Wednesday, 16 February 2011

An encouraging sign against the anti-hunting lobby

Although I have had contact with the anti-hunting lobby for a long time, I have never had much sympathy for its aims of completely eliminating hunting of wildlife throughout the world.

It is true that in Australia and southern Africa, owing to the lax competition created by scarcity of phosphates in soils, species do not rise to numbers sufficient to allow for hunting on a scale beyond the most basic subsistence. Even their traditional foraging peoples were almost exclusively exactly that and did not in general hunt large game. However, on the enriched continents where young soils from recent tectonic activity and glaciation allow for the most competitive species to reach large numbers, hunting of species can even in the presence of agriculture be extremely valuable. Sharon Astyk in her A Nation of Farmers shows indeed that even after farming became the dominant mode of subsistence, hunting remained of importance for millennia, as is often recorded in English folktales. In the unenriched continents of Australia and Southern Africa, adaptable pests like feral pigs and cane toads produce valuable goods (food in once case, skins in the other) that are much superior ecologically to materials from farming whose sustainability is doubtful at the very best.

In spite of these common sense arguments, most on the Left have for a long time argued against hunting in an extreme way, often arguing that animals must be treated in exactly the same way as humans or even in a superior fashion given the extreme self-centredness of the Left tends to cause it to be often anti-human in its ideals and its behaviour. Pressure to ban hunting and guns has been a major force in most developed nations throughout the world, and with the Port Arthur Massacre became dominant in Australia as John Howard took power. Restrictions on guns - whilst there is very reasonable justification for them when one considers people like Martin Bryant - can be a problem whenever and wherever there are terrible pests like rabbits, cane toads, foxes and feral pigs to control. People in Australia’s very sparsely populated rural areas can do a great service to the country’s unique ecosystems by killing animals that are not native to the country and very dangerous to its uniquely adapted inhabitants designed for a geologically normal low-energy environment where soils have not been enriched by orogeny or glaciations. Frank Miniter in the best book of the Politically Incorrect Guide series argued very effectively for the value of controlled hunting, which I agree with strongly, but this argument is too often ignored under cries of “animal welfare”, though nature in the enriched continents at least is extremely competitive and often, as Annie Dillard shows in what I have read of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, even violent.

In this context, it is wonderful to see the left-wing magazine Mother Jones take a rational view of the value of hunting. Kiera Butler’s essay is a most effective argument for hunting of pests and for, from an ecological perspective, the use of these pests’ bodies for whatever purpose is possible. Having the sympathy I do for localism on the grounds that it uses less energy and creates more community, it would be great for the left of politics to see the value of hunting as more conservative (often to most eyes ultraconservative) groups do. Hunting has been practiced for so long that its sustainability when properly practised is to me not in the slighted doubt, yet environmental groups have tended to rely on blanket protests against any form of overhunting rather than on more rational and historically accurate views. This changing would be a major step forward for the environment and possibly for many species.

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