In My View
Since the late 1880s, rugged individualists such as Theodore Roosevelt polished their credentials and political aspirations by hunting animals. In 1909, Roosevelt, then a 50-year-old U.S. president, posed for a photograph on an African safari, standing with a rifle next to a dead elephant. Roosevelt saw hunting as a way to develop a “manly” character, and regarded the activity as a custom to be passed from father to son.
Some of today’s politicians apparently believe similar things about shooting birds, antelopes and other animals. They also believe the public act of killing an animal will link them with the concerns of rural voters.
Consider New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the Democratic presidential candidate who in 2005 posed for a photograph with a Scimitar-horned oryx antelope after shooting the animal on Ted Turner’s canned-hunting trophy ranch. There, “sportsmen” pay to kill endangered African antelopes who have no escape. Richardson said the guided hunt was most memorable.
An employee in Richardson’s campaign office wrote to one Friends of Animals member: “Using his own rifle, the Governor took the shot from 148 yards away.” What the employee didn’t add was how well the hunting guide knows the location and habits of the animals. Or how feeding and watering stations lure animals while hunters wait to open fire.
The aide assured us that Richardson had “consistently received high-marks from environmental and conservation organizations.” Just the same, it’s unlikely the shooting death of an oryx, whose free-living population Friends of Animals is helping to gain a new foothold in their native land of Senegal, will catapult Richardson into the White House.
Texas licenses some 8,800 private, fenced estates as hunting ranches – so many, says TheHouston Chronicle, that the state has been nicknamed “Little Africa.” Hunting ranches have provided pastimes for Dick Cheney, former President George Bush and George W. Bush.
Eighty-five percent of today’s hunters shoot large animals such as deer and elk, and two million U.S. hunters have dropped out since the 1980s. Posing politicians aside, figures from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (May 2007) show the number of hunters 16 and older has tanked. They now number 12.5 million, following a continued decline of 10 percent between 1996 and 2006. The drop is most obvious in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states.
The decline in hunters confounds federal and state wildlife agencies, and so, apparently, does the 13 percent increase in wildlife-watching to 71 million since 1996. The munitions industry isn’t selling bullets to hikers, birdwatchers, photographers and other nature enthusiasts, nor are these groups sending licensing fees to state fish and game departments. Most wildlife bureaucracies rely on the fees generated by hunting and angling for most of their revenue. It still isn’t obvious to them that they’d be better advised to relinquish their ties to animal killing, and seek funding from their state’s general fund.
This past summer, in an attempt to rescue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from a nosedive, George W. Bush ordered all federal agencies that manage public lands to promote hunting in national forests, refuges and other lands. Wolf scientist Gordon Haber advised this could hurt our efforts in Alaska to prompt the National Park Service to use its influence on behalf of the wolves in Denali National Park. Most federal lands except national parks already allow hunting, so there has been no shortage of shooting opportunities for a loudmouthed minority who seek pleasure from making free-living animals dead.
In one alarming twist, profits have been falling away from Texas cattle ranching only to be replaced with private hunting businesses, evidenced as “high deer fences replace barbed wire and wealthy city dwellers buy up land owned by long-established ranching families,” in the words of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. One rancher said there’s 100 percent more money in raising zebras and other non-native animals over raising cows to be slaughtered for beef. But the rancher added, “Tourism may eventually outpace hunting as the primary use of ranch land, particularly ecotourists, who come to bird watch, photograph wildlife and enjoy nature.”