HUN­TERS, AN­GLERS LOVE THE BACK­COUN­TRY, TOO

Many sup­port re­stric­tions on off-road­ing, write Neil Ke­own and Cody Spencer

Edmonton Journal - - LETTERS - Neil Ke­own and Cody Spencer are co-chairs of the Al­berta Back­coun­try Hun­ters and An­glers.

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.

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