Do No Harm?

I recently wrote a piece posing the question of whether we, as a society, are "loving wildlife to death". As more and more people attempt to point at regulated hunting and trapping as a perceived burden on our wild landscape, recent scientific studies suggest non-consumptive recreational activities have a bigger impact than the anti-hunting crowd wants to admit.

Hiking, cross-country skiing, forest photography, wildlife watching - all activities that take place in the open realm of nature. These activities are engaging, promote health and well being, and can be, for many, down right medicinal. While I fully support and even encourage more people to partake in these kinds of activities, their recent spike in popularity has created a rickety, wobbly soapbox for some individuals to stand on with regard to who should have "control" of the woods. As usual, I'm here - with a handful of nails which used to hold said soapbox together.

A few weeks ago I discussed society's growing need to hoard and stockpile wildlife in an attempt to turn our wild places into a suburban petting zoo. The denouncing of regulated hunting and trapping activities by special interest groups is just the latest tactic attempting to further remove man from nature. One of the ideological principals these groups have used to sell a narrative that hunting is somehow no longer valid or needed is the fact that hunting activities have generally seen a gradual participation decline in recent years. Animal rights and preservation groups point to a rise in "wildlife watching" and a decline in hunting activities as the smoking gun for why the latter should be dissolved and outright banned from the woods.

In a nutshell, the narrative is usually similar: to the blind followers, activities like hunting and trapping are "bad", while those who wish to "enjoy" nature through "non-consumptive" activities such as hiking and bird watching are viewed as the non-invasive majority: "shooting animals with a camera, not a rifle" as they say. This has created an atmosphere of arrogance that we've seen blossom into a full-blown disdain for hunters and anglers. Even online chat groups for the rural town I live in are now flooded with regular posts cursing the ambiguous hunter for somehow "ruining" an afternoon jaunt in nature - with regular warnings from town residents that "some guy in camouflage" was seen carrying a rifle, or chastising a neighbor for harvesting legal game on a weekend day - a time when many "recreationists" are inhabiting the woods. In Massachusetts for example, some folks seem to be mortified at the suggestion of people hunting deer and turkey on the weekends. (We'll gloss over the fact that the writer of that letter doesn't seem to realize regulated trapping activities already take place and are why she's able to enjoy seeing beavers!)

Its times like these where I love to dish out a cold, hard, helping of fact and truth for those who wish to bury their heads in the sand (or up a bodily orifice) with regard to wildlife management.

A 2015 article from JSTOR features a line of scientific studies and reports aimed at investigating the impact non-consumptive activities like hiking, biking and bird-watching have on our nation's wildlife - and the results are less than Disney-esque. One of the studies, titled Wildlife Responses to Recreation and Associated Visitor Perceptions found that even perceived "passive" recreation as described above can startle or disturb wildlife, forcing animals to burn energy reserves or experience stress. So much for the holier than thou approach from the anti-hunters. The real kicker I found to be most entertaining about this study was the response (or lack thereof) from the "recreationalists" who participated in the study:

On the human side, most outdoor visitors underestimated their own impact. Half of those surveyed did not accept that their activities had any impact, and most approached wildlife far more closely than animals can tolerate. Many visitors also react defensively to criticism, instinctively blaming other types of recreation, never their own.

Now before you think it, I am not naive to the fact that hunting and fishing activities obviously impact wildlife as well. I'm also not looking to bash the hiking and bird-watching community - as I do regularly hike and "wildlife watch" myself. The point I'm trying to make is that some people, in their vain attempt to separate one group of nature lovers from another, have actually inadvertently portrayed themselves as staunch supporters of wildlife harassment - you have to love the irony of an animal rights extremist group actually advocating for an activity that is in many ways detrimental to wildlife's sanctuary - a perceived component of their endless crusade against hunting and fishing.


Case in point: Animal Rights Groups nationwide recently celebrated a 2016 USFWS survey documenting "non-consumptive" activities outranking hunting and fishing activities in popularity (as in the above screenshots from social media). Recent scientific studies have found that these "non-consumptive" activities actually have a drastic, adverse effect on wildlife - causing non-hunters to surpass hunting activities with regard to negative wildlife impact.

Another study featured in a 2015 New York Times article discussed how wolverines were impacted by recreational activities in the Rockies. The study found "wolverines move faster and more often on weekends when people are playing in their mountain habitat. That may mean trouble for these animals during the brutal winters of the high Rockies, where every calorie counts."

Congratulations anti-hunting crowd - in the midst of your seething disgust for regulated hunting activities, you're now advocating for the demise of wolverines. Alright, so maybe I'm being a little extreme here, but hopefully you're able to see what I'm getting at.

These studies have found that impact from tourism and recreational activities are the fourth-leading cause of wildlife listed as threatened or endangered, behind impact from nonnative species, urban growth and agriculture. Interesting enough, hunting and trapping activties aren't even on the list - the sweet, sweet taste of irony.

A 2008 study presented by colleagues from the Wildlife Conservation Society discovered declines in bobcats, coyotes and other meso-carnivores in protected areas of California that allowed hiking - a night and day comparison to similar areas that prohibited these activities.

There’s something about the presence of humans and their pets when they go on hikes that causes a bit of a ‘death zone’ of 100 meters on either side of a trail.
— Prof. Rick Knight, Colorado State University

Extremists who wish to abolish the regulated activity of hunting and trapping point to a myriad of emotional excuses when attempting to make a case for hunting's disbandment. Perhaps its high time these individuals do a little inner soul searching and take a good hard look in the mirror. You know what they say about those who live in glass houses...