We Aren’t Really Getting Anywhere, Are We?

Sunrise Chinook on an early September morning

Working Together to Protect Fish and Wildlife Habitat

I just got done reading an incredible story of a hunter in Montana who had a very good year; he harvested a mountain lion, a black bear and a 360 bull elk, all in one season. That’s quite an accomplishment, and even though I only know a little bit about successful hunting, this guy spends an incredible amount of time in the outdoors and knows how to navigate the wilderness.

Most disturbing about the story is the comments that followed this incredible tale. There were many that called the hunter out as cowardly and a trophy hunter that has no morals. There continues to be a growing disconnect between two user groups that care the most about fish and wildlife, and it’s working against us in dramatic fashion.

Now it’s one thing if you’re doing your hunting within a high-fenced area, called canned hunting or even if you use bait to bring in your prey, but for the vast majority of hunters, we utilize the fair chase standard, which despite the use of high powered rifles, gives the animals a fairly good chance at winning the game, especially for a novice hunter such as myself.

While it’s important to take in everyone’s perspective on how we view hunting, I think we all know that we’re not going to change each other’s minds. Therefore, it’s even more important to understand how pitting us against each other is actually killing more fish and wildlife than saving it; notice I selectively used the term “killing.”

I once got called out by an adversarial county commissioner of mine when calling for a reduction in timber harvest on our publicly owned state forests on the Oregon Coast. He stated I was pretty hypocritical of saving fish when I “killed them for a living.” It became clear to me, the difference between the term “killing” and the term “harvesting.” In my own admittedly perfect world, “killing” is the needless waste of an animal, while “harvesting” has great benefit for the communities we live in. “Killing” is typically accomplished through bad policy, such as the massive fish kills during the summer of 2015. Poor management of the Columbia River hydropower system certainly had something to do with it. In my own biased opinion, I’ve never killed a single critter; they’ve all gone to a greater good.

It’s hard to stay on point with such a controversial issue, but I can’t help but feel that big industry is happy to have us quibble amongst ourselves over such a petty issue. Just because members of one user group choose to harvest their prey versus view it, doesn’t make them less caring about how we go about protecting this incredible resource for future generations. If you choose not to consume the prey you pursue, that is your personal choice, and I totally respect that. After my first viewing of Bambi, I wanted to be the kid that went around the forest scaring all the big bucks so the hunters wouldn’t shoot them. When I found out those damn big, beautiful bucks weren’t going to stand still long enough for me to pet them, for some reason, I found it more enjoyable for them to make a fool out of me with a rifle in my hand. On the very rare occasion when I’ve harvested a deer or elk, I find myself in total awe in regards to their beauty, prowess and flavor. And of course we take a jillion pictures of these creatures and hang their antlers on our walls because it isn’t every day (for most hunters), that we’ll get to relive this incredible experience again in our immediate lifetimes. See, there I go again, getting off track.

The bottom line is this, we live in an incredible country, where we get to choose whether we hunt and fish either consumptively or non-consumptively. If we chose to respect each other’s decision on how we pursue our quarry, we would find it much easier to work with each other on protecting this resource from big industry encroaching on our landscape. Can you imagine, if all our nation’s conservation groups united with all the environmental groups, just how our America would look? Can you imagine how our national policy would be shaped? Can you imagine how much fish and wildlife would be available for consumptive and non-consumptive users? It’s factually mind-boggling.

Without really thinking about it, there seems to be three kinds of stakeholders in this conversation:

1. The Consumptive User

My personal favorite, the angler or hunter who hopefully consumes what he or she harvests. Of course, we want to protect what we pursue, but we often spend so much time in pursuit that we don’t have time to advocate for change. It’s also out of our level of comfortability, to walk the halls of our state and federal buildings to tell our lawmakers what’s best for the resource. Laws get made for those who show up!

2. The Non-Consumptive User

Still a favorite of mine, the photographer or environmentalist who admires fish and wildlife without consuming it. But yeah, we’re still kind of consuming it, although we may leave a smaller “footprint” than the consumer. Don’t think by going out and photographing wildlife or simply hiking in the woods that we’re not affecting fish and wildlife. Our behaviors affect their behaviors, and just about any time we’re out there, the critters know it.

3. The Non-User

We’re the ones that spend most of our time indoors or in the city. We don’t really care about what goes on out there in the woods; we’re more excited about the next iPhone app or the next episode of whatever. Sure, we may not have much of a direct impact on fish and wildlife, but we’re having a huge impact on fish and wildlife overall, by not actually being stakeholders in the resource. As my daughter recently scoffed at her brand-new fishing rod and tackle box I got her for Christmas, I see I have some work to do.

Yes, this conversation is not about you, me or they, it’s about “we.” I’m a party to all three user groups listed above, and so are you. How about we work to bridge these gaps in the New Year instead of expanding them? Let’s work together to protect fish and wildlife habitat instead of letting others destroy it.

Top photo: Sunrise Chinook on an early September morning.

About Bob Rees

Bob Rees is a professional fishing guide and executive director of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association.

1 comments on “We Aren’t Really Getting Anywhere, Are We?

  1. Pingback: Bearing the Burden of Conservation | Marine Fish Conservation Network

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