Shah: The New Generation
Hunting is neither ethical nor practical.
“[It] is about connecting with the world and our friends. It’s where stories are made and legends created.” This is a quote from the September/October 2015 issue of the New Hampshire Wildlife Journal. With its emphasis on camaraderie, outdoor enthusiasm, and lifelong memories, the description could easily apply to the Dartmouth experience. But it’s not; the quote is from a hunting publication. Fellowship is one of the main motivations for hunting. Environmental philosopher Gary Varner claims that there are three main reasons for — and thus types of — hunting: subsistence, therapeutic (killing one species to protect an ecosystem), and sport. However, certain hunting practices cannot be explained by either animal or environmental ethics; sport and trophy hunting are neither ethical nor practical.
Hunting is the legal killing or trapping of animals (as compared to poaching, which is illegal). Its main purposes are food, trade, removing predators, pest control and recreation. Hunting has occurred for the past two million years, becoming a dominant practice among hunter-gatherer societies around 11,000 years ago. Today, approximately 11.5 million Americans hunt each year, spending $25.6 billion on equipment, technologies, and licenses, as of 2016. Every year, over 200 million animals are killed by U.S. hunters alone. While only approximately six percent of Americans are hunters today, 79 percent approve of legal hunting. In regards to motivation, protecting humans from harm garners the largest support (85 percent) as compared to challenge (40 percent) and earning a trophy (28 percent). Americans likely support hunting activities when they view them as part of human heritage.
Hunter education, mandatory in every state but Alaska, addresses the moral issues surrounding hunting and responsibility. Hunting regulations, in regards to endangered and protected species and licensing, vary by state. Conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Fund support the current regulation of hunting via licensing; the Sierra Club’s members are divided on the issue; and the American Humane Association and PETA seek to ban hunting.
While some may view hunting as a natural and historic activity, it is not a responsible one today. Due to advances in agriculture and technology, the majority of mankind no longer relies upon hunting for subsistence and food. By practicing and supporting hunting, hunters disregard the lives and safety of animals. From an ethical point of view, hunting is ethical if the harm from hunting is less than the harm from not hunting — if the animal would have died in a more painful way. Some argue that hunting is more humane than other methods of animal control, such as biological and chemical control. However, animals are sentient beings, with the ability to suffer. Unnecessary stress and casualties occur in animal populations for the pleasure of humans engaging in hunting practices. States such as Florida use hunting bounty programs to eradicate invasive species. By economically incentivizing the death of invasive species like snakes, a U.S. Geographical Survey contends that policies which “add value to an invasive species ... [create] economic pressure to assure the population’s continuation,” the exact opposite of the state’s goal.
Hunting is also harmful to the environment due to its disruption of the ecological equilibrium. Sport and trophy hunting generally involve killing the largest animal of the group, often the largest male, interfering with the natural evolutionary process wherein the smallest and weakest animals die first. This practice thus decreases the health of the population by breaking apart animal families and leading to herd growth. Most hunted species are not even in need of population control. Some state wildlife management agencies artificially increase populations for hunters’ sake; as a result, stopping hunting would not lead to overpopulation of animals currently hunted. Hunters’ license fees are used by wildlife management agencies to “manipulate a few game [target] species into overpopulation, resulting in the loss of biological diversity, genetic integrity and ecological balance,” according to an article published in Scientific American. There are natural processes to prevent overpopulation, ultimately making human interference through hunting not only unnecessary but also injurious.
September 23rd marks National Hunting and Fishing Day, urging “all citizens to join with outdoor sportsmen in the wise use of our natural resources and in ensuring their proper management for the benefit of future generations.” 46 years after this holiday was first proclaimed, are we truly being wise?
Correction Appended (April 12, 2018):
The print version of this article contains an incorrect disclosure of the author's affiliation. The online version has been updated to remove the disclosure to reflect the fact that the author no longer has that affiliation.