controls wildlife populations go completely out the window when it comes to stocked animals. Pheasant, quail and chukar partridge are bred and raised in captivity by state wildlife management agencies, transported to pre-announced sites at pre-announced times, and released so that they can be shot by hunters.

Do Hunters Pay for Land Conservation?

Hunters claim that they pay for public lands but the amount they pay is trivial compared to what comes out of general funds. They are also constantly trying to pay even less (e.g. Paul Ryan's legislation lowering the federal tax on arrows).

Almost 90% of the lands in our National Wildlife Refuge system came from the public domain. They weren't purchased at all. Only 3% of National Wildlife Refuge lands was purchased with funds from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which has various sources of funding, one of which is the sale of duck stamps that hunters and stamp collectors buy. This means that hunters paid for less than 3% of the land in our National Wildlife Refuges.

Funds from the sales of hunting licenses go to state wildlife management agencies, and some of those funds may go toward purchasing land. An excise tax on the sale of weapons and ammunition goes into the Pittman-Robertson fund, which is distributed to state wildlife management agencies and may be used for land acquisition. However, most gun owners are not hunters, and only 14% to 22% of gun owners who pay into the Pittman-Robertson fund are hunters.

Furthermore, hunters are unlikely to support habitat protection unless they are also allowed to hunt in that area. They generally do not support the protection of wild lands merely for the sake of the wildlife or the ecosystem.