Sutter: Hunting for a better wildlife policy
Vail CO, Colorado
I cleaned out my closet the other day. I had too many T-shirts and simply couldn’t get them all to fit on the shelves. It was a real problem with real consequences. Shirts that don’t fit onto shelves tend to end up on chairs or dresser tops or the floor. Sometimes I would even throw a relatively clean shirt or two into the laundry just to have it out of the way. Clearly something had to be done or all my clothes would soon suffer. For instance, if T-shirts started to take the shelves meant for my jeans, then I would probably have to start hanging my jeans on hangers. Jeans are not meant for hangers. It goes against the very nature of having jeans in the first place. Besides, if I started hanging my jeans they would crowd out the few dress shirts I own, give them wrinkles and create the need for them to be ironed in order to be worn. That would result, of course, in them never being worn.
As I busily worked through my dilemma, the valley and surrounding hills were themselves preparing for a bit of a closet cleaning. They call theirs hunting season.
Ask any hunter and they will proudly tell you that the season is necessary to keep animal populations from exploding out of control. A lack of natural predators would allow animal populations to grow so large that these mostly grazing animals would run out of food and die from starvation. Population control via Smith and Wesson is simply a way of maintaining healthy herds and is a sound wildlife policy.
Just to be clear I am not opposed to hunting. In comparison to meat from modern feedlots, it is a far more efficient and, for the most part, humane method of obtaining food. The issue rather is marketing hunting as a policy somehow benefiting the animals being hunted. To me this is like saying war is sound economic policy. True, wartime economies tend to be strong, but people die in wars and people dying is not sound policy.
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Killing animals for their own benefit doesn’t make sense. It may be true that animal populations would grow beyond the capacity of the lands they roam. It may also be true that some of those animals would in turn be unable to survive. This is called natural selection and it has been the backbone of the evolutionary process for millions of years. By altering animals lives and controlling the way they die, we are manipulating the laws of nature.
Hunters kill animals for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is not because they care about exploding populations or healthy herds and forests. Before the loss of predatory animals, natural selection maintained healthy herds by eliminating the weak members of the herd and allowing the strong to continue a thriving bloodline. How many hunters do you know seek the weakest members of the herd? Modern firearm technology has taken the effort out of the kill and exposed even the largest, most fit animals to a rifle’s sight. In fact, it is these very animals that are prized the most. In effect, hunting has reversed natural selection and allowed the weak to survive while the strong are carried away for display on the wall of some non-descript Texas ranchette. What’s left are animals apparently so weak that further policy must be drafted to protect them from domestic dog harassment and hikers.
Elk are magnificent creatures. Once prairie dwellers, they were forced to adapt to the harsh conditions of the mountains to escape human sprawl. They fought off wolves and cougars. Now they cringe at the site of a Labradoodle or a guy in jean shorts and bandanna carrying a walking stick and a bag of gorp?
In the closet that is this planet of ours, we are beginning to get too many shirts. Though we may draft policies and guidelines in an attempt to mask the reality of the situation, eventually we will have to come to grips with the fact that policies like hunting season do little more than mask the real issues of human overpopulation, land development and environmental irresponsibility.
Nature is coming out of balance as we attempt to supplement its laws with versions more suited to human life.
We need to see hunting for what it is ” hunting. No more no less.
Ryan Sutter of Avon writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.