When people kill wild animals they now call it "harvesting"

When we begin to see nature as mentor, gratitude tempers greed and the notion of ‘resources’ becomes obscene.” – Wes Jackson

WolfHunt_3One of the key concerns that I have in my work regarding connections in Nature is the failure of many conservationists, conservation organizations, and government “resource managers” to understand that mankind cannot control or manipulate Nature. Without burdening you with a lot of technical jargon,  systems scientists have known for years that systems such as ecosystems are not predictable by mankind. For example, we all know that a storm system may be predictable for a short time period. But to predict the weather accurately for more than a few days is not possible. We know that controlling the weather is a futile task. The very same issues apply to Nature’s ecosystems because ecosystems and weather systems operate in the same manner. It is unfortunate that the field of systems science uses their own jargon to communicate in a way that is not understood by most people in the field of biology and ecology. As a result, the explanations for poor predictability of system behavior remain elusive to field ecologists who are making important conservation decisions.

This lack of understanding about ecosystem predictability is reflected in the use of the words “harvesting” or “management” by many conservation people. IdahoWolfTo the conservation “manager”, “harvesting” or “wildlife management” means to kill an animal so as to control a population or an ecosystem. “Management” or “harvesting” are politically correct words that allow the speaker to avoid using the word “kill” when he or she is talking about culling a group of animals or birds. Sadly, the use of these terms also cover up and justify the widespread practice of trophy killing by hunters. There is absolutely no scientific basis behind the hunting community’s claim that they are conserving Nature by killing animals.

The use of the words “harvesting” or “culling” are indicators that the conservationist or hunter truly believes that he or she can somehow control Nature. For the hunter, these words also justify a personal need to kill an animal. Sadly, these people have no clue  regarding the consequences of their actions because they are incapable of making predictions. These folks are ignorant in the sense that they do not have the background or training to order the death of other creatures.

WolfHunt_1The long term consequences of these “harvesting” activities is the destruction of certain important connections in Nature. These broken connections include the disruption or destruction of “ecological services” provided by key predators such as wolves, bears, and cougars. This point was made clear when the wolves at Yellowstone National Park were eradicated under a government sanctioned program. The last wolves were killed in Yellowstone in 1926. But, starting in 1995, the wolves were restored in Yellowstone. There is a great video, Lords of Nature , which tells this story and makes a strong case against the “harvesting” of animals in Nature.

Much of my research for this blog site comes from web sites that I regularly visit. Over time, I have found these selected sites to offer information that is based upon solid science and good sense. One such blog site is called “Coyotes,Wolves,Cougars..forever!” . Blogmaster Rick Meril focuses his site on issues regarding top predators. Recently, Rick published a letter from one of his readers regarding the subject of “harvesting”.  Rick has given me permission to publish that letter from a John W. Laundré. Rick offers some of his own comments as a preface to Mr. Laundré’s letter:

John Laundre is back with us today with a “straight shooter” outlook on what he rightly acknowledges as the cowardly and politically correct usage of the word “HARVEST” as it is used by State Game Commissions and Hunting/Fishing Groups to describe the kill quota or the number of kills achieved for the particular animal under discussion. John is a long time Puma and carnivore biologist who co-authored one of our most meaningful “Predator and Prey” paradigms of our modern era—-THE LANDSCAPE OF FEAR (google to read more). Read his entire thesis and “spot-on” analysis of hunter hypocrisy below.

Wildlife “harvesting” by John W. Laundré

Today we are inundated with what many people consider to be politically correct terms.  These are words that are substituted for the real word we want to use but feel that others might find objectionable.  Euphuisms that tend to conceal what we really are saying in a cloak of benignity.

One of the most commonly used and presumably accepted politically correct terms regarding hunting and for that matter fishing of animals is “harvesting”.  Today we don’t hunt, trap, or fish, we…harvest!  What does that mean?    When I was young and went hunting, trapping and fishing, I took along something, gun, traps, rod and reel, that would hopefully kill an animal.  I did not bring along a spade or a rake.  My aim was to kill it, take its life away, not pull it out of the ground.  To read the hunting and fishing literature today is like reading a garden magazine.  So many of such and such animal were harvested this year, the crop looks good for the harvest season.  Our harvest goals are….

What happened?  How did we go from acknowledging that we actually went out to purposely kill an animal, supposedly to eat, to treating the whole operation as if it were a stroll through the garden looking for the ripest melon or tomato? Are modern hunters ashamed of what they do?  Are they trying to hide the fact of what they do, shoot, trap, hook…kill animals?  If so, why?  If as they say and I still somewhat believe, hunting, humans acting as predators, is a respectable activity.  We as with other predators evolved to feed upon other animals.  Though the fact of modern day living reduces, even eliminates our need to kill wild animals for food, doing so occasionally does not violate any laws of nature.  There are no retirement homes in nature and either an animal falls to a predator, possibly human, dies of hunger, or disease.  No wild animal dies of old age.

Note, I am not delving into the whole issue of whether or not we as modern humans need to kill, that is another subject entirely.  What I am arguing here is that if the “side” that advocates we have the “right” to hunt to kill animals, admits it!   Why are they so ashamed of what they do that they hide behind, tolerate the use of such a demeaning term…harvesting.  Animals are not melons, they are not corn, they are animals and if we want to use them, we need to kill them!  And we need to admit that is what we are doing!

It seems the epitome of hypocrisy for a hunter to brandish his gun, strut around bragging about the xxx animal he is going to or has…harvested!  Why do they do that?  Are they trying to make killing of animals sound less horrendous to those who don’t hunt?  For whatever reason, they have opted for the politically correct term that makes what they do sound no more malevolent than the ladies garden club where they “harvest” flowers, fruits, and vegetable.  Oh nooo, we are not killing, we are harvesting, those deer, that makes it alright.

This hypocrisy has to stop.  If hunters, trappers, fishermen, cannot openly admit that what they do is kill animals and continue to hide behind the skirts of gardeners, then they have no “right” to hunt.  Come on you big bwana hunters, admit it and let the chips fall where they may.  Be proud of what you do or put your guns, traps, fishing poles away and go harvest some real fruits and vegetables!  Anyone who harvests wildlife does not deserve to be out in the wild.

It is my hope that one of the words retired this new year is the ridiculous use of “harvest” to sanctify, justify, nullify hunting for what it is…killing animals.  Once we do that, then we can all honestly discuss not the right but the need to do so.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

16 Responses to “When people kill wild animals they now call it "harvesting"”

  1. The concept of harvest does not come from the hunters, it comes from the managers. Game animals are often managed with the goal of maximum sustained yield (by manipulating age and sex ratios). Game managers treat wildlife, particularly the high money game animals, as harvestable crops, hence the use of the term “harvest.” I’m not justifying it – just explaining where the term came from. It obviously has nothing to do with ecosystem health, but rather producing as many trophy animals as possible. It also gives the illusion that game managers know enough about the populations they are managing that they can accurately set these limits, but as you mention above, Bill, ecosystems are very difficult to predict and even harder to control. Chaos in action, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Hi Chris: It is good to hear from you again. And thank you for your clarification. Your use of the words “game manager” offer the same misguided concept as “harvest”. Indeed, the hunters are taking full advantage of these questionable metaphors, whatever the source, to justify their killing of animals.

      As noted in the post, I feel that the ultimate responsibility for these metaphors lies not with the hunters or the “game managers”, but with the system scientific community. These fine folks, particularly the group at Santa Fe Institute, are so deeply ingrained in their theories that they fail to see the true value of their wonderful efforts and discoveries. While I’ve said very little about this, my plan is to start a dialog with some of these folks in hopes of getting one or more field biologists on their team to become interpreters of the important concepts that have been developed. I have been slowly drafting my first communication.

      AS I play with my soundscape equipment, I regularly visit your web site. Thank you for your wisdom.

  2. “People ‘now’ call it ‘harvesting'”? I think you’re a century or more behind the times. Here’s a passage from p. 248 of Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”, part of his criticism of “big-game management’s” reliance on predator control:

    “The big game herds (usually deer or elk) then increase to the point of overbrowsing the range. Hunters must then be encouraged to harvest the surplus…”

    By your argument, we should not use the words hunting or fishing, either, because these are just killing. Yet you uncritically used the word “hunters” in your response above. Is it only animals that can be killed? Logging and clear-cutting kill trees, which I value highly.

    Harvest (or hunting) connotes legal killing by licensed members of the public. Poaching is illegal killing. Culling connotes government agents killing surplus individuals. Yes, it is all killing, but there is added meaning in the specific word used. Hunters do use terms like “kill shot,” so I don’t think they deny that they kill.

    I’m sorry, what was your point again?

    • Hi Brad:

      Thank you for your energetic comments. Questioning arguments are a vital part of any dialog and I greatly appreciate your skepticism.

      I careful tried to avoid expressing my personal feelings about “killing”. But, the word has caused a lot of controversy between opposing sides to the issue of animal culling. One point is that the word :”harvesting” is nothing more than a politically correct way to hide the fact that culling is going on. But, more important, I noted that: “There is absolutely no scientific basis behind the hunting community’s claim that they are conserving Nature by killing animals.” Because ecosystems are highly complex systems, human actions within an ecosystem are unpredictable. Just because a government agency decides it is legal to kill a certain number of animals, doesn’t mean it is a good decision. Systems science (and the Yellowstone Park example) has shown that human intervention does not work. Consequently, I am very much against any hunting except genuine subsistence hunting. The hunter’s claim that they are conserving Nature is pure bull!!! They are merely parroting ideas given to them by biologists who know little about how ecosystems really work. Instead of offering any real scientific basis for hunting quotas, these folks are now hiding behind politically correct terms. As far as you quoting Aldo Leopold ( a man I greatly admire), please note that modern systems science did not flourish until after his death. Ideas change as more knowledge is acquired. Again, thank you for your comments, Brad.

      • Here is more comment on Brad’s comment. A quote from Huffington Post [ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-a-vucetich/should-we-conserve-nature_b_6722048.html ] “Should We Conserve Nature for Nature’s Sake, or for Our Own?”

        “Increasingly, conservation conflicts with the welfare of many living creatures. We kill barred owls to save spotted owls in the Pacific northwest, kill wolves to save caribou in southern Alberta, kill brown-headed cowbirds to save songbirds, and in myriad other cases we kill organisms in the name of conservation.”

        My point is that we have no real idea of the consequences or the results of such actions. Only a prediction within a system tht is impossible to predict.

  3. Thank you Bill and John Laundre for addressing this issue. As a woman and a city dweller, anything that I might say is completely discounted. Having once mistakenly taken a Wildlife Management course, I found that certain scientists believed that it is not possible for Man to exterminate any species. They said that if hunters kill one half the population, there is still one half left. And one half after that and after that. There is always one half left in the bush. The logic of that floored me then and still does. I’m not sure that they had any real understanding of systems then and hope that they are at least open to discussion now.

    • Hi Merridy:

      We are indeed having a lively dialog thanks to Brad’s comments. Indeed, the subject is emotionally charged. Much comes from lack of knowledge. I see it a lot in Arizona where the cattle ranchers want to kill every wolf despite the fact that non-lethal methods are available and have been proven successful. HUnters fall into the same category. They can go to any grocery store for food at prices much cheaper than the cost of their weapons. So, they look for political forces to defend their need to point a gun at a critter. As I mentioned earlier, I think the real issue is that the people who really understand ecosystems can’t seem to speak the language that the rest of us understand.

  4. Hi William,

    First, I would like to say that I like how you lead this discussion. I would like to add my point of view, although it’s more general than these comments.

    I write to the hunters:

    Once upon a time I had read a book by Nobelist J. Coetzee in form of lecture. I’d known that the book is about animal rights and main heroine would give a lecture in their defense. I’d been waiting for discussion after her speech; I’d imagined this professor would blow everyone with her brilliant arguments. But she didn’t.
    She only said “killing animals is just not right”. And she didn’t give any rational arguments to support her words.
    The noble academic authorities were attacking her with arguments from cultural tradition, philosophy, contemporary biology, with the most clever arguments known to mankind. Although she could use rational arguments, she didn’t and just keep repeating her “killing animals is not right”.
    Ha, I was so disappointed!
    But this is it.

    We have 7 billions people on Earth, we destroy ecosystems day after day, we change global climate irreversible. Luckily nobody thinks about using the creepy argumentation about “regulation of ecosystem” to our own species. Why then we use it in case of the others feeling creatures?

    We use it to animals, because we can. The one and only reason we kill animals is because they’re weaker than us. We don’t have to be afraid any real consequences. We know that the animals feel suffering, miss for loved ones, raise their kids. But we kill them anyway. Because they can not defend themselves effectively and because we can get away with that.

    There is no and never will be any sufficiently brilliant argument that could justify causing more suffering, if it’s not linked to direct need to survive. This is not a matter of rational thought. It is only the matter of your personal decision.
    If you have animal targeted, just remember:
    rational explanation to do it or not to do it can be always found.

    You are the only person, who can decide, if this what you’re doing is okay.

  5. Thank you for your blog post! It’s very important to call out inhuman things like that are masqueraded as a tradition, cultural legacy, etc. Keep on writing great articles!

  6. Jan Natale says:

    Thank you for a great article. I am offended by the use of the euphemism “harvested” AND by our continual, deliberate, and misguided attempts to “manage” animal populations. Right now the issue of how to “manage” wild horses is making headlines. Funny how the wild horses “managed” just fine for hundreds of years before humans decided to intervene. If we can’t honestly admit that we are killing animals and be OK with doing so, then just maybe we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

  7. Laura Andersen says:

    Should we also be referring to pulling the carrots and beets out of the garden as” killing” instead of harvesting? Or pulling the ears off corn stalks as “amputating” ?

    Semantics all of it. Look at you teeth people, it’s in your DNA, you are omnivores. And the choice of what we want and when to eat is the most basic individual right we have as human beings. I hope we never lose that ability to decide what’s best for ourselves.
    It is more important to sustain the source of what we are “Killing, Harvesting,Culling and whatever word you want to use whether it be beets or an animal, So that our species and every thing that we consume does not become extinct..

    • Thanks for your thoughts Laurie. I totally agree with you. The context for the word “harvesting” that I find offensive is when the government or hunters cull (i.e. kill off) animals simply because they think they are performing an act of conservation by keeping groups of animals in check — such as the wolves. I maintain that their premise is totally without merit because it is impossible to predict Nature. Since they cannot predict Nature, they cannot possibly calculate a target population size to maintain. This is an explosive subject so they try to soften things up by saying they are “harvesting” animals when they are actually killing creatures to justify a target population size that is pure fantasy. Too add to the controversy, much of the “harvesting” is done based solely on emotion and the desire to kill something. Take a look at those photos on the Internet where a group of macho hunters stand proudly over a pile of dead wolves.

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