Duck Soup: Just Tell Hunters Where to Go

In a thoughtful essay about a pending public purchase of land, some of which will be used for a North Carolina State Park, animal protection activist Stewart David discussed the controversy raised by a group of hunters. They are angry because only about one third of the property will remain open to hunting, while the two thirds included in the designated park will be closed to their killing game. David makes the cogent point that only about 5% of Americans now purchase hunting licenses each year and that those numbers are declining. He suggests that one third is already over-generous and decidedly unfair to the other 95% of us who don't share that hazardous hobby.David's astute observation clearly applies to a much larger picture than this particular state aquisition. It should obviously be considered on public land nation-wide.Hunting, like fishing, or even berry-picking for that matter, is inherently consumptive. The significant difference is the very real threat posed by high- powered weapons. The state of mind of many hunters I have met in the woods is not conducive to trust in their careful aim-taking -- nor are news reports about children with white mittens being gunned down when mistaken for white-tail deer. And while it would be wrong to accuse all hunters of drinking to excess while pursuing their prey, it is much more common than their spokespersons will ever admit. I have met them and I have found the piles of empties they leave in their wake.Many, many would-be hikers are literally driven out of the woods during hunting seasons. When desire to enjoy the fresh fall air and pre-winter scenery draws one into the forest at such times, any person with even a tiny grain of sense wears bright colors and makes a lot of noise. Even on my own (posted) property I have felt compelled to sing out, "I am not a deer! No! I am not a deer!" The gunfire is too near, and the illiterate hunters who I escort off the property (while explaining the meaning of the "No hunting" signs) are too common for me to feel much peace.How about that percentage?What if the percentage of public land open to hunting was tied to the sale of hunting licenses? If 5% are licensed to kill, then 5% of National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and National Wildlife Refuge land would be open for their pursuit. (Yes, National Wildlife Refuge -- if you labor under the understandable misapprehension that a Refuge is a "refuge," you are not alone, but you are wrong.) The rest of the property held in public trust would be safe for the rest of the public.The benefits of such a logical policy move would ripple out far beyond simple safety for walkers in the woods. Whole ecosystems would move toward healthy balance.Today a great deal of public land is "managed" for wildlife. What this really means is that habitat and species are manipulated to produce a great quantity of target animals. Predators have been killed off when they compete for game, openings in the woods are mowed to prevent re-growth of trees which would diminish browse for deer, and ungulates are even fed during harsh winters to keep their numbers high for the blood sports crowd. Native species are removed and non-native introduced, and in some cases extirpated natives are re-introduced with disastrous consequences: coon hunters in the Carolinas brought in Florida raccoons to bolster the diminished population and graced the eastern seaboard with the worst rabies outbreak on record.In the current political climate there is tremendous pressure in Washington to de-list species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Most notably, the grey wolf may lose protection in much of its range. Now would be an excellent time for the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to impose a reasonable and simple regulation for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of citizens. It is time to give the hunters in our midst a fair share.And not one acre more.

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