“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” - Edward Abbey

Friday, June 26, 2009

Conservationists or Commodity Farmers?

Image Source: Nebraska Game & Parks Commission

I needed a new hat. I left my #88 Dale Jr. hat at the Cheesecake Factory in Chicago last week. So this week, I found myself in the local big box retail store searching for a new Dale Jr. hat. Unfortunately, all they had were Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch hats. I couldn’t find any of those old school Richard Petty STP hats either. After several frustrating minutes, I figured that I didn’t necessarily need a NASCAR hat. I could do with something else.

That’s when the Ducks Unlimited hat caught me eye. It was a handsome shit-brown hat with a big duck logo on the front. I thought to myself, “Hey, I am a big bird watcher, and I really like ducks.” So I went ahead and bought the hat.

I must admit, it does look good on me.

As I was driving around, I began to think about the hat I just purchased. More precisely, I was thinking about Ducks Unlimited and what they were going to do with the $10 I just gave them. I know that they are really in to preserving habitats for ducks. Surely that is a good thing. As I said, I really like ducks, so I am all for that. But I started to think a little deeper (always a dangerous thing), what exactly is the goal of the organization? Why are they so fond of ducks?

When I got home, I figured I would check out their website to see what they were all about. According to their mission statement, “Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America's waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.

Sounds good, but I already knew that. A bit more surfing around, and it became apparent that DU is primarily a interest group for duck hunter’s.

Certainly, DU has done quite a bit to preserve crucial habitat for ducks. By their own count, they have conserved 12.6 million acres of wetland habitat across North America. Quite impressive! But the important question is, Why? Is it to protect ducks because they deserve to be protected for their own sake, as living, sentient creatures? Or is there some ulterior motive?

As it turns out, there is an ulterior motive. The wetlands are being conserved to save for hunting. In other words, they want to save the ducks now so that hunters can shoot them later, mostly for shits and giggles.

The problem I have with DU specifically, and with all hunters in general, is philosophical more than anything else. For starters, the people at DU describe themselves as “conservationists” that ”treat wildlife with respect”. On their face, both statements are disingenuous. It would be more accurate to call them farmers. As for ducks, they are treated as nothing more than a commodity.

There is also the ridiculous notion of duck hunters calling themselves sportsmen. While I am sure there are a few out there, most duck hunters are anything but. Many have substituted gadgetry and technology for sport.

The average duck hunter finds himself sitting in a light-weight motor boat, way out in the marsh where his online satellite migration tracker told him the ducks would be. To attract waterfowl, he resorts to lies and deception. He tells the ducks it is safe by seeding the water with a bevy of decoys. Meanwhile, he deftly draws them out of the sky with his Rich-N-Tone Quack Stacker Duck Call. The ducks begin to move in. Like an overly exuburant boy during his first sexual experience, he prematurely fires at the flock before it is completely in shooting range. He really wants to bag his prize before the other hunters beat him to the punch. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He misses. Actually, he winged two ducks which subsequently limp off somewhere else to die. Because he hasn't bagged his limit, he can keep shooting. If he eventually does drop one, he heads straight to the taxidermist to have his trophy immortalized.

Organizations like DU create a real dilemma for those of us who love nature for its own sake. Should one support them or not?

On the one hand, they conserve habitat for ducks, which keeps it out of the hands of real estate developers and municipal waste engineers. On the other hand, sportsmen shoot and kill animals for fun. When you boil it all down, the net effect is to protect more animals than there would otherwise be if a garbage truck filled in a wetland and a developer paved it over to put in a shopping mall. Therefore, I think the answer to the dilemma is to support them, while teaching people to sincerely look at the world a different way. The alternative is just too costly.

That beign said, there is something about the whole thing just doesn’t sit right. It makes me feel a bit queasy. It's sort of like looking down your sister’s blouse.

While some may think I am making much ado about nothing, I would counter by saying that the way hunters view their game is a microcosm of a much deeper anthropocentric world view which maintains that man shall have dominion over the earth (Gen 1:26). To my way of thinking, the piece of paper that holds that statement is more suitable for the lining of a bird cage. With such a distorted view, man justifies his measuring of things by their utilitarian and economic value, as opposed to the values inherent in them as part of our ecological community. I think Thomas Berry put it best in The Dream of the Earth.

Most often we think of the natural world as an economic resource, or as a place of recreation after a wearisome period of work, or as something of passing interest for its beauty on an autumn day when the radiant colors of the oak and maple leaves gives us a moment of joy. All these attitudes are quite legitimate, yet in them there is what we might call a trivializing attitude. If we are truly moved by the beauty of the world around us, we would honor the world in a profound way. We would understand immediately and turn away with a certain horror form all those activities that violate the integrity of the planet.

That we have not done so reveals that a disturbance exists at a more basic level of consciousness than we dare to admit to ourselves or even think about. This unprecedented pathology is not merely in those more immediate forms of economic activity that have done such damage; it is even more deeply imbedded in our cultural traditions, in our religious traditions, in our very language, in our entire value system.


  1. if this blog had a facebook-esque "like button", I would press it. I understand and also struggle with the question to support or oppose. I am generally opposed to hunting unless starving but still think that even then it should be a hunt, not a set-up. The reason I choose not to eat meat is because of the quality of life of the animals while they are alive, not because of the actual killing of the animal. (There is also the environmental impact of the industry but I digress.)

  2. Your mental image of an actual duck hunter couldn't be more inaccurate. However, kudos for coming full circle and asking the question: "is that really the worst alternative?"

    Sportsmen - even call them sport hunters - have been the group, through and through, for 100 years now, who have supported the conservation of wildlife, the set-aside of National Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Refuges, and the INCREASE OF TAXES to pay for wildlife to have a place to live.

    Tell a group of bird watchers that they should purchase a $20 Federal Waterfowl Stamp (all funds go directly to national wildlife refuges, many of which DO NOT ALLOW HUNTING). Watch the eyes roll. What about state wildlife departments, which are largely funded NOT by the state budget process, but through boat, fishing, and hunting licenses and fees.

    Because "we shouldn't have to pay - let the hunters pay - they are killers." Right - they live in houses, which were built on top of wildlife habitat, as were the roads they use to get to work, as were their office parking lots. And eat meat for lunch, which was raised on former wildlife habitat. Come on now!

    There are so many supposed "conservationists" around these days who do not want to spend a penny of their own money on actual conservation. As long as they can get to the Wildlife Refuge in their SUV, and whip out a $2,000 spotting scope or 1000mm zoom lens on a $1500 SLR frame, who cares who pays for conservation?

    If we ban hunting, who then will pay for wildlife conservation?

    Some vegans who TRULY appreciate and love wildlife and don't want to kill any of it? Sure. There are some of you out there. Not enough to keep state parks open. Not enough to buy land and protect it from development.

    Until we can make "eco friendly SUV drivers" savvy to conservation in general (and PAYING for conservation), I think these discussions are a little superfluous.

    If an organization like DU doesn't really line up with your priorities - please give to a local land trust, or conservation fund, or your local watershed organization. PLEASE!