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Saturday, September 19, 2009

If hunting were banned: the environmental impact

Second in a series of three columns on the economic and environmental impact of banning hunting, and the ethical issues of a ban.
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 19, 2009.)

Man is a predator with a
critical niche in wildlife ecology.
Animals are a threat to their environment.

“How could that be?” you ask. “It’s man who destroys the environment.” Yes, that’s the conventional wisdom, but conventional wisdom sometimes fails to tell the whole truth.

When it comes to hunting, man is a great friend to the environment. One man isn’t, however. He’s anti-hunter Cass Sunstein, who was recently confirmed as head (or “czar”) of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Sunstein has extensive authority over federal regulations, including those of the Department of the Interior (which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Department of Agriculture. He is on record saying that hunting should be banned, and in his new position he could seek to eliminate hunting, fishing and trapping on all lands managed by these federal agencies. That wouldn’t be good for the animals that live there.

Sunstein is a radical animal rights activist, not a wildlife biologist or an animal scientist of any kind, yet he thinks he knows what’s best for animals. He’s wrong.

If he got his way in placing animals beyond the bullets and arrows of hunters, it would have tragic environmental consequences and spell trouble for many species.

In my last column I wrote about devastating economic cost of banning hunting. But the economic cost is small compared to the catastrophic impact a ban on hunting would have on our environment. Why? Because animals have always needed predators, and man is the only predator some animals have.

A ban on hunting would create its most severe devastation where animals live closest to man and where large predators do not live. In North America it would probably cause the worst damage wherever whitetail deer live because they are so prolific and usually central to the ecology of habitat.

Without predators deer can literally eat themselves into oblivion. The environment would groan under their weight. Yes, certain infestations eat oaks, rot maples, or blight beeches. But those pests cannot ruin the health of an ecosystem as quickly as deer can. When stressed, deer eat almost everything – and without hunting, they would be very stressed.

An out-of-control deer population inhibits regeneration of the plant species other animals need. Everything from trillium flowers to oak trees are affected, along with the animals that depend on them. Where too many deer live, habitat for every animal suffers.

In a few short years an unchecked population of whitetail deer would cause more animal suffering than a hundred hunting seasons. They would devastate the forest and rob other animals of food and cover.

Nearly every species that shares whitetail habitat from songbirds to Sasquatch (if he exists) would be subject to extreme, prolonged suffering far worse than anything hunters cause. More people would die too, as a result of more car collisions with deer.

Wild pigs are another large species that has no predator but man. They are rapidly expanding their range, and their impact is even worse than that of whitetail deer. They literally plow the soil, destroying the eggs of ground nesting birds and virtually every plant and animal in their path.

A surprising parallel to this exists in Africa. People believe Africa’s elephants are endangered, but in many areas populations are so high that they devastate the habitat. One elephant can destroy 1500 trees per year. A ban on hunting them makes no sense – neither from an economic nor an environmental standpoint. Legal, regulated hunting would make elephants valuable to the human community in their area, but absolute protection allows them to devastate the habitat other animals need.

Man is a predator with a critical niche in wildlife ecology. The evidence is overwhelming – every species that is subject to regulated hunting is thriving.

Animals need predators. Species without predators are sitting ducks for boom and bust cycles that impact every other species. Take away predators and you create an artificial environment. Wild animals are not meant to live in an artificial environment.

Man, as a predator, is capable of assessing the needs of his prey and planning his predation in ways that perpetuate stable, healthy prey populations. So, while hunters enjoy sport, fun and camaraderie of hunting, in the grand scale hunting insures the very survival of wildlife, and its environment, in a modern world.

Next time I’ll touch on the ethical issues that would be at stake if hunting were banned.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

If hunting were banned: the economic impact

First in a series of three columns on the economic and environmental impact of banning hunting, and the ethical issues of a ban.
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 5, 2009.)

Banning hunting is a quick slide down
a slope to many unintended consequences.
Hunting has many dedicated opponents today who would like to see it outlawed.

If this was once a hypothetical issue, it is no longer with President Obama’s appointment of Cass Sunstein head or “czar” of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Just two years ago Sunstein said, “We ought to ban hunting, I suggest, if there isn’t a purpose other than sport and fun. That should be against the law. It’s time now.

Fortunately the federal government does not make most hunting regulations. But since federal agencies are notorious for meddling in state affairs, Sunstein’s desire must be taken seriously. Because he’s the top federal regulatory officer, and because he says, “It’s time now,” I look for him to try some kind of action against hunting.

Clearly, the reason state agencies regulate hunting is not to provide “sport and fun.” They’re in the science business, not the entertainment business. They manage wildlife populations for society by licensing hunters to kill surplus game animals, a function that’s both challenging and essential.

Yet the aims of individual hunters differ from those of the game agencies. Hunters do hunt for sport and fun. Would Sunstein rather hire government agents to work as animal eradication officers? If so, he’d have to make dead level sure they don’t enjoy their work.

What would happen if hunting were banned? Two things, and both are big. First, the economic impact would be immediate and devastating. Second, the environment would suffer a tragic blow. The economic impact is the subject for today.

If Cass Sunstein got his way, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost and with them, money that sustains wildlife.

Take a look at the high visibility Cabelas catalog. A quick glance shows that hunters are passionate and willing to spend money. Not only that, enormous entrepreneurial energy exists within the hunting community. Hunters are constantly inventing gadgets to use in their pursuits – marketable ideas that spawn many small businesses.

These products are sold not only in the Cabela’s catalogs, but also in catalogs from Bass Pro Shops, Midway USA, and more than a dozen others, plus local shops nationwide.

If hunting were outlawed, Sidney, Nebraska (headquarters for Cabelas) could become a ghost town. Reverberations would reach more than 30 cities where Cabelas has retail stores. Add in more than 50 cities where Bass Pro Shops has stores. The damage to these communities would be dramatic and serious. Satellite businesses would suffer. Tax revenues would decline. Public services would shrink. Unemployment rolls would swell.

And that’s just the beginning. If hunting were banned, thousands and thousands of families who depend on hunting – from outfitters and guides to local taxidermists – would lose their livelihood.

The economic activity of thousands of photographers, artists, writers, wildlife biologists, forest managers, (the list is endless) would cease. Thousands of small family businesses would close up shop, affecting the economies of towns small and large.

The flow of billions of dollars to state wildlife agencies would be turned off like a faucet, as hunting license revenues diminish to zero. And the pipe leading to the faucet would be drained.

It doesn’t stop there. Pittman-Robertson funds – excise taxes paid by hunters on all sporting rifles, shotguns, ammunition, and archery equipment – would dry up. Those are dollars collected and distributed to the states to pay for the cost of wildlife management.

Animals would feel the effects because that money benefits all wildlife (plants and animals included), not just game species. So banning hunting would hurt the entire food chain, from egrets to eagles.

Not only that, receiving Pittman-Robertson money prevents states from diverting dollars raised for wildlife to other purposes. Without that safeguard, state budgets would be pressured to reduce further the investment in wildlife habitat.

Banning hunting is a quick slide down a slope to many unintended consequences. And I’ve barely scratched the surface of the economic side of the issue. The bottom line is that if hunting were banned people would suffer, and so would animals.

If the hunting economy is ruined, the environment will follow. That’s the subject for my next column.