Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bambi Model of Wildlife Conservation

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 31, 2013.)

Have you ever thought about what’s going on in the woods when you’re not there? Some would have us believe that all the animals are enjoying a long, peaceful life, the pleasant company of their animal friends, and the natural safety of the forest. And that when man steps into that forest, everything changes.

Hunters often say many people get their ideas 
about wildlife from cartoons, but how did that happen?

Where does that image come from? It comes from Walt Disney. But old Walt didn’t come up with it himself. He got it from a 1923 novel written by an Austrian writer with the pen name Felix Salten. The book was Bambi: A Life in the Woods, and it was published in the United States in 1928.

By the time Mr. Disney read Bambi, his studio was in what would later be known as “the Golden Age of Animation,” and this new lovable deer character would be a big moneymaker in a lineup that already included Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Dumbo. But Bambi would be more controversial. Bambi helped stir up public opposition to hunting.

The stage was set by at least three developments:
(1.) Market hunting had gone away, mostly because hunters realized that game populations could not continue to meet the demands of meat for city restaurants, and indiscriminate hunting had the potential to exterminate species.

(2.) The advent of refrigeration and transcontinental rail lines introduced industrialization to meat production. Western cattle herds came quickly to Midwestern slaughterhouses and eastern markets, which made it common for most people to avoid killing their own meat.   

(3.) And northern post-Civil War cities benefitted from technology, becoming more urbanized and wealthier, which grew the educated and economically comfortable urban upper classes. Their primary understanding of hunting had been market hunting. Now they preferred to appreciate deer for their elegance and beauty.

Into those societal trends stepped Bambi, tailor-made to broaden the anti-hunting message to the masses.

Hunters often say many people get their ideas about wildlife from cartoons, but exactly how did that happen? More to the point, what was it about Bambi that gave people ideas about wildlife conservation? Several things.

Bambi: A Life in the Woods clearly offered the view that man is the problem. The death of Bambi’s mother was at the hands of an evil hunter. Even without picturing the hunter, the event traumatized not only the Bambi character, but millions of children who watched the movie. Many even took home a clear mental picture of the evil hunter, though they never even saw him.
The fictional forest setting was created from artists’ storyboards which conveyed the idea that life in the wild was serene, that all the forest’s animals enjoyed easy and symbiotic relationships, and that animals were safe and happy until man entered the woods.
The cartoon characters were humanized. Artists’ drawings proportioned animal faces to mimic infantile human shapes as a way to convey human emotions. Script writers gave each animal a personality any audience could identify with and care about as individuals.
Many anti-hunters don’t know it, but it’s because of Bambi that they think man is the problem, and if man would just keep his guns out of the woods all the animals would get along nicely. It led them to preach a message never before heard – a false message that man is a creature totally separate from nature. And lots of people loved the message.

But it wasn’t just non-hunters. The movie even influenced hunters. Hunters began to renounce the killing of does at a time when many deer populations began to flourish as never before. As the wilderness was tamed from sea to shining sea, large predators became scarce, and man was virtually the only predator deer had across most of the continent. Social pressure and changing demographics were seeking to reduce man’s influence as a predator.

The year after Disney released the film, famous naturalist Aldo Leopold advocated an antlerless deer season in Wisconsin to reduce an overpopulated herd and diminish its rate of reproduction. Scholarly studies have attributed the failure of Leopold’s proposal to public sentiment stirred by Bambi, a Life in the Woods.

And that’s how a cartoon became some people’s model for wildlife conservation – a cartoon that depicts hunters as evil, animals as talking friends, buck fawns as “princes,” and the forest as a place where all animals do their loving in the springtime.

Of course, if a cartoon would depict what really goes on in the woods when you're not there, it would need to be rated R.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Seven Sisters of Wildlife Conservation

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 17, 2013.) 

Does wildlife need protection from hunters? No, not in North America, not if “protection” means putting wildlife off limits. North America has a system which insures that wildlife thrives and is accessible to the masses.

A long time ago when everyone thought wildlife was limitless, and hunters (virtually everyone at the time) took too many of certain species, populations suffered. By the 1930s, however, hunters were well on their way to correcting their errors, and were seeing an ingenious model of conservation come together. It was a model where hunters were self-limiting – and a model that made North American wildlife the envy of the world.

 Hunters created an ingenious model of conservation
that makes them self-limiting.

North America is the only continent where wildlife depends on these seven core ideas, often called “the seven sisters of wildlife conservation”: 

1. The Public Trust: Most of America’s colonial settlers rejected the European system where only the wealthy had access to wildlife. An 1842 Supreme Court decision (Martin v. Waddell) established that wildlife resources are owned by no one and must be held in trust by government for the benefit of present and future generations. Canadian provinces followed the states and government agencies became the caretakers for the people’s wildlife.

That means I, you, we own the animals regardless of who owns the land. That’s why, if I decide to put a high fence around my land, I must make sure I do not keep deer that belong to the public inside my fence.

2. Prohibitions on Commerce: Prior to the advent of refrigeration, stockyards, and a transcontinental railroad, market hunters supplied restaurants with table fare. Beginning in the latter half of the 1800s, the sale of wildlife was prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations.

Today, states and provinces, by unifying to prohibit commerce in wildlife, are better able to enforce laws and prevent a black market from forming for wildlife meat and parts.  

3. Democratic Rule of Law: The elimination of commerce in wildlife and an open, democratic process makes it possible to give the masses equal access to wildlife.

It also prevents any elite class of landowners from controlling wildlife law, and enables wildlife to be managed by scientific principles.

4. Hunting Opportunity for All: Open access to wildlife drives the North American model. Public participation, where everyone has the right to hunt and fish, makes wildlife valuable to everyone. Other models – where land ownership and social class limit who may hunt – prevent ordinary people from having access to wildlife, and make wildlife valuable to only a few.

This makes hunting and fishing egalitarian sports. Anyone can qualify to hunt. No one needs to be a landowner to hunt because public lands are made available for the public to hunt.

5. Non-Frivolous Use: Anyone who would take any animal must have a reason, so guidelines for appropriate use of animals were established and licenses are issued to permit killing for food and fur. Laws also allow killing for self-defense and defense of property. These categories prevent killing for the sake of killing, and killing to acquire such things as decorative feathers.

This principle prevents the wanton waste of wildlife. It creates respect for game animals. It keeps a deer from being viewed simply as a rack of antlers.

6. International Resources: Since wildlife and fish can freely cross national and state boundaries, they are considered an international resource. Broad cooperation is critical for the model to work – that’s why it’s called the North American model and not the United States model.

National and state borders are no more restrictive to wildlife than private property boundaries. Game animals must be pursued as free creatures, and this gives rise to the idea of “fair chase.”

7. Scientific Management: Wildlife management must be based on the best available science. This practice goes all the way back to the earliest American expeditions where explorers recorded the diversity of species they came across as they charted the continent. Hunters and fishermen are themselves amateur naturalists who study the animals and their habitat as a part of their normal pursuit. 

Much of the money hunters raise for wildlife goes to scientific study so that all species can be sustained in perpetuity.

Whenever a wildlife agency sets laws, classifies animals, creates seasons, protects habitat, establishes enforcement policies, or does anything else critical to any wildlife species (not just game animals), these “Seven Sisters” are essential to their work. And hunters support all of them.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Why Wildlife Thrives in America

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 3, 2013.)

Passenger pigeon… gone. Billions once darkened the sky. A person has to wonder how they found enough food, and how they kept from turning the nation into a reeking pigeon coop.

American bison… almost gone. These enormous bovines thundered across America from the eastern woodlands to the Great Plains, but as man pushed westward they were slaughtered almost to extinction.

People think hunters are the 
biggest threat to wildlife, but 
nothing could be further from the truth.

Unregulated hunters are correctly blamed for the demise of the passenger pigeon and the near demise of the American bison. Unregulated hunting has caused the extinction of a few species, but we can be thankful that the North American model of wildlife conservation has replaced unregulated hunting.

Many people think hunters are the biggest threat to wildlife, and voices who opposed hunting stopped the slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was modern hunters themselves who organized to protect wildlife, and ended the indiscriminate killing of wildlife. Since then, not a single species has been threatened by regulated hunting, and hunters have proven themselves the greatest conservationists the world has ever seen. The proof is that every hunted species in North America is thriving.

That might seem counter-intuitive, but we have abundant wildlife today because of the North American model of wildlife conservation. What’s that? And why is it so effective? Good questions. It’s remarkable that while the nation fought a Civil War, reconstructed the South, settled a continent from shore to shore, and industrialized a rapidly growing society, it also developed a policy that provided for wildlife conservation in the midst of all that – a policy the world had never before seen.

The North American model of wildlife conservation rested (and still rests) on two key principles:  
1.  fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of ordinary people, and  
2.  game animal populations should be managed in order to sustain optimum levels forever.

These principles are new with the New World. In the Old World, wildlife had been the property of the landed gentry, and they could do what they pleased with the animals that lived on their land. That’s why, in the Old World, hunting was primarily a pursuit of the wealthy classes.

In America, no societal barrier exists that prevents anyone of any class or race from hunting. But if everyone is free to hunt, how are hunters prevented from killing everything? And how can the second principle – sustaining wildlife at optimum levels – be possible?

For one thing, the idea that fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of people put an end to market hunting. If these principles had been firmly in place in the late 1800s, regulated seasons, bag limits, and hunting methods would have kept the passenger pigeon thriving.

These principles came along just in time for the American bison, putting that national icon off limits to hunters while their herds rebuilt. 

For another, the North American system clearly differentiates between hunters and poachers. It made game laws possible and desirable, so any violation – whether bag limits, hunting without a license, or hunting out of season – carries an enforceable penalty. Hunters are a healthy and necessary part of this system. Poachers are outside the system just as surely as bank robbers are outside the banking system.

Another benefit of the North American model is that it has given hunters a high stake in wildlife management decisions. Measured by the money hunters put into wildlife conservation, as well as their time and energy and knowledge of wildlife, no one else cares about wildlife as much as hunters do.

On a once wild continent man has now tamed, no other system will let so many people enjoy so much wildlife – whether that enjoyment is the harvesting of game animals, or the pure pleasure of simply watching wildlife.

Out of the two principles of wildlife conservation have come seven specific tenets by which wildlife is managed across the United States and Canada. They’re often called the “Seven Sisters” of conservation. Next time, I’ll share them and explain what each of them addresses.