As I have mentioned, I work for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, a state government agency dedicated to habitat and animal conservation. We get a lot of our funds from selling hunting and fishing licenses, which can be somewhat controversial for some people. As a conservation major also interested in animal ethics, this is where morals and practicality clash for me, personally. For the purposes of this piece, I will only be talking about legal recreational hunting even though I acknowledge there are groups of people who must hunt to maintain their livelihoods.
Now, I will attempt to debunk some of the most common concerns about recreational hunting:
“[H]unting is bad for the environment because many animals are getting killed”: Not true. Bag limits (the number of animals that can be killed to sustain a healthy population) are tightly monitored so that the quantity of animals taken from a population during the hunt will have a negligible effect on the habitat and population as a whole. In fact, without hunting, a lot of animal populations would be out of control. For example, the white-tailed deer is a really important big game species. As settlers moved west, the deer were overharvested for their meat and buckskin. To raise deer numbers again, hunting seasons were reduced, bag limits became minimal and Buck Laws were put in place to take advantage of mammalian polygyny (meaning, one male can mate with many females, reducing the reproductive need for males). However, with the new regulations, populations grew faster than the environment could sustain them (nearly doubled in a decade), leading to starvation. Today, overpopulation and human conflict is still a problem even though 3 million deer are hunted annually. (All white-tailed deer information came from a university module lecture given by Dr. Andrew Smith in September 2016)
“Some hunters will kill an animal and not even eat the meat from the animal”: While I personally believe that if you kill an animal, you should use the whole carcass the best you can, fair is fair. The hunter has just as much right to hunt as anyone else, whether it be through winning a draw by chance or purchasing a license, and can do with the carcass when they choose.
“[T]he animals may suffer and may experience a long and painful death”: A lot of state wildlife departments have a hunting regulations that hunters are expected to adhere to. The Arizona hunting regulations outline the ethics with the quarry by encouraging only taking “well-placed shot[s] in a vital area of the game species,” knowing your limitations, using the appropriate equipment for your quarry and adhering to rules of a fair chase.
Personally, I cannot comprehend killing an animal for sport, but it’s not my place to say hunting is “wrong” when it generates a large amount of funding for conservation. I am willing to sacrifice an allotted amount of individual game species for the larger conservation picture and am thankful to those who are able to support conservation efforts by purchasing hunting licenses and equipment. Hunting is conservation and would not be possible without these sportsmen.
Stay tuned for my view on trophy hunting…