Friday, December 14, 2007

A Few More Thoughts on Cranes

I have eaten crane (not mine) and it was wonderful. They are grain eaters and don't taste fishy as most of those others that Julie mentions, such as herons, are alleged to-- more like fine roast beef. They are also wary and difficult. Actually few hunt them, and those that do know they are good eating. They have a large population and are a serious agricultural pest in the Rio Grande Valley-- if they were not moved around by hunting farmers would be demanding (as they sometimes do anyway) that the refuge managers "bump" them down to Chihuahua by knocking down corn, where they are also a pest and are preyed on by humans in a much less controlled manner.

Also, Bosque del Apache, like most NWRs was established by hunter money-- and is now facing budget cuts.

For an interesting take on "hunters as locivores"-- something any regular reader knows we endorse-- see this NYT op- ed by Steven Rinella, author of The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine.


Matt Mullenix said...

An excellent piece in thre NYT!

Julie if you're reading, that's what I meant to say. :-)

Matt Mullenix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M.L. Miller said...

It's difficult for me to respond to someone like Julie, because I care about animal populations, and not so much about individuals. I want there to be cranes, and lots of them. I want them to have plenty of places to live and breed and rest. I love hearing their calls in the fall, and seeing the huge flocks mass up during their migration, and watching them tend their chicks in the spring. The fact that hunters kill some has no impact on any of the above.

When we start straying away from population biology, it becomes a battle of personal preferences. Too often "I don't want to kill a crane" becomes "No one should kill a crane, ever."

I don't want to kill a wolf, but provided hunts are conducted in a way so that wolves can continue to prosper, who am I to make this decision for others?

These are very subjective lines. I've hunted (and killed) kangaroos--and have a mounted one in our little house--so I know well the often visceral reactions people have to killing certain types of wildlife. This has nothing to do with populations or biology. The kangaroo density in Queensland makes Pennsylvania whitetails look like endangered species.

I get frustrated, but somehow I think these are important conversations to have. I am not a relativist; not all hunting and killing is created equal. Those who shoots semi-tame, recently released "trophy" deer in small enclosures are worthy of our scorn and ridicule. The "hunter" who tosses his ducks in the dumpster because he believes them to be "sky carp" or "flying liver" is wasteful and clueless. Such a person may take pride in being a "redneck" but in reality is demonstrating a cluelessness about the land every bit as profound as a California animal rightist.


Matt Mullenix said...

Hi Matt,

I was telling Mike (mdmnm) that I feel a strange compulsion to respond to challenges of the kind Julie put forth. Maybe I was wrong to see her statement as a challenge in the first place, but I do think her replies bore out that premise. She is obviously an intelligent person and a lover of wildlife. There is some reason to believe that two such people should be able to communicate, even given their opposition on specific points.

Right? Maybe. I don't know. But I still find myself attempting to provide some sort of response. It may be that I just don't want my silence misinterpreted as guilt or shame. I may be guilty, in some sense, for things I do, but I am not ashamed.

I appreciate your point about wildlife populations and how it makes more sense in many ways to view these issues from that broader perspective.

But I don't want to discount the other view; I share it too, in some circumstances. If an individual animal is not important to someone who hunts it, then none of us can be very important. I'm not sure how I mean that. But I think it's true.

It's personal. It's not something that can be legislated. But somehow connecting with the animal as an individual is important if we want to do right by them. Naturally, my definition of "doing right by them" includes killing them under certain circumstances.

Someone linked recently to a story about the Park Service’s proposal to kill elk with sharp-shooters. This sort of thing somehow subverts the personal connection I'm trying to convey. A hired gun who is not killing the elk because he loves hunting, loves elk meat, loves elk habitat---in short, loves elk---is doing them some sort of disgrace. If it is only about population control, I suppose there is no problem. My point is that hunting has to be about more than population control.

M.L. Miller said...

No argument here on any of your points. And I probably should have added, "As a conservationist" to my first sentence.

As a hunter, of course I care about the animals I hunt--as individuals. I go afield for many reasons, but one of them is not to perform a charitable service to humanity in the form of population control.

As a conservationist, I think it is unwise to worry about individual cranes, when we should be worrying about the fate of cranes in general. Regulated hunting seems like an unnecessary target for anger, in the case of the crane season.

But...I suspect all of us are subject to our own contradictions in this regard. A few weeks ago I was watching the latest garbage on TV in a hotel room (we don't have cable at home), when I stumbled across an outdoor station airing a program on the glories of elephant hunting. Hunting shows can be a bit much for me to stomach, whether it's ducks or deer or zebra or whatever. The elephant killing left me feeling rattled--so graphic and so sad. I saw nothing to gloat about. I know elephant hunting is necessary for elephant conservation--even a lot of anti-hunting but thoughtful conservationists know this--but it was hard not to feel like I was watching something terribly wrong on this tv show. Context, certainly. But it also comes from time spent watching wild elephants, and identifying with them.

I am reminded of a rather strange guidebook I once wrote for the Fish & Wildlife Service, trying to encourage hunting on national wildlife refuges. I was talking to one manager about a hunt for sika deer (a non-native, Asian species introduced by Boy Scouts about 80 years ago). He insisted that I not call it a hunt but rather "invasive species control." I have hunted sika deer on this refuge, and I can assure you that I was not engaged in invasive species control. It was fun--not some dour control assignment. And I was hunting deer, not "invasive species."

And you're right, from a population perspective paying sharpshooters in Rocky Mt. National Park makes no difference than if it is done by license-buying hunters, or wolves. But I do find it a horrible waste of money. It also makes the statement that paid killers are somehow "necessary" but "sport hunters" (sorry) are less worthy because they might actually ENJOY it.

I believe that hunting is worth conserving just as wild things and wild places are worth conserving. Part of my belief stems from the fact that hunting builds our human relationship with the land and with other creatures. Sharpshooting seeks to sanitize and remove us from the realities.

Individually, individuals matter, and we should find ways to allow those connections through hunting, and observing, and studying, and interacting with wildlife.

But conservation should be concerned about populations. Being angry about hunters killing cranes sounds an awful like being angry that cranes die.


Matt Mullenix said...

"...hunting builds our human relationship with the land and with other creatures. Sharpshooting seeks to sanitize and remove us from the realities."

I agree!

"Being angry about hunters killing cranes sounds an awful like being angry that cranes die."