Controlled Hunting is Environmentally Friendly

by: John Mills

Humans have always hunted. Food, clothing, tools, and shelter were mainly provided by harvesting wild plants and animals. Humans are animals, and like all species, are totally dependent on natural resources for survival. Humans are, have always been, and always will be a part of, and not apart from, nature. Whether, they choose to eat domesticated fruits and vegetables, processed foods, wild animals and plants, or farmed livestock, the environment (nature) is the source of all these foods.

Humans evolved as omnivores - creatures that eat both plant and animal materials. Like bears, raccoons, and painted turtles, humans are also predators. All predators have developed specialized physical features for hunting through time, such as talons, claws, or venom. Lacking such well-developed, natural adaptations, humans use their intelligence as an advantage when hunting. From hunting in groups using clubs and stones to the current use of modern firearms, humans have been successful at obtaining animal and plant foods from the wild.

But do humans really need to hunt? In today's technological society, there is fresh produce from California, frozen fish sticks, locally-grown greenhouse tomatoes, and many fast-food outlets. Aside from a few aboriginal cultures that still depend on hunting and gathering, who needs to hunt to survive?

In North America, many aboriginal people still hunt as part of their cultural and social traditions. Many non-natives also hunt as part of a chosen lifestyle that often includes activities, such as gardening, fishing, trapping, and cutting firewood. All these people hunt because they need and want to; it provides nutritious food for the table, allows one to provide for oneself, and fosters a closeness with the environment. But how does modern hunting impact on today's wildlife? Can humans kill wildlife and still expect healthy populations of animals to exist into the future?

All plant and animal species have evolved so that each has a strategy that helps to ensure their future survival. Many species produce more young than available habitat can support. There is only so much food and shelter available, particularly during the winter. These "surplus" animals die from a variety of causes - starvation, disease, predation, or accidents. Old age is seldom an option in the wild. Only those that elude predators, find enough food to sustain themselves, escape disease, and avoid accidents, will survive. Natural mortality factors help ensure that there is room for next year's crop of young. By being fruitful and multiplying, nature increases the chances that enough animals, young and adult, will survive to reproduce and perpetuate themselves next year.

Human predation on wildlife, through hunting, is strictly controlled by licence numbers, seasons, and bag limits. Part of the science of wildlife management is predicting safe harvest levels. Controlled hunting is not detrimental to animal populations. Modern wildlife management ensures that enough animals are left each year to replace those harvested by humans. When controlled hunting takes individual animals out of the population, they are replaced by others of their kind. Regulated hunting is an example of sustainable use of a renewable natural resource.

Hunting does have a dark past. Following the colonization of North America by Europeans, unregulated market hunting for hides, meat, feathers, and eggs was disastrous for wildlife species such as the passenger pigeon and the Labrador duck. By the mid-1800s, hunters and naturalists saw how destructive market hunting was. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, North America witnessed the first regulation of hunting. Hunters lobbied hard for these changes. Laws were established as to which species and sex could be taken. Length of hunting seasons and daily or seasonal quotas or bag limits were set. These early attempts at protection have been increased to the point today where there is a very complex arrangement of regulations designed to conserve wildlife resource. For today's wildlife agencies, conserving wildlife populations is the number one priority. Where numbers are sufficient, controlled hunting is allowed.

The single greatest threat to wildlife is habitat loss. Without habitat, there is no wildlife. Human encroachment, pollution, draining of wetlands, and development are taking land out of production for wildlife. When animals cease to exist because of habitat loss, they are gone - forever! Habitat destruction guarantees species disappearances and wildlife extinctions.

Through licence fees and donations, hunters have traditionally been the major contributors to programs aimed at saving and restoring wildlife habitat. Other groups have also been involved in protecting habitat. Hunters and non-hunters need to work together. Both groups want to achieve similar goals - abundant, diverse populations of wildlife existing in a healthy, pollution-free environment. Collectively, hunting and non-hunting groups have restored and protected over 10,000 hectares of prime wetland habitat in Nova Scotia. Non-hunted and endangered species, as well as the traditional game animals, all benefit from habitat protection and restoration programs. Hunters and non-hunters should join forces to oppose land-use practises that are not environmentally or wildlife friendly, and to work together on solutions to these problems.

Hunting is not for everyone. However, in our modern, computer-age society, there are those who still choose to provide nutritious meat for their families, enjoy the natural experience of the chase, and desire to remain a part of the natural cycle of life and death. Hunting is a chosen lifestyle and one that is in harmony with the human role in nature. Hunting is not destructive to the natural world. Today in North America, not one threatened or endangered species is hunted, fished, or trapped and no species have become endangered because of modern, regulated hunting. Controlled hunting and gathering of wild foods are environmentally friendly. Too bad more human activities cannot legitimately make the same claim.

Author's Note: Throughout this article, the term hunting could apply equally to fishing, trapping and other forms of gathering wild foods.