It’s a hot button issue-does hunting hurt the environment? Depending on who you talk to, you will find everything from a strong no to a strong yes, and all the different permutations in-between. Below, we try to take a measured look at how exactly the argument is set up and which way it’s best to lean.
What are opinions so varied?
As we mentioned above, the answer will vary hugely depending on who you ask. Of course, hunting has been around literally since the dawn of the species, and almost every animal takes part in the hunter/hunted lifecycle. Advocates for hunting tend to focus on the fact that humans acting as hunters to these species contributes to the necessary cycles that keep down prey animal numbers- a cycle that has been disrupted badly in the past by our own human activities. Prey animals, left unchecked by predators, are prone to deaths from rampant disease that wipes out populations and from starvation due to over-saturation of the environment.
There are many positive sides to this. A major one is that many governments run culls anyway- so these animals would be ‘wasted’ anyway. It’s not hard to rationalise how having them individually stalked in a nature-mimicking hunt rather than a cold cull is a better and fairer way of controlling population numbers, while contributing to the control of population numbers.
What does the anti-hunting movement say?
Of course, the flip side of the coin is that hunting is regarded as barbaric and savage but environmentalists and animal welfare people alike. There is the consideration of the individual animals suffering to make, and of course the argument that killing for pleasure is wrong. Likewise, non-advocates of hunting will argue that license fees, supposedly ploughed back into environmental work, instead leads to the unnatural propagation of game species at the expense of other species in the area, altering bio-diversity.
There is another anti-hunting argument that carries a lot of validity. Trophy hunters, as opposed to those hunting for meat for the table, have a tendency to want only the biggest, strongest, peak-of-prime and unmarred specimens. These are exactly the same animals who are a vital contributor to the gene pool of the species in question, and exactly the animals that should not be being removed from the gene pool if the best interests of the species are to be preserved. This is why you will often find an ethical split with conservationists who support hunting for the table but not for the wall if they support hunting at all.
Of course, there is also the argument that no matter how many good, ethical hunters are out there, the fact that the industry flourishes allows those who are neither good nor ethical to continue their activities with a thin guise of respectability covering them. That is, perhaps, a matter for a different argument, however.
So, what’s the answer?
The answer, in the end, is that there isn’t one. Perhaps the most balanced view to take is that some forms of hunting are, indeed, morally, ethically and practically justifiable while others are not. In order to be beneficial to the environment rather than detrimental, hunting needs to support the integrity of the ecosystem as a whole, as well as the welfare of the target species. Interestingly, public support for hunting is rising, not falling, with an overwhelming majority feeling that there is a legitimate place for the right sort of hunting in the ecosystem.
Overall, the emphasis for those who enjoy hunting should be on ensuring that their hunting environment sustains and nurtures that animals who are part of their sport, and helps drive conservation efforts for the species.