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Can Environmentalists Hunt?

I came across this article late one night, just before Groundhog Day, 2000, while surfing hunting and environmental sites. It impressed me and obviously others. I e-mailed David to ask his permission to publish his words at this site. Graciously, he accepted my request and gave his approval. - Thanks Dave! - Lark.
Can Environmentalists Hunt?

Copyright: David Stalling , 1/22/2000 , all rights reserved. - Reproduced with permission.

I hope you will read and consider my thoughts [ and ] allow others to consider my views..

I was happy to stumble upon a site where I share similar environmental views with so many people. I am a member of Wilderness Watch, the Wilderness Society, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation.

I actively volunteer and support efforts to help restore wolves in the West; protect our remaining roadless lands on National Forests; ensure our designated wilderness areas are being managed as they should; to have more lands designated as wilderness, and to restore grizzlies to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. I am a former employee of the U.S. Forest Service and now work for a non-profit wildlife habitat conservation organization.

I am a staunch, active and passionate environmentalist. However, I also hunt. Does this seem contradictory? It's not if you consider our Nation's environmental heritage, and see that most of our environmental heroes---including the Aldo Leopold (author of the environmental classic, "A Sand County Almanac) and Olaus J. Murie (founder of The Wilderness Society)---were hunters.

I can understand your disdain for hunting. As Edward Abbey (himself a hunter) once wrote, "Hunting is one of the hardest things even to think about. Such a storm of conflicting emotion!" I can't speak for all hunters. However, I will try and explain to you why I choose to hunt.

I love elk. They are a magnificent, mysterious and powerful animal. I spend all the time I can in elk country, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each year during bowseason I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. My wife and I both cherish wild elk meat; it's healthy, and it's derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home. I hunt mule deer and antelope for the same reasons.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. The fact is, we all have impacts on the environment and wildlife. We all contribute to the killing of wildlife and animals to live.

Everything we do has consequences. Whether you choose to eat vegetables or meat, store-bought food or homegrown, cattle or venison, you contribute to the death of animals so you can eat. I choose to eat the wild meat of elk, mule deer and antelope. And the money I spend in pursuit of these wild animals, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, helps protect the wild places that sustain them and sustain me. It's the most efficient, environmentally sound and sustainable way I know to live in this somewhat arid western landscape we call Montana. And the countless days and hours I spend pursuing elk and mule deer through the rugged mountains in the wilderness area where I hunt have provided me with a keen understanding and awareness of these incredible animals and their habitat, which has fueled a passion for the protection of wild elk, deer and other wildlife, and the wild places they roam.

North America's system of wildlife management, of which regulated hunting is an integral part, is a tremendous achievement. The value of wild elk and deer to hunters supports the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat for an array and abundance of wildlife, including large predators and threatened and endangered species, and supports ecologically-based research and management. It's a sustainable system that gives many hunters a stake in wildlife, and fuels public understanding and concern for conservation.

I am growing increasingly upset over the ongoing loss of crucial wildlife habitat from human subdivision and development. Throughout the West, homes are rapidly replacing critical elk and deer winter range, calving and fawning habitat and migratory corridors. Not only elk and deer suffer, but all wildlife that depend on that habitat, including everything from ducks and trout to grizzlies and pine martens. My love for wild elk and deer provokes a strong desire to protect their habitat; That desire is fueled, in part, by my passion for hunting and the meat that sustains me.

So, in a nutshell, this is how and why I can cherish wildlife and hunting. I can think of no better lifestyle than roaming wildlands as a participant of nature, taking responsibility for the deaths I cause, and securing my own sustenance. In his essay, "A Hunter's Heart," Colorado naturalist and writer David Petersen summarizes it nicely:

"Why do I hunt? It's a lot to think about, and I think about it a lot. I hunt to acknowledge my evolutionary roots, millennia deep, as a predatory omnivore. To participate actively in the bedrock workings of nature. For the atavistic challenge of doing it well with an absolute minimum of technological assistance. To learn the lessons, about nature and myself, that only hunting can teach. To accept personal responsibilities for at least some of the deaths that nourish my life. For the glimpse it offers into a wildness we can hardly imagine. Because it provides the closet thing I've known to a spiritual experience. I hunt because it enriches my life and because I can't help myself . . . because I was born with a hunter's heart."

Some people suggest instead of a gun (or, in my case, a bow), that we hunters "shoot" elk and deer with a camera. I have taken, and occasionally still take, photographs of elk. But it is not the same as hunting. And it is certainly not a "natural" or "sustainable" relationship with animals. Film and photos do not provide me with winter food for my freezer. And I have visited enough mercury mines and chemical factories in Utah (run by the Kodak cooperation to make film and film-developing products) to know that even something as seemingly innocent and benign as wildlife photography can have terrible, unsustainable consequences for wildlife and wild places.

This is not to say that hunting and hunters are not without flaw. Certainly, there are a lot (and far too many) unethical hunters pursuing animals, who care little about the wildlife and good wildlife stewardship. Hunters need to do a better job at fostering a better sense of stewardship, responsibility and ethics among hunters; encouraging the highest standards of ethical conduct among all who hunt, and foster a deeper respect for the land and the wildlife it supports.

This is a tough topic to refine to a short post. So, if you're truly interested in gaining a better understanding as to why people hunt, I suggest the following thought-provoking books on the subject:

1) "A Hunter's Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport," edited by David Petersen, published by Henry Holt, New York, 1996. This is a collection of about 40 essays examining the conflicting issues of hunting. Contributors include: Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Thomas McGuane, Rick Bass, Jim Harrison, Barry Lopez, Richard Nelson and Peter Matthiessen.

2) "Bloodties: Nature, Culture and the Hunt, " by Ted Kerasote, published by Random House, New York, 1993. A provocative look at why people hunt, examining all the ethical paradoxes and moral dilemmas.

3) "Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America, " by Richard Nelson, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1997. A comprehensive, personal tribute to deer which includes a thorough, and subjective, look at different methods of controlling deer numbers in the United States, as well as the role of hunting deer throughout time. Author of "The Island Within" and "Make Prayers to the Raven, " Nelson is a cultural anthropologist and writer who has won the John Burroughs medal for outstanding natural history writing and the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction."

4) "The Hunt, " by John G. Mitchell, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980. Originally published as a six-part series in Audubon, this book is a personal exploration of hunting in America and the emotions it inspires among passionate hunters and those who abhor hunting. In addition, we have run several thoughtful essays examining why people hunt in Bugle, the Elk Foundation's bi-monthly publication, submitted by writers such as Richard Nelson, Ted Kerasote, John Mitchell, David Petersen, John Madson and others. (An essay we published by Richard Nelson examines why he went from being an ardent anti-hunter to being a passionate, thoughtful and ethical hunter.) I would happily send you some of those articles if you send me your address.

I, and many of my friends who hunt, share the same values, goals and love of the land and wildlife I see expressed on this site. I think you might be surprised at how many hunters, like myself, share common ground with other environmentalists. As writer Richard Nelson puts it:

"After we've lost a natural place, it's gone for everyone---hikers, campers, boaters, bicyclists, animal watchers, fishers, hunters, and wildlife---a complete and absolutely democratic tragedy of emptiness. For this reason, it's vital that we overcome our differences, find common ground in our shared love for the natural world, and work together to defend the wild."

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments about my post. Thanks.


David Stalling
2315 Quail Dr.
Missoula, MT 59808
E Mail:

Now... Isn't that a GOOD set of words? - Lark...
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