Wednesday, October 9, 2013


    When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) relocated their headquarters to Norfolk, Virginia in 1996, well over a million Virginians considered themselves hunters and anglers; and both parties were aware of the other’s agenda.  

It is the hunter’s and the angler’s sport, after all, that PETA works so diligently to abolish, under the premise that these sportsmen do not need to pursue such “violent” recreation “for subsistence.”  It may be so, but it is difficult still to look at the well-organized group of such sportsmen, and at the thriving populations of both game and non-game wildlife, without doubting PETA’s anti-sportsman philosophy, which, in fact, is currently the most dangerous and irresponsible threat to our wildlife resources.

    Sportsmen of Virginia, and, likewise, the game populations of Virginia, owe their contentment to one overarching governmental branch.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), founded in 1916, is the Old Dominion’s vanguard agency concerned with the health of native species, as well as their habitats.  It is the VDGIF that sportsmen in Virginia count on for the continuation of their sports.

    To this end, it is the sportsmen that fund almost half of the VDGIF’s over $57 million annual budget through license sales, which is implemented through habitat, wildlife, fisheries, and public land management across the state, directly benefitting wildlife.  Despite this agenda, PETA continues to oppose the sports that provide the backbone for the state’s strongest, federally-funded, conservation-minded department because of the activities it endorses. 

    But take for example the white-tailed deer, which had nearly been extirpated in Virginia by 1900.  Colonists, unrestricted by game laws, overharvested the animal that was so plentiful in the New World.  Modern hunting was not the cause of this near-extinction, but unregulated hunting.  By 1940, 24 years following the VDGIF’s establishment, Virginia’s deer population was increasing exponentially.  How would deer populations measure today without the restorative habitat management and restrictive game laws implemented by the Department?  Chances are, they wouldn’t around to be counted.

    History has repeated itself, in the instance of the plains buffalo, the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger, and the woolly mammoth, proving that the morality and fire within human peoples in significant numbers, native peoples included, are incapable of hunting fur and meat species stewardly, and will decimate populations left unchecked.  Thus, a regulatory body is necessary to protect species of value to humans from disappearing altogether from the Earth.

    But what about non-game species—the eastern hellbender, bald eagle, or rattlesnake?  They too, PETA claims, matter, as significant elements in maintaining adequate biodiversity in local—and, in some cases, foreign—ecosystems.  Vultures, for instance, though largely unappreciated, play the important role of decomposition and nutrient cycling.  They also serve as locator beacons for other scavengers—foxes, coyotes, eagles—who aid in the process, and laterally contribute to the control of disease originating from decaying carcasses.  In the interest of these disregarded decomposers, the VDGIF invests well over $500,000 and 6,000 hours of time annually.  Without decomposers like vultures, ecosystems would collapse, and undernourished lands would become the norm.

    The enthusiasm PETA places on climate change should warrant some appreciation of this safeguarding of biological niches.  Another initiative within the Department seeks to eradicate the non-native competitors of native bivalve species, which, as filter feeders, do their job to buffer water pollution.  Without these custodial wetland species, contaminated waters would quickly destroy our planet’s most sensitive ecosystems and the immensely rich population of the world’s fauna that they support, moreover compromising the filters of the air.  

    Why then, if sportsmen, and the VDGIF that they support more than the federal government itself, input such programs and funds to protect and keep healthy all species of wildlife, conserve their habitats, educate the public on living with and respecting them, and employ conservation officers in order to monitor illegal activity and prosecute criminals detracting from the well-being of our ecosystems, does PETA so radically and heartily oppose hunting and fishing?

    PETA’s struggle is one not uncommon in the world.  The conflicting ideals of eradicating animal suffering and preserving nature and our planet clash at the human level.  Without the activities of sportsmen, agencies such as the VDGIF would not be able to operate.  As a result, anarchy would rule in the woods and on our waters, non-natives would continue to immigrate into our native habitats unnoticed, and the nature of an overzealous people would once again prove that humans take what they want with reckless abandon.  The large-scale disruption of biodiversity, and the land devastation, pollution, and water contamination that would follow, are the primary ingredients for cataclysmic climate change, which would critically endanger the indigenous.  To deny governmental groups sponsored by sportsmen funding by prohibiting the recreational activities that provide them funding is to accept such a reality.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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