Wolves and hunters
Are hunters the problem, or the solution?
Dec 22nd 2012 |
Among those who want wolves to flourish, such hostility is understandable. Hunting helped drive wolves to the edge of extinction in America and western Europe. Hunters angered by the proliferating wolves’ impact on elk and other shootable species were behind the campaign to get them “delisted” in America. “Hunting has declined, and people are really mad,” says Doug Smith, head of Yellowstone’s wolf project. “It’s been a shitstorm.” Along with the livestock industry, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, supported by the hunters’-rights wing of the National Rifle Association, drove Congress to act.
The idea that hunting and conservation are incompatible is not only widespread among environmentalists: it also influences policy. When the French government decided that wolves should be culled, “the minister wanted it done by technicians not hunters,” according to Marie-Odile Guth, formerly of the French environment ministry. “The hunters would have taken a certain pleasure in killing a protected species,” she explains. “It didn’t conform to the ethics of animal protection.”
Hunters regard such talk as plain silly. According to Pierre de Boisguilbert of France’s Société de Vènerie (hunting with hounds), “They sent 30 civil servants to kill one wolf. This is an absolutely idiote situation.” Hunters, he says, would do the job more cheaply and with great enthusiasm. “It is ten times more passionate to kill a wolf than a bear or a boar.” American hunters are keen, too. This year, when Wisconsin opened its first wolf-hunting season in decades, 20,272 people applied for 1,160 licences.
Allowing hunters to cull wolves is evidently in the hunters’ interest. But it may also, perversely, be in the wolf’s—not as an individual, obviously, but as a species.
Without game there is no hunting, so recreational hunters are intrinsically conservationist. The Swedish Hunters’ Association, for instance, was founded in 1836 with the aim of building up moose numbers. At the time, there were 300 moose in Sweden. Now there are 200,000-300,000.
Where wolves are fully protected, they are competition for hunters, who therefore have no interest in their survival. But when they become quarry, “hunters have a clear incentive to make the species common,” says Angus Middleton of the European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation.
And letting hunters kill some of them makes the politics of protecting them easier. The anti-wolf camp is made up of livestock farmers and hunters. Hunters tend to be richer than farmers, and greatly outnumber them: in France, there are around 1.25m, in America there are 13.6m and rising.
Converting them, by allowing limited amounts of killing, can help protect wolves. The Finnish government tried to do that by issuing hunting licences when its wolf population started to rise in the early 2000s. Then the European Commission took it to court, hunting was banned once more—and poaching rocketed.
Permitting some hunting can also mitigate the sense of powerlessness felt by people told they can do nothing to protect themselves from wild beasts. “It makes them feel they’re not passive recipients of whatever wolves and bears do to them,” says John Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. “In small populations, hunting is inappropriate, but where there’s a big population, you don’t need the protection of every individual.”
But uniting hunters and greens is tough. The idea that they are on the same side makes sense, but feels wrong. And in man’s relations with wolf, feelings matter.