(from Jersey Coast Anglers
Association January 2006 Newsletter)
Here's a quick quiz: Which
large American mammal kills the most humans each year?
It's not the bear, which
kills about two people a year in North America. Nor is it the wolf, which
in modern times hasn't killed anyone in this country. It's not the cougar,
which kills one person every year or two.
Rather, it's the deer.
Unchecked by predators, deer populations are exploding in a way that is
profoundly unnatural and that is destroying the ecosystem in many parts of
the country. In a wilderness, there might be 10 deer per square mile; in
parts of New Jersey, there are up to 200 per square mile.
One result is ticks and
Lyme disease, but deer also kill people more directly. A study for the
insurance industry estimated that deer kill about 150 people a year in car
crashes nationwide and cause $1 billion in damage. Granted, deer aren't
stalking us, and they come out worse in these collisions - but it's still
true that in a typical year, an American is less likely to be killed by
Osama bin Laden than by Bambi.
If the symbol of the
environment's being out of whack in the 1960's was the Cuyahoga River in
Cleveland catching fire, one such symbol today is deer congregating around
what they think of as salad bars and what we think of as suburbs.
So what do we do? Let's
bring back hunting.
Now, you've probably just
spilled your coffee. These days, among the university-educated crowd in
the cities, hunting is viewed as barbaric.
The upshot is that towns in
New York and New Jersey are talking about using birth control to keep deer
populations down. (Liberals presumably support free condoms, while
conservatives back abstinence education.) Deer contraception hasn't been
very successful, though.
Meanwhile, the same
population bomb has spread to bears. A bear hunt has been scheduled for
this week in New Jersey - prompting outrage from some animal rights groups
(there's also talk of bear contraception: make love, not cubs).
As for deer, partly because
hunting is perceived as brutal and vaguely psychopathic, towns are taking
out contracts on deer through discreet private companies. Greenwich,
Conn., budgeted $47,000 this year to pay a company to shoot 80 deer from
raised platforms over four nights - as well as $8,000 for deer birth
Look, this is ridiculous.
We have an environmental
imbalance caused in part by the decline of hunting. Humans first wiped out
certain predators - like wolves and cougars - but then expanded their own
role as predators to sustain a rough ecological balance. These days,
though, hunters are on the decline.
According to "Families
Afield: An Initiative for the Future of Hunting," a report by an alliance
of shooting organizations, for every 100 hunters who die or stop hunting,
only 69 hunters take their place.
I was raised on "Bambi" -
but also, as an Oregon farm boy, on venison and elk meat. But deer are not
pets, and dead deer are as natural as live deer. To wring one's hands over
them, perhaps after polishing off a hamburger, is soggy sentimentality.
What's the alternative to
hunting? Is it preferable that deer die of disease and hunger? Or, as the
editor of Adirondack Explorer magazine suggested, do we introduce wolves
into the burbs?
To their credit, many
environmentalists agree that hunting can be green. The New Jersey Audubon
Society this year advocated deer hunting as an ecological necessity.
There's another reason to
encourage hunting: it connects people with the outdoors and creates a
broader constituency for wilderness preservation. At a time when America's
wilderness is being gobbled away for logging, mining or oil drilling,
that's a huge boon.
Granted, hunting isn't
advisable in suburban backyards, and I don't expect many soccer moms to
install gun racks in their minivans. But it's an abdication of
environmental responsibility to eliminate other predators and then refuse
to assume the job ourselves. In that case, the collisions with humans will
simply get worse.
In October, for example,
Wayne Goldsberry was sitting in a home in northwestern Arkansas when he
heard glass breaking in the next room. It was a home invasion - by a buck.
Mr. Goldsberry, who is six
feet one inch and weighs 200 pounds, wrestled with the intruder for 40
minutes. Blood spattered the walls before he managed to break the buck's
So it's time to reestablish
a balance in the natural world - by accepting the idea that hunting is as
natural as bird-watching.