And I became to wonder how everyone would react to this message. Mind you, I'm just curious to what everyone had to say to this in rebuttal.
Historically, hunting has been a fundamental part of human existence. It has provided shelter, clothing, and nourishment for humans and was necessary for the survival and expansion of the human race. Over the past couple of centuries however, the need for hunting has diminished, and this necessity has evolved into a sport which has had a drastic effect on both the hunted animals and the environment in which they live. Today, humans face a daunting task of trying to repair the damage that has been done due to irresponsible development and irresponsible hunting practices by humans. Because of this irresponsibility, there is no longer a natural balance among species in the wild. Development has driven healthy numbers of species onto small parcels of land in which they are crowded and overpopulated. These animals are driven into backyards and onto highways where they have become a nuisance to homeowners and a danger to motorists. But what is the solution? Some say that more hunting is necessary to solve this overpopulation problem yet others say hunting practices contribute to the problem. Is hunting the solution or the problem?
Time and time again, throughout history, species have been over-harvested to the point of endangerment or even extinction. For instance, prairie dogs once lived by the millions in the grasslands of North America, but by the year 2000 black-tailed prairie dogs were being shot by the thousands for sport and their colonies fell below critical size. Soon the entire species vanished. The trend of sushi eating contributed to the decline of the blue-fin tuna because of over-fishing. The danger of losing an entire species is not the only danger of hunting though. Strangely enough, overpopulation can be a result of irresponsible hunting too.
Hunting is a multi-million dollar industry and this presents an extreme conflict of interest when it comes to overpopulation issues. Hunting licenses and tax dollars generate revenue each year to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with regulating the hunting industry. Naturally, to stay in existence the agency needs as much money as possible, and having more animals that need to be hunted may not be viewed as a problem. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and their state counterparts use wildlife management techniques in an attempt to create a balance between humans and game species. These techniques guide the agencies when determining hunting limits for each species and hunting limits for each sex within a species. Wildlife management in practice however, becomes somewhat of a misnomer.
Although wildlife management should be a method of keeping populations down at healthy numbers, it seems to actually be a tactic to make sure there are adequate numbers of game species for hunters to hunt and therefore contributes to the overpopulation problem. The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife even states that “the deer resource has been managed primarily for the purpose of sport hunting, ” (New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, An Assessment of Deer Hunting in New Jersey, 1990). Many scientists believe that game species such as deer, elk, and turkey are at the highest numbers that they have ever reached in recorded history, and human harvest numbers are at all time highs as well. So according to these opinions, even with wildlife management practices in place all over the country, there is still an overpopulation problem that is not being solved.
The fact that hunting is not operating as a solution to overpopulation problems can be seen in both hunting practices and hunting regulations of the white-tailed deer. Some hunters make it a practice to eliminate natural predators of game species so that the animals can survive, only to be later hunted by humans. Obviously if overpopulation was a concern then these natural predators would be praised for their ability to keep numbers down. Also, many hunters refuse to kill doe either because of a fear of orphaning a fawn or simply because there will be no trophy at the end of the harvest. First of all, the belief that an orphaned fawn means automatic death for the fawn is misguided. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a group of fawns was artificially weaned from their mothers at 60 days and another group at 90 days. Growth of these deer was compared to a control group of fawns that were not weaned. There was no difference in body weights of the fawns at 60 and 90 days. However, the mean body weight of deer weaned at 90 days was heavier than the control group. This basically shows that a fawn's rumen is functional at about 60 days. Because 95% of all deer in Texas are born before July 15, sixty days after birth is well before the opening of archery season and 90 days after fawning also occurs by opening day of archery season for most fawns, and before opening day of general season for at least 95% of all Texas fawns. Although there can be no conclusive studies on how many fawns orphaned by hunting in the wild do not survive, these studies seem to show that by the time hunting season is in full swing, a fawn will most likely survive without its mother.
This reluctance to harvest does greatly contribute to the overpopulation problem. Normally, without the interference of hunting, the sex ratio of the deer will be roughly 50-50 (an even number of males to females). Because more bucks are killed than does the balance is shifted drastically, and in many places the ratio is closer to 80-20 (four times as many does as bucks). Overpopulation problems are now compounded. Hunting regulations do not solve the problem either because in many areas it is not legal to kill a doe at all, and still in other areas the numbers of doe that can be harvested are very low. Luke Dommer, the founder of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, has proposed to several state wildlife agencies that if they are serious about wildlife management as a solution to overpopulation issues, then they should institute a doe season until the ratio is back at 50-50. All agencies rejected this proposal.
After hunting and wildlife management practices enhance the overpopulation problem, this imbalance then becomes a danger to other species, the environment and even to humans. For instance, healthy forests should have a floor of herbs and wildflowers, a mid-story of shrubs and seedlings, and a ceiling of mature trees. When the white-tailed deer population rises, they begin to feed on the forest floor to such a degree that they practically clear the forest. Other species lose their protection from weather, the materials to build their homes, their protection from predators, and their own food sources. This is such a dire problem that many species have become endangered because of habitat destruction such as this.
Not only do the animals of the forest suffer but the forest itself and humans suffer too. The trees cannot regenerate due to the deer eating the seeds, acorns, and even the saplings. This affects the forests' ability to cleanse the air we breathe and to purify the water we drink. The overpopulated deer will cost farmers an average of $9, 000 per year in damage and they will cause 1.5 million vehicle collisions a year which cost $1.1 billion in damage. Thousands of lives will be lost in these collisions each year.
There is no doubt that something has to be done about this issue, but what is the answer? It is obvious that hunting and wildlife management has not done an adequate job thus far. Is it possible to let alone and let nature? Because this is a human created problem there will most likely have to be a human created solution but it will take ethical and caring people to develop a solution that is not tainted by the interests of hunters or the gun-manufacturing lobby. Hopefully the solution will come before the damage is irreparable.