Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hunting and Angling for Conservation

By Bob Ferris

Engaging in River Watching on the Blue River in Oregon
(Carlene Ramus)
I cannot remember when I first dipped a line in the Truckee River or other waters in the Lake Tahoe area but it must be more than 50 years ago. This past year I took my fishing gear to Tahoe, but spent my angling time fish watching rather than actually fishing.  My wife took to some mild nagging thinking that I was robbing myself of some mystic pleasure by just sitting next to streams that I knew well and had watched transition from plenty, to none and now recovering rather than casting and catching in waters that I knew to be drought stressed.  I—like these streams—was truly fine and getting better with each watching moment.

The Ragtag Collection of Camouflage I Wore Before the "New" Coat 
I have written a lot about hunting and angling over the past couple of years, because I worry that both pursuits have become diminished as they are distilled ever increasingly into trigger pulls and line tugs when in reality they are and have to be so much more.  I cannot help but think that all the commercialization, TV show-driven packaging and proliferation of gear has somehow taken away from the core value of these endeavors.  And this is not just because someone who had been hunting ducks for only two years recently made fun of the dated camouflage pattern of what has been my favorite hunting coat for more than 20 years (he should have seen me before, at right).

This whole situation puts me in mind of a rather ridiculous short parody I watched the other day on Facebook that asked the question of how Mahatma Gandhi would react if he visited a modern day yoga studio and tried to take a class.  The costuming and production were a bit cheesy but the Gandhi character’s reaction to the bastardization of what was essentially his religious practice resonated and felt familiar to me.  Certainly this is partially a product of age, but it is more too.

I strongly believe that hunting and angling have to be embedded within a substantial matrix of personal ethics not only about these endeavors but about life as well.  I rather crudely, but appropriately, argued recently that hunting and angling are not the arenas where you allow yourself to be an asshole, but rather where you learn not to be an asshole.  I am not sure that this always is the case now, but it should be.

These endeavors should also act as important supplements to a pathway of life-long learning.  This should be where you learn about the complexities of nature and the value of wilderness, not where you dig yourself deeper into a narrow pit of specious opinion and paranoia.  Getting to know the species you hunt and harvest means digging into their life histories and understanding not only where they will be when the season permits their taking but what they need during other times, how they interact with other species and what external factors or pressures affect their abundance.

Moreover, true hunters and anglers (again in my mind) need to be people of action.  Long gone are
the days when we can simply take fish and wildlife populations for granted.  That means that part of this equation is active stewardship like doing habitat restoration or supporting the groups that do as well as looking at how you live your life and how your actions directly and indirectly impact the species you care about and the habitats they need.  Recycling paper, carpooling and rain gardens might seem far removed from band-tailed pigeons, caribou, and salmon, but the associated reductions in timber harvests, reduced demand for more damaging types of oil extraction, and the improvement in water quality when a lot of us make these changes could be non-trivial to these species.

Carlene Collecting Trash on the Nooksack by Paul Anderson
And hunters and anglers need to be aware activists.  So much money is being spent at this point in opposition to the interests of hunters and anglers that it truly boggles the mind.  Moreover, these monies are being spent in well-orchestrated and manipulative campaigns specifically designed to cloud and confuse(1,2,3).  The core issues for hunters and anglers are and have always been habitat quality and quantity; clean water; access; and clean air—including climate altering and ocean souring emissions.  And right now every single one of these issues is under attack on state and federal levels.

And the politicians involved in the above that are poised to sell off our public lands (1, 2,3) , emasculate the EPA(1,2,3), greatly extend grazing leases(1,2), and essentially give away access to our natural resources (1,2) are desperately trying to hide the clanking of this sorry and deceptive political engine by liberally pouring heaping cups of distracting sawdust into the oil pan.  This sawdust comes in the form of 2nd Amendment rhetoric and talking loudly about “rights” that will mean very little in a world subjected to this damaging and in many cases irreparable litany of insults.

Corrections or adjustments to most of the above can happen in the way of evolution or sea change—in steps or gradually—but the latter need for activism has to happen right now as we cannot afford to stutter.  Many groups are working to correct the above situation and deserve both activists help and financial support.  In addition, there are a number of outdoor writers who are stepping up to document the peril that we and our precious fish and wildlife face in the coming two years and beyond.  I have provided some lists below.  Get informed and get active.

Those Groups Focusing on What is Important to Hunters and Anglers

Outdoor Writers Covering Issues of Importance to Hunters and Anglers

, Cristina Eisenberg, Hal Herring, Ben Lamb, Ben Long, Bob Marshall, Jim Posewitz, David Stalling, Todd Tanner, Kevin Van Tighem, Todd Wilkinson and Ted Williams

Note: I see both of the above lists as living lists.  If you think your group or favorite writer belongs up here let me know and I will make it happen.


  1. FWIW Ben Lamb supports politicians mandating more logging on our public lands, supports bad conservation bills that include the release of Wilderness Study Areas for development and also supported a secret nomination process used to nominate 5 million acres of USFS public lands in MT for 'fast-track' logging "categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA." Oh, and he censors and removes substantive, fact-filled comments on his blog.

  2. Bob: I've met some great people with DU. They single handedly saved a number of waterfowl species. Great proponents for wetland protection and preservation. Be interested in what you think about them. Good blog post.

  3. Kim, they were on my mind as well. I worked closely with them on federal farm bills in the 1990s. Bob

  4. Bob,
    Unfortunately many of the elected officials that sportsmen vote for solely based on gun rights have some of the worst voting records when it comes to protecting the clean air and clean water that fish & wildlife (and humans too) need to survive. As you say, it takes more than having a gun or fishing rod in your hand to call yourself a sportsmen.

  5. this is a nice post. hunting is a very good profession.

  6. Because this essay is at least rational, let me share why I, as a non-hunting but frequently outdoors wildlife enthusiast, increasingly find myself in the anti-hunting camp. I find the following very disturbing: the videos especially of the kill shots that seem to have a lot in common with pornography, the photography of the kill afterwards with the emphasis on size- also reminiscent of sexual overtones, the militarization of the killing from the head to toe cammo to the assault style weaponry (hunters look like snipers and I don't to want to encounter them in the woods. They scare me. In fact, I resent that I find myself looking up the dates of hunting seasons especially opening days and purposefully staying home), the commercialization of hunting which results in treating some wildlife like agricultural commodities and in the demonization and destruction of other species like carnivores just for being what they are. This last is contrary to conservation and destructive to nature in an insidious and harmful way. Do with this what you will. Sure I'm ready for the name calling and put-downs in the replies. But that does not address the deeper problems hunting has in my eyes which go beyond what is written above and which I seldom see discussed.