Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Go! Go! Conservation Force!

With the creation of the Sierra Sportsmen Network, the Sierra Club has offered an olive branch to hunters. The network describes itself as,
"a countrywide, thousands-strong group of conservation-minded anglers and hunters. Since the Sierra Club was founded in 1892, hunters and anglers have played a leadership role in our work to preserve the wild places and wildlife all Americans enjoy. We have built this community website for angler and hunters like you, a place to share your passion for the outdoors!"
Would that more environmental organizations recognized the vital contribution that hunters and anglers make to conservation! Unfortunately, skepticism runs deep on both sides: many Sierra Club members remain opposed to hunting and many hunters are suspicious of welcoming gestures from "left-wing tree huggers."

Knowing that I'm always on the lookout for happy marriages of outdoorsmen to environmentalists, a colleague recently directed me to the Conservation Force website. The organization's decision to use the word "force" in their name seemed unnecessarily aggressive, but I forgave this superficial point and initially responded well to Conservation Force's mission statement.
"The mission of Conservation Force is the conservation of wildlife and the natural world. The purpose is to establish and further conservation of wildlife, wild places and our outdoor way of life.

The name "Conservation Force" stands for three forces. First, that hunters and anglers are an indispensable force for wildlife conservation, second, that Conservation Force is a collaborative effort combining forces of a consortium of organizations and, third, that Conservation Force itself is a proactive force to be reckoned with because of its record of successes."
Intrigued by the encouraging, if ineloquent statement, I decided to explore the Conservation Force website further. Sadly, the group proved to be less than I'd hoped.

Three of the seven links on the Conservation Force homepage deal with hunting: "Role of Hunting," "Why We Hunt," and "Info for Hunters." This is unusual for a conservation group, even one that stresses the importance of hunting and angling in their mission statement. I soon learned why; the "Role of Hunting" page makes clear that Conservation Force is more interested in promoting hunting than in supporting conservation.
"In the last quarter of the 20th Century, a new conservation tool arose from regulated sport hunting. The safari hunting industry began providing new conservation opportunities. Safari hunters were some of the first ecotourists. Their contribution has become world renowned through programs such as CAMPFIRE, the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust, BOPParks, etc. Tourist safari hunting is the most efficient, effective, self-funding tool to conserve wildlife, promote biodiversity and provide immediate benefits to rural people in remote areas."
Both safari hunting and traditional ecotourism allow "rural people in remote areas" to equate their native flora and fauna with revenue, thereby encouraging local conservation efforts and more thoughtful stewardship...but safari hunting is not "the most efficient, effective, self-funding tool to conserve wildlife." Certainly, big game hunts generate revenue that is used for conservation projects, but traditional, low-impact ecotourism is far more popular and lucrative.

Conservation Force claims that "[safari hunting] has the potential to generate more income for land owners from a given number of wild animals than wildlife cropping, ranching and viewing tourism." This is a misleading statement. Proponents of safari hunting cling to the revenue argument because big game hunters pay handsomely for the animals they shoot. In addition to general safari fees, each hunted animal must be paid for. A waterbuck, for example, can cost the hunter $2,500, and a leopard or cheetah might net $5,000. Indeed, if there were as many hunters as ecotourists, the Conservation Force argument would be legitimate. But this is not so. Even with the exorbitant trip rates and animal permits, safari hunting generates a fraction of the revenue that ecotourism does. Conservation Force also asserts that safari hunting is "self limiting, as tourists lose interest automatically when trophy quality decreases." Regrettably, this is not true; I've met many trophy hunters, and know that most trophy hunters will settle for a lesser trophy.

These above points can be debated, however. It wasn't until I reached the "Why We Hunt" page that I lost all hope.
"At Conservation Force we believe that attack on hunters is immoral! We believe that there is a moral right to hunt within sustainable limits and that it is so important to man in human terms that it is deserving of protection on moral grounds. It is anti-social, offensive and immoral for anti-hunters to attack what is so unique and fundamentally valuable in human terms to the significant minority who hunt....As beings we are programmed or designed to be hunters. It is our essence. Hunting made us human. It has shaped our evolution and development. It is our "authenticity." (Paul Shepard) Hunting uniquely provides self actualization, completeness and expression which are complex, higher order needs deserving of protection. These are human needs higher on the needs scale than food, and security."
Ignoring the shoddy writing and clumsy quotation attribution, the suggestion that it's anti-social to attack hunting on moral grounds is outrageous! Such thoughtless rhetoric is what gives hunters a bad name.

I've written here about the "completeness" of hunting and I feel strongly about the importance of outdoor experience to all humans, but the claim that "self-actualization" is a higher "need" than food and security is just dumb. The preeminent psychologist Abraham Maslow is best remembered for his Hierarchy of Needs. At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological needs, such as nutrition, sleep, water and breathable air. The next strata of Maslow's scheme includes good health and security. The third level is friendship, love and affection. Self-actualization is a level five need! It is not something every human requires. A starving, anti-social human in a dangerous environment doesn't hunt a deer to "learn something about herself," but for the food and clothing the dead animal will provide. Are the good folks at Conservation Force really suggesting otherwise?

The third objective of Conservation Force - found on the "Organization" page - is to "insure the continued contribution and positive perception of the hunting and angling conservation community." It appears that they're going about this objective in the wrong way.

(July 2007 update: I'm proud to report that my uncle, renowned environmental historian and author Dr. John Reiger, is the first interviewee on the group's website.)

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