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NY Times article on hunting

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:30 am    Post subject: NY Times article on hunting Reply with quote
The New York Times

Locavore, Get Your Gun

Published: Decemmber 14, 2007

EVERY year, 15 million licensed hunters head into America’s forests and fields in search of wild game. In New York State alone, roughly half a million hunters harvest around 190,000 deer in the fall deer hunting season — that’s close to eight million pounds of venison. In the traditional vernacular, we’d call that “game meat.” But, in keeping with the times, it might be better to relabel it as free-range, grass-fed, organic, locally produced, locally harvested, sustainable, native, low-stress, low-impact, humanely slaughtered meat.

That string of adjectives has been popularized in recent years by the various food-awareness movements, particularly “localism.” Like many popular social movements, localism’s rallying cry is one of well-founded disgust: the average American meal travels 1,500 miles from field to fork, consuming untold gallons of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels along the way.

As a remedy, so-called locavores encourage a diet coming from one’s own “foodshed” — usually within 100 or 300 miles of home. The rationale of localism is promoted in popular books and Web sites: it leads to a healthier lifestyle and diet; brings money to rural communities; promotes eating meat from animals that are able to “carry out their natural behaviors” and “eat a natural diet”; allows consumers to visit the places where their food is raised; supports the production of foods that have fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides; and it keeps us in touch with the seasons.

While those sound suspiciously similar to the reasons many Americans choose to hunt, the literature of localism neglects the management and harvest of wildlife. This is a shame, because hunters are the original locavores. When I was growing up in Michigan, my family ate three or four deer every year, along with rabbits, squirrel, ducks and grouse that were harvested mostly within eight miles of our house.

I carried that subsistence aesthetic into adulthood. During my first semester away at college, for instance, my brother and I killed four deer on land that was 11 miles from campus; we never purchased a pound of industrially raised meat. We’d gone local and organic before anyone thought to put those two words together in a sentence.

Nowadays, however, with Vice President Dick Cheney blasting a donor in the face while shooting pen-raised quail, and the former rock star Ted Nugent extolling his “whack ’em and stack ’em” hunting ethos, American hunters do not have a very lofty pedestal from which to defend their interests. We could gain a great deal by refocusing the debate onto our relationship with a sustainable, healthful food supply.

There’s an obvious place to start: Even most nonhunters are aware of the deer overabundance in suburban areas. Annually, whitetail deer cause $250 million in residential landscaping damage; deer-vehicle collisions injure 29,000 people and kill 1.5 million deer; and 13,000 Americans contract Lyme disease.

State and federal wildlife management agencies contend that public hunting is the only cost-effective long-term management strategy. Yet they are forced to experiment with costly deer-control measures like high-wire fencing (it can cost $10,000 to $15,000 per mile), infertility drugs ($550 per deer), police sharpshooters ($100 to $250 per deer)and trap-and-euthanize operations ($150 to $500 per deer).

Why? Invariably, the answer comes down to a handful of factors: landowner aesthetics, liability concerns, social attitudes about guns, firearm-discharge restrictions and states’ public-relations concerns. Or, in short, because of tensions between hunters and the public.

While many people will never give up their opposition to killing Bambi, others may change their minds when they realize that destroying a deer’s reproductive abilities or relying on the automobile for population control is really no less wasteful than tossing fresh produce into a landfill.

Maintaining the ability to cull semi-rural and suburban deer herds is just one of many struggles facing hunters today, along with battling land development on wintering grounds, limiting oil exploration in our last wilderness strongholds of Alaska and combating the introduction of livestock diseases into wild animal herds in the Midwest. But an emphasis on resort-based quail shooting and whack-’em lingo are not going to persuade the critics.

Hunters need to push a new public image based on deeper traditions: we are stewards of the land, hunting on ground that we know and love, collecting indigenous, environmentally sustainable food for ourselves and our families.

Steven Rinella is the author of “The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine” and the forthcoming “American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.”

Only three things are certain: death, taxes and stupid gun laws.
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