Want To Find Common Ground Between Gun Owners And Non-Gun Owners? Think Conservation.

 An interesting article appeared today on a website which caters primarily to residents of Ohio who earn their livings by owning or working on farms. There are still 75,000 farms in the Buckeye State, which means that the farmers and their families account for less than 3% of the population, but together agriculture contributes more than $100 billion to the state’s economy, which isn’t bad considering that taken together, farmland accounts for about half of all the state’s physical size.

The article, written by the Director of Agricultural Law at Ohio State, summarizes what landowners need to know when they allow hunters to go trekking across their land. Ohio has passed any number of statutes covering who can hunt on  someone else’s land, what kind of permission is required, how many hunters can be on a specific piece of land at the same time, who needs to be notified about trespassers, and so on. As the author of the article states, “hunting raises many questions and concerns for agricultural landowners. Ohio law offers rules and remedies that can ease those concerns.”

What I find interesting is the degree to which hunting and farming both help to sustain the natural balance  that allows all living species (including humans) to survive. The farmer plants a crop which both draws and restores natural ingredients to the land. After the harvest (which produces sustenance for animals and man) the stubble and vines provide nourishment for all kinds of living things. Then the hunters come and trim the flocks  and herds attracted to the open, farmed space and the whole cycle repeats itself again.

The importance of this process and the role played by hunting in maintaining the natural balance of this cycle was recognized by Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell when they founded the Boone & Crockett Club in 1887.  This followed from Roosevelt’s first hunting expedition in 1883 when he went out West to bag a trophy-sized bison. What he thought would be an easy hunting trip into the Dakota Territory, turned into an arduous trek into Montana because the American bison, once native to the entire continent, had become almost extinct in the continental United States. The founding of Boone & Crockett was the first of many steps taken by Roosevelt and other hunter-conservationists to regulate the taking of game so that herds and flocks would continue to flourish and grow.

I did my first serious hunting in South Carolina in the mid-1970’s, going after white tails both in highland and lowland sites. When I moved to Massachusetts in 1993 I froze my rear end several times hunting high-flyers from duck blinds on the Atlantic coast. I also briefly hunted elk in Wyoming and antelope in West Texas; in neither place did I even get off one shot.

What impresses me about this country is that we have almost an endless supply of open space, most of which represents farms that are no longer in production but offer all kinds of landscapes where hunters can go and engage in what Boone & Crockett calls a ‘fair chase.’ This means that at all times the hunter is aware of his responsibility to “conserve wildlife natural resources, especially game species.”

It just so happens that an organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) has been working on ways to maintain and augment the natural balance so that wild species can survive in what is increasingly less amounts of natural space. The group is an offshoot of the Smithsonian, and the CEO, Katy Palfrey, just happens to be the great-great granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt, I kid you not.

You can see what they are doing on their website, but I’ll just summarize it quickly and tell you this. They work with ranchers and farmers who have open land that can be used to study the most effective ways to protect and grow natural species, and some of their spaces are shared with hunters as well.

Want to find common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners?  Here it is.


Wilderness Versus Progress: Is There Really A Conflict?

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and n...

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir, founder of the , on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background: Upper and lower Yosemite Falls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first argument about preserving versus developing wilderness was the fight over the Hetchy-Hetchy Reservoir in California’s Yosemite Park which erupted in 1908. Opposition to the development of a new water system for San Francisco was led by the Sierra Club, which had been founded by John Muir in 1892.

Muir was originally an easterner who was closely associated with Roosevelt and other early conservationists, but he was not a hunter and his motivation to preserve natural spaces did not grow out of a desire to conserve animal habitat so much as to preserve wilderness areas. But as the country continued to grow and the space between the Missouri River and the West Coast was filled in, the issue of wilderness versus development could not remain a back-room debate for the simple reason that there was too much at stake.  Once railroad lines stretched not only from coast to coast but throughout the interior itself, the resources of the frontier zones – crops, animals, timber – were simply too abundant and could be moved to market too cheaply to resist exploitation by commercial interests on both coasts.

The early conservationists, including Roosevelt, acknowledged the inherent conflict between maintaining natural space on the one hand and retarding economic growth on the other.  But as the conservation movement morphed into environmentalism, a wedge was driven between the two movements that claimed management responsibility for as-yet undeveloped space, a wedge based on one question: what should be the role of government in managing the natural patrimony?

For hunters/conservationists, government’s role was to be limited to enforcing rules that regulated the relationship of hunters to wild game: giving hunters access to hunting areas, restricting the hunt to periods that would allow the natural migration and reproduction of species.  Environmentalists, on the other hand, wanted government regulation to cover the entire natural patrimony; not to control the behavior of hunters who otherwise might threaten wildlife, but to control the behavior of developers who otherwise might threaten the entire environment.

What we have ended up with is the notion that wilderness preservation versus economic development are inextricably opposed; that you either wind up with one or the other.  Every development initiative is a threat to nature, every preservation plan is an effort to derail economic development.  The fight over the Keystone pipeline is the argument in its current form.

The origins of the fight go back to 1890 when the Census declared the wilderness to be closed.  But the United States was the only country in the entire world that industrialized and closed its frontier at the same time.  In Europe, the wilderness disappeared a thousand years before the Industrial Revolution began.  In America we were laying railroad track and slaughtering buffalo at the same time.

The truth is that our extraordinary economic development took place not as a conflict with nature, but because we were able to tap the abundant resources of nature for the first time.  Urban centers that appeared in Europe during the 19th century competed for building materials that had to be expensively extracted and shipped from distances far and wide; Chicago was built from wood that floated down from Wisconsin.

Ten years after we closed our frontier the output of our national economy surpassed the combined production of all the other industrialized economies combined.  The resources that fueled American economic development were so cheap that re-investment and further growth could occur at three or four times the rate experienced in other industrializing zones.  The greatest irony is that the self-same conservationists, like Roosevelt and Grinnell, who mourned the disappearance of wilderness came from the elite class whose economic fortunes derived from the resources extracted from the wilderness itself.

This is the 3rd and final summary of our fourthcoming book on hunting and conservation to be published by the end of the year.

American conservationist John Muir (1838-1914)

American conservationist John Muir (1838-1914) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Protecting The Wilderness: Hunters Or Environmentalists?

wildernessIn my last blog about the frontier, I talked about the fact that what we believe was a process of wilderness settlement was probably re-settlement by whites who infected indigenous populations with disease and killed most of them off.  How did this disparity between so-called civilized peoples who conquered the wilderness and so-called uncivilized people who inhabited the wilderness come about?  After all, it was this disparity, – steam and steel versus wood and clay – that allowed us to believe that the frontier marked the border between civilization and wilderness.  In fact, it was our encounter with ‘savages’ (i.e., uncivilized people) that was the proof that wilderness could still be found.

This disparity goes back to the domestication of animals and plants.  Prior to domestication, humans were no different from any other animal species, forced to forage for foodstuffs and move from place to place whenever they consumed more plants or animals than could be reproduced by nature in the area where they happened to be.  Once food could be increased without depending on the natural cycle, humans could cease migrating, develop permanent communities and most important, experience increases in population beyond minimal levels.

This did not mean that civilized communities were yet totally liberated from the natural replacement of foodstuffs; in fact, famines still break out to this day.  But the problem had been definitively resolved in the eastern half of the United States by the middle of the nineteenth century, and as white settlement pushed further into the western frontier, the natural cycle of plant and animal replenishment that governed the existence of indigenous peoples was replaced by commercial farming and herding whose benefits had nothing to do with the relationship of humans to the wilderness at all.

Enter the sportsman-hunter, in the form of elite easterners like Teddy Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.  They didn’t view wildlife as a means of subsistence, killing wild animals was challenging and fun.  Roosevelt owned two cattle ranches in North Dakota and Grinnell bought a cattle operation in Montana.  Both operations supplied food to urban, i.e., civilized communities back east.  Meanwhile, wilderness game quickly began to disappear.  Roosevelt remarked on the scarcity of big game when he spent nearly three weeks trying to shoot a trophy brown bear so that he could display its stuffed head back in New York.

The conservation movement that hunters like Roosevelt and Grinnell founded in the 1890s wasn’t an effort to save the wilderness or roll back the frontier.  It was seen as a necessary effort to regulate hunting so that game birds and animals would survive in areas where the natural balance between man and nature had disappeared.  The early conservationists weren’t conserving wilderness, they were protecting enough habitat to support the natural cycle of animal replenishment that was required for the enjoyment of their sport.

Now enter the environmentalists who started to subsume the conservationists after World War II.   Whereas the traditional conservation movement was rooted in the idea of preserving habitat, the environmentalists, beginning with Rachel Carson, moved towards protecting the larger environment from man-made pollutants and industrial-residential projects.  Thus, the definition of what required protection shifted from animal habitat to human habitat, from preserving where animals roamed to safeguarding where people lived.

But threats to human habitat were not so much ecological as political.  Decisions about where to build highways were political decisions, as were decisions to purify water, create landfills and clean the air. The  environmental movement fed off of civil rights protests, nuclear testing protests and the grand-daddy of them all, the anti-war movement.  In the process, particularly when environmentalism morphed into global warming, the concerns and needs of hunters were swept aside.

And who embraces hunters and never misses an opportunity to remind them of the important role they played in building our great country and conquering the frontier?  You guessed it: the National Rifle Association whose defense of the 2nd Amendment is a brilliant ploy to capture the hearts and minds of hunters like the ones whom President Obama accused of “clinging” to their religion and their guns.

Hunters and environmentalists may think they have little in common with each other, but in fact both groups may be living a myth that still endures.  It was eastern elitists like Roosevelt whose passion for hunting bequeathed the notion of habitat protection to modern-day hunters decidedly not from the upper class.  Meanwhile, it’s today’s elitists, the environmentalists, who seek to protect a wilderness that may have disappeared long before Roosevelt and his friends hunted it away.

This is the second part of a three-part series on hunting and conservation which will form a book to be published by the end of this year.


Why Don’t Hunters and Tree-Huggers Like Each Other?

Why do hunters and conservationists dislike each other? It wasn’t always that way. In fact, the modern American conservation movement that appeared in the 1880’s was started by hunters, chief among them our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. In the many books and articles that he authored about hunting and wilderness, Roosevelt tried to find a balance between conserving wilderness to protect animal habitat, while also allowing economic development of the frontier to move ahead.

But the world has changed and so have the battle lines between hunters on the one hand and conservationists on the other. Or have they?

For a moment, let’s put aside the vitriol and passion surrounding the proposed legislation  in California to ban all lead ammunition, a bill that that is on its way to Jerry Brown’s desk and will shortly become law. There are arguments to be made on both sides. The environmentalists have data to prove their point of view; likewise the hunting lobby can roll out their set of facts.

The problem is that nothing in nature is that easy to understand; nothing can be reduced to a simple take-it or leave-it explanation, no matter what proponents on either side would like you to believe. And Roosevelt keenly felt the need to unite both sides, as he said in a letter written in 1902: “the lover of big game and wilderness [is] an instrument against, instead of in favor of both.”

The degree to which hunters and conservationists should be fighting the same battles is remarkably underscored by the data found in the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation newly published by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Department of the Interior.

In 2011, more than 90 million Americans either fished, hunted, watched wildlife or did all three. Of the total, 26 million went hunting and fishing, 64 million looked at birds or animals either near their own residence or by taking a trip. Together, all three groups spent $144 billion.
Three-quarters of the people who went fishing engaged in fresh-water angling, bass being the catch of choice. For the hunters, 60% went after big game: deer, elk, bear and wild turkey. As for the wildlife watchers, three-quarters did it primarily around their home, but more than 25 million took trips away from home. Both groups primarily watched (and fed) birds.
watching When we break down fishing, hunting and wildlife watching by size and location of community, all of a sudden the three types of activities blend into one. The highest proportion of residents engaged in fishing, hunting and watching are found in rural locations. Break it down on a state-by-state basis, the north-central and deep-southern states have the highest proportion of people who do all three.

You can discard the stereotype that hunters are blue collar and birders are the educated, upper-class elite. The same communities where hunting is most popular are also the communities with the greatest number of people who enjoy wildlife. When you stop to think about it, why shouldn’t this be the case? After all, people closest to nature tend to get out into nature.

Hunters and conservationists would do everyone a big favor if they would sit down together and figure out what they have in common, rather than always arguing about what keeps them apart. There may be competing claims about what to do with natural spaces but these spaces belong to all of us.