Are You a Hunter Conservationist?

by Jul 1, 2019Hunt/Fish

Have you ever read a news story where the journalist said something along the lines like, “He is a hunter turned conservationist?” Or, have you ever been to a public meeting and heard someone say, “I’ve been a hunter all my life but now I’m a conservationist.” How did that make you feel? Well for me, my response is usually, “Hold the freakin’ bus!”

Referring to hunters and conservationist as being diametrically opposed entities doesn’t sit right with me.  I know I’m more than just a hunter and more than just a conservationist. So are many of the hunters I know. 

Peeling back the layers though, being a hunter conservationist is more nuanced than just being in possession of a valid hunting license and believing in good “game management.”  To define a hunter conservationist, let’s start with a look at the key attributes of a conservationist.

In parts of the world, including the UK and Africa, being a conservationist (aka conservator) is a professional career. In Canada, we typically use professional titles like ecologist, biologist or wildlife researcher, and Canadians don’t usually think of being a conservationist as a job. 

In 2018, National Geographic published an article titled How to Become a Conservationist. While this article was specifically written as advice to people aspiring to be professional conservationists, several ideas stood out that are applicable to defining what a hunter conservationist is.

The first idea of figuring out where your passions and talents lie is fundamental to being a conservationist. According to the contributors of the Nat Geo article, we can make the biggest contributions when we do what we do best not what we think conservation needs. The second idea revolves around the reality that conservation is multi-faceted, and that conservation involves politics, economics, education and law enforcement etc. The Nat Geo article says that skills including social media, writing, photography, teaching, making money and even creating apps can all contribute to conservation.   

Nat Geo also articulated the idea that being a conservationist includes finding one place or one project you can dedicate serious time, energy and resources to as well as finding and engaging with collaborators. The idea of taking personal action as a core element of being a conservationist is echoed in Nat Geo’s article.

An article written by Gianluca Cerullo titled What Makes an Effective Conservationist? echoed the themes that are in the Nat Geo story. Gianluca said,

A conservationist is anybody who dedicates some portion of their time towards the protection and preservation of biodiversity and the environment.

Being an effective conservationist just involves being proactive in thinking about the ways you personally can make the biggest difference with your time and money.

In his article, Gianluca goes on to describe several traits that might differentiate an effective conservationist including trying to make evidence-based decisions wherever possible, having an outwards-looking mindset, understanding the bigger picture and having a willingness to commit to an issue for as long as it takes for impact to be made.

Let’s look at the hunter component of a being a hunter conservationist.

I reject the notion that suggests hunters are emotionless killers of animals. We are not. I disagree with those that say it is time for hunters to give way to “civilized” society. Anthropologists report that, throughout history, hunter-gatherer societies suffered from fewer famines and less food and resource shortages than “civilized” societies. A hunter’s way of life is sustainable.

Ancient human hunters lived in the animal world. But the more humans became dependent on agriculture, the more hunting transitioned from necessity to pastime in many cultures. However, hunting is such a deep human instinct that people, even to this day, deeply desire to re-immerse themselves in the animal world through being a hunter.

As early agrarian civilizations’ assault on nature spread, something remarkable developed in humans. Conservation became part of people’s conscious thoughts. The idea of conservation, at least in non-indigenous societies, traces back to Englishman John Evelyn in a paper submitted to the Royal Society of London in 1662.

Even though the modern conservation movement may have formally started as the idea of one man, the growth of the conservation ethic that followed was not merely an exercise in human thought by people with too much time on their hands. Rather, the conservation ethic evolved naturally as people witnessed the degradation of the lands that sustained them.

Over generations, the conservation ethic passed from conscious thought to instinct.  The modern hunter conservationist is a result of the ancient instinct to hunt having merged with the more recent instinct to conserve what is hunted.

The world, however, is a complicated place for today’s responsible hunter. Many people judge the actions of others based on whether they believe their actions are morally good or bad. To judge whether hunting is morally good or bad, people, including many hunters, judge the motives, intentions and character of other hunters. Hunters and non-hunters alike generally accept hunting as morally good when,

The motives of the hunter are for sustenance,

The intentions of the hunter follow lawful, humane and ethical hunting practices and,

The character of the hunter demonstrates behavior that is respectful and knowledgeable and that the hunter’s emotions are appropriate for their actions.

People are most likely to judge a hunter and the act of hunting as morally reprehensible when any one of these three elements of morality is violated. They are an all or nothing set of criteria for responsible hunting.

Combine all the attributes of a conservationist with the those of a responsible hunter and we have a working definition of a hunter conservationist. A hunter conservationist is not a type of hunter but rather a conservationist who is also a responsible hunter.

The principles behind being a hunter conservationist are important for building social dialogue. They are important principles to live by for Canadian hunters. Walking the talk is needed to break down paradigms that suggest hunting and conservation and hunters and conservationists are at odds with each other. Breaking this paradigm needs to happen so that we can all get on with meaningful conservation efforts rather confusing people’s understanding of conservation priorities by advocating that hunting is the line that separates conservation from the degradation of nature.

Being a hunter conservationist is not a state. There is no grand slam pinnacle achievement of hunter conservationist stardom. One can never be done trying to be the best hunter conservationist one can be.  Hunters are humans, too, and being a hunter conservationist is about making a concerted effort to fill in the gaps on our individual “Need to get better at ____” to-do lists.

Being a hunter conservationist is a life-long journey of learning, listening, communicating, collaborating, committing, being positive and pro-active, and actively making a difference. 

Cover Image: © Carry Hargrove / Adobe Stock

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