By Angela Reinhardt, Staff Writer
Last week I wrote an article about black bears’ hibernation patterns in north Georgia. I got in touch with my usual contact with the DNR and was directed to the state bear biologist for an interview. Without knowing I’d be calling, this biologist spoke with me for nearly an hour. His genuine enthusiasm for bears was obvious, and endearing. It was clear that he has a profound respect for bears, and in more general terms loves animals and the natural world.
The conversation made me think about all the other DNR folks I’ve interviewed over the years who seem to have the same high regard for nature – and because DNR officers are responsible for enforcing wildlife and conservation laws, the conversation also made me think about the hunters (and fishers) I’ve met since moving to Pickens County. In my experience, these people are (for the most part) deeply connected to the natural world, carry a profound respect for the environment and the animals that inhabit it, and want to ensure healthy animal populations for the future. How unfair it is that for many people these ethical hunters still have a bad rap, accused of being gun-toting mouth-breathers, and bloodthirsty murderers who kill for the fun of it. (That accusation sounds hyperbolic, but is stated again and again in comments posted in response to articles written by hunters defending themselves as animal/nature lovers).
In one poignant, thoughtful piece by animal advocate Paolo Marchesi, “Why I Hunt. How Did an Animal Lover Like Me Become a Hunter…?,” he discusses his animal activism (including participating in protests), and his abhorrence of the factory farming system.
“The reason I became a hunter is because of my love and respect for animals and nature….I am not going to stop eating meat, but I can assure you that when I take down an elk with my bow and eat healthy lean meat for a year or two I feel a lot better than when I take a bite off that plastic wrapped piece of beef.”
With all of his obvious compassion for animals, and finding what he feels is the most ethical way he can to eat meat, Marchesi still gets slayed in the comments section by several readers.
“You try to justify your murder of animals with this crap [B.S.] story…killing animals should be banned and people like you should be jailed.”
“You lost me at ‘hunter’…You can’t be a nature and animal lover and hunt…it’s that simple.”
He goes on to defend hunting as a necessary way to control animal populations – having seen animals die from starvation in areas that aren’t managed – and how a lack of predators makes “natural balance impossible.” Around a decade ago the U.S.D.A. thinned the deer herd in Bent Tree, which enraged several residents there. Marchesi, an Italian who moved to Montana in 1999, also applauds the U.S. fish and game agencies for putting in place and enforcing responsible and necessary hunting regulations.
I found numerous other articles written by hunters who felt the need to defend their reputations. Nate Granzow, in “I Love Animals and I’m a Hunter. No, That’s Not A Contradiction,” points out the savagery of nature in the wild, and how hunters enter into the natural world as one of nature’s predators. He also discusses the difficulty taking an animal’s life even after decades of hunting.
“One can be a part of the natural order while still showing kindness and tenderness toward all animal life – domesticated and wild…,” he writes. “To prey, a human hunter inserting themselves into this world is no different than the presence of any other predator….That doesn’t mean I don’t still feel a sense of sorrow and mournfulness when I successfully harvest game. Sure, there’s a sense of elation, too – I put in a lot of hard work and came away with organic, nutritious, humanely harvested food for my family – but it’s tempered by the knowledge that I alone was responsible for taking this beautiful creature’s life for my benefit…We don’t derive joy from causing pain, so we do our best to be merciful.”
He calls hunters the closest observers of nature, and he touches on their massive contributions to wildlife conservation (and in a different article how declining hunting populations have had negative impacts on environmental conservation efforts). There are certainly some bad apples who poach and engage in other immoral and disrespectful practices, but by and large I’d argue that there are overwhelmingly more ethical hunters out there than not who care as much – and sometimes more – about animals and nature as any non-hunting animal lover.