Hunting: A personal ecocentric view

There is no right way to do a wrong thing.

Quote by Doug Tompkins

I write this as an ecocentrist and an amateur field naturalist. Slowly, over the years, intimate knowledge has allowed me to realize all wild lives are significant, and while sometimes enormously different from mine, they are not inferior. I also realize that these other lives are immensely valuable to themselves, and, importantly for me, to me as well. These values I cannot negate.

From this position, it is readily apparent that it is wrong to interfere with other lives, on any basis. The third point of the eight points of Deep Ecology, a precursor to the expanded concept of Ecocentrism, states that interference is only justified to satisfy “vital needs” (Rowe, 1996). Combining these two thoughts with the reality that absolute non-interference is impossible leads me to the position that I must strive to do least harm.

My perspective is reinforced by my strong belief in animal rights, which is perhaps not strictly speaking an ecocentric position, but which is nevertheless held by many ecocentrists. An ecocentrist respects all life, and, despite it being easy to find contradictions, tends to regard all living life forms as being equal, no matter how many feet they may or may not have. Animal rights are, in my opinion, a subclass of the rights of all life in general. Rights assigned solely to humans are invalid, and loaded with anthropocentric bias unless they extend, in appropriate and divergent ways, to all life. This belief unifies my justified concerns for the welfare of both species and their constituent individuals. It further supports the position that it is wrong to cause pain, suffering or disruption to any living creature.

The final component of this set is the realization that life is embedded within an enabling ecosystem. No life is long viable without this system and this imbues ecosystems with great value. Thus, in my world, it is wrong to weaken or destroy either individual ecosystems or to attack Gaia Herself.

Negative effects of hunting

The WWF states that two-thirds of the world’s wildlife has disappeared since 1970 (WWF, 2020). Hunting shares some of the blame, much of it in some areas.

Recently it has been revealed that less than 4% of animal mass in the world is wild. The total animal mass has been reduced to one sixth of its former size (Rosane, 2018). Basically, most wild animals are now seriously imperiled. Hunting is a major contributor to this dramatic loss, one of the human activities that kills nonhuman animals. (This ignores the additional death toll from, for instance, roadkill, pollution and night lights, and commercial fishing.)

A main byproduct of hunting, spent lead shot, continues to kill long after the assassin is gone. In the European Union, for example, “1 million waterbirds are killed by lead poisoning each year. Millions more wild birds, including raptors, are poisoned but do not die, with 40% of whooper swans found to have elevated blood lead levels” (Barkham, 2020). Including the rest of the Earth would add an incalculable number more. This is not the instant death or maiming that hunting inflicts, but a lingering after effect that few ever think about. It’s not just water birds either; for instance, more deer hunting means more lead poisoning in eagles (Lauritsen, 2021). All carrion eaters are vulnerable. Today’s shot can kill and maim birds and animals long after it is fired.

Without elaborating in detail, the evil of hunting inflicts, beyond their deaths, many vile sufferings upon the animal people of the Earth. To name a few, hunting results in prolonged death throes, injury, panic, fright, hunger, energy loss, destroyed families, sadness and mourning. Hunter-infested habitats are seasonally denied to wild creatures and some previously viable habitat is lost (Nickel et al, 2021). Large predators are preferentially removed and this changes the whole physical nature and dynamics of the forest and landscape. In Yellowstone National Park, it is factual to say that the Wolves’ reappearance caused a cascade of effects that resulted in improved stream structure and function (Beschta and Ripple, 2018).

When parents are murdered, the young often slowly starve. If they are old enough that they don’t starve, they can no longer learn from their parents and vital knowledge is lost; food sources and migration routes, for instance. When big bears wandering outside Algonquin Park are shot, it has been plausibly maintained, this causes a loss of social structure which releases younger bears to be less careful in their actions. The results of this are seen, for instance, in more bear/human interactions, in which the bear almost universally ends up dead.

The sick macho men who carry guns who kill, and maim, and inflict much suffering on living creatures aren’t only redneck bastards who don’t know any better. They also include white-collar professionals who often pay a lot of money to have the animal lined up ready for them to shoot – that is, execute.

An ecocentrist considers the effects of their presence on those creatures and perhaps ‘hunts’ with a camera. In many ways, substituting a camera for a gun could change the dynamics of human presence. But remember, unlike your dog, wild animal people who run do not want to be chased. Do the animal residents lose some of their fear when there is no loud banging noise or other mayhem caused by the human? Or is their fear of the predator too ingrained? Is the animal person’s energy balance still disrupted as much? Do the animal people still vote with their feet by running away? Why would an animal person’s reaction to any human being in their environment be any different to ours when a Cougar or Grizzly enters our city? After all, not every predator has come for a meal; not every time, anyway. Do animal people respond well to humans skulking around in their habitat (or any better than we do to the stalker in the nearby alley)? So, is photographic hunting harmful and disruptive even if non-lethal? I think so (Nickel et al, 2021; University of Sydney, 2021).

If the answer to any, or even more than a few, of the above questions goes the wrong way, one needs to analyse where our supposed right to inflict the activity on others comes from. If it stems from a supposed human supremacy to do whatever we want, it’s time to reappraise yourself.

Jon Young, in his book What the Robin Knows, strongly advocates a quiet way of learning: go find a “sit” spot that appeals to you, take something to sit on, and as often as you can, stay there, as immobile as possible, for longish periods of time (it takes quite a while for things to settle down again after your intrusive presence has stirred them up), seeing and recording what happens. He did so in one spot, day after day, for eight years. There’s lots more involved, of course, but this is the kernel of the book’s message.

Sounds quite different from an ATV-powered hunter, doesn’t it?

It is, of course, much worse than I’ve stated above. Forests empty out; In my area of Ontario, there used to be Caribou, Elk, Cougar, Wolf, and, for that matter, Passenger Pigeon. Now they are all ghosts, largely or totally removed by hunting. The loss of the big predators releases the mesopredators. This in turn increases the larger herbivores and decreases the small ones, like mice.

When animal people are removed from the landscape, especially when the slaughter is concentrated on the biggest and healthiest, biodiversity both changes and diminishes.

When these effects are inflicted ‘for the development of a human’s psyche’ or, for that matter, for human pleasure, it reeks of the crassest, most nauseous, anthropocentrism. Even the development of knowledge is an invalid justification. Again, in Algonquin Park, an alpha Wolf, once captured and radio collared never again becomes an alpha Wolf (Theberge, personal communication). All lives are valuable, and all have a fundamental right to be lived, unmolested.

Guns change human interaction with the rest of life. For instance, men with guns have a higher rate of negative interactions with Grizzly Bears than those without (Herrero, 2003). Obviously having guns renders humans less ecocentric, not more. In fact, the false assumption that humans are superior to the other animal people is driven and buttressed by hunting; how else could the fear, maiming, killing, and habitat denial which hunting promotes be justified?

The negative political pressures exerted by hunters have not been factored in above. Management of the landscape for the maximization of a few favoured species such as Moose, Elk and Deer and the minimization of predators severely damages it. Powerful hunter lobbies ensure degraded forests. This has recently been demonstrated in Wisconsin where many Gray Wolves were wantonly slaughtered (I’ll bet not one was fully eaten by any hunter) after political pressure caused the season to be opened (Bekiempis, 2021).

Also, in Ontario for instance, recently it has been made legal to hunt Morning Doves; it’s hard to imagine! And the government has just allowed the killing of Cormorants on their nests, with both huge daily ‘limits’ and no requirement to remove or use the corpses. It’s just a despicable slaughter. Despite Snapping Turtles being on the endangered species list, the hunting lobby in Ontario strongly resisted changing hunting regulations to exclude Snappers.

So-called subsistence hunting

The slaughter of ‘bush meat’ by hunting (and snaring) is a huge source of ecological destruction in many parts of the world. Often, it is not a matter of individuals hunting for themselves but individuals hunting commercially for profit. This process is driving animal peoples’ numbers to crash, is driving both biodiversity collapse and species loss. Ecocentrically, this process is being forced by excessive human population in the areas concerned. Sometimes, people have expanded into habitats (such as the far North) which are not suitable for the coexistence of many humans and the animal people.

‘Harvesting’ (and remember, one cannot ‘harvest’ what one did not sow, that can only be looted) animals for subsistence or sale is the greatest threat to land-dwelling mammals in some parts of the world, a new study recently found. About 15% of people in the world depend on wild animals, particularly vertebrates, for food. But hunting, illegal and legal, also feeds the global supply chain for wildlife and wildlife parts (Vyawahare, 2021).

As Patrick Curry has said, the suggestion that killing or wounding an animal is a way to appreciate it is not merely anti-ecocentric, nor merely speciously paradoxical; it is positively sick (Curry, personal communication). In short, the moral, ethical, ecological and ecocentric case against hunting that is not strictly necessary in order to survive – nearly all of it – is overwhelming.

Fishing

Opposing hunting automatically means, for very similar reasons, opposing all fishing, including sport fishing and commercial fishing. It’s been said that if fish could scream, they might be killed differently. No caught fish suffers an easy death.

Sport fishing is in a class which is, hopefully, all its own. It involves killing and/or torturing solely for the fun of doing it (although some are eaten, mostly by the already well fed). The catch and release variant at the very least involves a hook lodged in the head and mostly tearing it out in a manner that involves lots of handling of the fish. I have a summer place at the narrow windward beach end of a lake. Many dead fish float in there over the fishing season and on examination (a smelly process, may I say), they are often found with lesions in the mouth and head, many showing signs of festering.

Did you know that Loons nest at the water’s edge, in a small depression, in sites sheltered from the prevailing winds and therefore from most waves? Motorboats create different waves, and lakes with a lot of motorboats (including fisher persons’ boats) rarely have nesting Loons who succeed in fledging their young. Additionally, the lead involved in fishing and hunting is poisoning Loons. Loons are sometimes by-catch in fishing too.

Fisher peoples’ boats also create noise, water turbidity, oily residues, extra human presence, and spread invasive species (such as Zebra Mussels), all of which inhibit local ecologies.

It is almost common knowledge that the oceans are emptying out as fishing takes everything. One by one, as a species is fished out, other species appear on the market. Each new species on the market indicates that another, formerly common one, is gone or almost so.

Oceanic sharks and rays have declined by 71 percent since 1970, mainly because of overfishing, and more than three quarters of oceanic shark and ray species are now threatened with extinction. Even if commercial shark fishing stops being viable because of declining numbers, incidental catches could continue to drive down numbers (Einhorn, 2021).

Conclusion

Hunting and/or fishing is not an ecocentric activity. It spreads desolation and destruction, both physical and emotional, across whatever landscape is blighted with either activity. Arguments to the contrary amount to crass rationalizations, an activity well known for its ability to justify anything or any position.

Read ‘Hunting: A personal ecocentric view’, by Ian Whyte, on the #EarthTongues blog

References

Barkham P (2020) EU to ban use of lead shot by wetland bird hunters. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/26/eu-to-ban-use-of-lead-shot-by-wetland-bird-hunters

Beschta R and Ripple W (2018) Can large carnivores change streams via a trophic cascade? Ecohydrology 12: e2048.

Bekiempis V (2021) Wisconsin hunters kill 216 wolves in less than 60 hours, sparking uproar. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/03/wisconsin-hunters-kill-216-wolves-less-than-60-hours-uproar

Einhorn C (2021) Shark Populations Are Crashing, With a ‘Very Small Window’ to Avert Disaster. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/climate/sharks-population-study.html?

Herrero S (2003) Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Lyons Press.

Lauritsen J (2021) More Deer Hunting Means More Lead Poisoning In Eagles, Raptor Center Says. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2021/01/28/more-deer-hunting-means-more-lead-poisoning-in-eagles-raptor-center-says/

Nickel BA et al. (2021) Energetics and fear of humans constrain the spatial ecology of pumas. PNAS 118: e2004592118.

Rosane O (2018) Humans and Big Ag Livestock Now Account for 96 Percent of Mammal Biomass. https://www.ecowatch.com/biomass-humans-animals-2571413930.html

Rowe S (1996) Ecocentric reworking of the Deep Ecology eight-point platform.
https://www.ecologicalcitizen.net/reworked-deep-ecology-platform.html

University of Sydney (2021) World-First Study Reveals Human Activity Forces Animals to Move 70% Further to Survive. https://scitechdaily.com/world-first-study-reveals-human-activity-forces-animals-to-move-70-further-to-survive/

Vyawahare M (2021) Hunting and Habitat Destruction Are Driving ‘Biotic Annihilation,’ Study Warns. https://www.ecowatch.com/hunting-habitat-destruction-biodiversity-2649771713.html?

WWF (2020) The Living Planet Report 2020. https://www.zsl.org/sites/default/files/LPR%202020%20Full%20report.pdf

Young J (2023) What the Robin Knows. Mariner Books.

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