HUNTERS, ANGLERS LOVE THE BACKCOUNTRY, TOO
Many support restrictions on off-roading, write Neil Keown and Cody Spencer
Each fall as days grow short, nights grow frosty and foliage changes colour, hunters return to the field.
While farmers harvest crops and wildlife fattens for the long winter ahead, we who hunt reap our own rewards of the season. Those include not just healthy food from creatures that have never been held in captivity or hauled to a meat-packing facility, but also the chance to range freely across wild landscapes, connecting with nature in one of the most ancient of ways: as predators.
Some anthropologists suspect that hunting helped make us human in the first place, through the exercise of skill, reasoning, physical exertion and teamwork. Other people argue that hunting is an anachronism, no longer appropriate in a society that has other ways of producing food.
Where hunting is concerned, debates over ethics are inevitable.
Even within the hunting community itself, there are ongoing arguments about right and wrong. Ethical principles such as fair chase and restraint, after all, are the very foundation of the North American hunting tradition.
Like any other human activity, hunting can be tainted by laziness, cruelty or other human flaws. Unrestrained greed and commercial markets for dead animals drove some species of wildlife to extinction in the early 20th century. Fortunately, conservation groups founded by hunters themselves led the fight for more protective hunting regulations and the preservation of wildlife habitat.
Those efforts were successful. Elk, deer and pronghorn antelope, hunted to near-extinction across most of the continent, are more abundant now than at any time in the past century. Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl migrate from wetlands hunters paid to restore. Bumper stickers
Some hunters have always been at the front of the conservation movement.
boast that “hunters are the original environmentalists.” That’s at least partly true. Some hunters have always been at the front of the conservation movement. Most other hunters have been willing to follow.
Still, ethical debates continue. New issues emerge. Recently, in Alberta, the long-festering issue of landscape damage caused by too much motorized play and too many irresponsible off-highway vehicle users finally blew up. The trigger was the Alberta government’s decision finally — after 40 years of promises and inaction — to establish new parks in the Castle River area near Pincher Creek.
Many Alberta hunters and anglers support restrictions on off-roading. They want fish and wildlife to have safe, productive habitat and, as hunters, prefer to escape the noise and damage caused by motor vehicles and to interact quietly and respectfully with the land. This support cuts across all demographics but seems particularly strong among younger outdoors people attracted to hunting and angling by concerns for the ethical sourcing of food and authentic reconnection with nature.
Alberta hunters looked across the Rockies at British Columbia and south into the United States and saw an organization that takes strong principled stands on these sorts of issues: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. In April, a core group of Albertans — both hunters and anglers — started up our own provincial chapter. The group’s first initiative was to take a stand in support of the elimination of OHVs from the Castle Parks — and the continuation of muscle-powered, fair-chase hunting and fishing in those same parks.
When members of the new Alberta chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers go afield this fall they will seek their game on foot, on public land, and in the spirit of ethical restraint and conservation activism that has always defined hunting at its best. And their experiences there will inspire them anew, like so many before them, to stand up for healthy public lands, fair chase, the exercise of skill and restraint, and the continual renewal of Alberta’s proud hunter-conservationist tradition.