Sunday, December 4, 2022
Dec. 4, 2022

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As hunting participation continues to decline, a question of ethics arises

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SPOKANE — In late August, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hosted a handful of youth for a mentored deer hunt in northeast Washington. The weekend camp aimed to introduce a new generation of hunters to an outdoor activity that’s been on the decline for decades. In particular, the weekend focused on exposing the kids to mentors who could help them navigate an activity with a dizzying array of regulations, required skill sets and norms of behavior, said Dave Whipple, the hunter education division manager for WDFW.

While teaching the technical components of hunting is certainly important, a key to any successful mentorship program is imparting the ethics and norms of the activity to new participants.

When it comes to hunting, there has been rigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate about what is appropriate and what is not.

For example, in the past several years the WDFW commission banned coyote hunting contests, which some consider barbaric and suspended indefinitely a spring bear hunt. Those actions in turn have prompted hunters and one WDFW commissioner to proclaim that “hunting is under attack” in the Evergreen State.

At the same time, a survey commissioned by WDFW found that more Washingtonians than ever don’t care one way or the other about hunting — a concerning trend for an agency which gets about one-third of its annual operating budget from hunting and fishing license fees and associated federal money. It’s worth noting that a vast majority — 75% in fact — still support legal and regulated hunting.

At the core of much of this is a question of ethics, mainly when and how is the appropriate way to kill a wild animal? This chafes many professional wildlife biologists and managers, who point to the voluminous science supporting most modern hunting regulations.

As any biologist will tell you, however, the hard part of wildlife management is not the animals, it’s the people. And people make morality and ethically based decisions — often decoupled from ‘the science’ — all the time.

Is trophy hunting detrimental, or beneficial, to new hunter recruitment efforts?

Paul Lindholdt, a professor of English and philosophy at Eastern Washington University and a former hunter, believes the pursuit of big racks drives would-be hunters away.

On the flip side, Bart George, a professional wildlife biologist, makes the case for the scientific, and social, underpinnings of trophy hunting.

Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it’s a conversation that must be had. The vast majority of conservation and habitat restoration work in Washington, and the United States, is funded by hunters. So far, no equally reliable and impassioned funding source has been found.

All of which means a decline in hunting — for whatever reason — should concern us all.

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