Friday, January 29, 2010

What is Hunting - a philosophical view

There is an interesting series of posts going on at the Hog Blog started on The Thinking Hunter titled An Approach To The Hunter Ethic Problem. Due to the depth of the discussion they have decided to discuss it as a blog forum. To catch up please click on the above links and read the posts. It will be worth your time.

As the readers of this blog know the topic of ethical hunting and the concept of fair chase is at the core of the founding of Orion-The Hunters' Institute, founder Jim Posewitz's books and much of my work at VT Fish and Wildlife and with the IHEA.
Last winter Orion teamed up with the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and Colorado State University to host a think tank on hunting and how hunting could be framed so society would view it in a positive light in the 21st century. Participants included PhD's, state and federal folks, academics and a some NGO leaders. As many of these things go the discussion led to some very interesting but different than planned places. Copied below is an edited version of the report I put together following the retreat. Dr. James Tantillo is currently working on an in depth article as a follow up to our work.

Hunting Think Tank Report
16-18 January 2009

Why are our experiences and this discussion relevant?

The future of hunting is uncertain with hunter numbers on the decline and a big drop off coming as the baby boomers become too old to actively hunt. How we define ourselves will have an impact on this future. If the threshold of what is allowed, either legally or ethically, is set too low, people could decide not to try hunting because they don’t want to associate with folks they perceive to be behaving poorly. To offset this we could take the “elitist, yet democratically available notion” that narrowly defines hunting and makes all other practices illegal.
On the other hand, if the bar is set too high some people will be excluded and never get started. Taking an inclusive approach allows a diversity of philosophies, motivations, and behaviors and follows the Jeffersonian notion of live and let live.

What are the pros and cons of using a broad or narrow definition of hunting?

On the pro side, the higher numbers of hunters translates into financial and political support for agencies and conservation. However, this user-pays model is not viable now and will be less viable in the future, as more non-traditional wildlife users demand more services from Fish and Wildlife agencies.
More hunters also help with hunter recruitment (it takes a hunter to make a hunter has been the mantra).
On the con side, the attractiveness of hunting diminishes as it moves towards the lowest denominator. Non-hunters’ support for hunting in the context of hunter conduct, fair chase, utilization, etc. could and probably will erode if the definition is too inclusive.
Eric Nuse - Is sport an adequate term to explain hunting? It doesn’t seem to go quite far enough to justify the death of the animal. Should we coin a new word or find a better one to represent the context of what hunting represents? Words that come to mind are: the sacred sport or beyond sport, spirit of sport…
Should we come up with an adjective to describe hunting such as: responsible hunting, modern hunting, certified hunter…Or would it be better (although harder) to elevate the term hunting to where we feel it should be and debunk the negatives now attached to it by some?

What is recreational hunting: a conceptual model

Dr. Tantillo presented his research on hunting as a sport. Starting with play (unstructured or free, done for pure enjoyment) to games (rules, specific setting, goals, can be competitive, but done for its own sake) to sport (physical, written and unwritten rules, takes effort, competitive, done for the enjoyment).
Logically speaking, hunting as a voluntary leisure activity (play) has structure and rules that make it structured play (game) and a physical aspect that make it a physical game (sport). These relations are logically entwined whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Why this matters is because the structure and rules of the game give rise to our concepts and beliefs about fair play and fair chase. Again, this is true whether we like the term 'sport' or not.
Some sports are a variation referred to as athletics. Here the goal is to get the prize, to beat the competition and win. The goal of sports like hunting is in the enjoyment, or recreation of the activity itself ---getting the deer is icing on the cake. The possibility of the kill is necessary but accomplishing it is not, because the joy is in the striving or the hunt.
J.W. Keating addresses this in his1964 article in the journal Ethics, "Sportsmanship as a Moral Category," where he writes about the "purpose" of sport: The primary purpose of sport is not to win the match, to catch the fish or kill the animal, but to derive pleasure from the attempt to do so and to afford pleasure to one's fellow participants in the process.
Tantillo thinks this gets the issue exactly right, and offers one reason why food-based justifications fail: they make hunting ALL about the results, meaning, all about the killing. A hunt is not successful unless it yields meat. The pleasure of the hunt is the hunt itself.
Understanding hunting as a sport helps to cut through the complexity and diversity of hunting practices. Hunting as a sport and the concept of fair play or fair chase in hunting have infinite variety; thus, the notion that hunting is an open concept. It can be defined at the value level in the context of sport, but definitions seem to fall apart at the position or specific practice level.
This understanding could help hunters think about what they do, align their behavior with their reasons for hunting and assist in communicating this clearly to others. If we are successful, hunters will not have to sell the value of hunting. We will have to demonstrate that it is part of our sacred world and as important to our lives as religion and other types of recreation are to all people.
The importance of placing hunting right in the middle of the play universe, delays the tricky question (justifying death of animal) for later.

Additional Comments

Jim Posewitz summed it up: “Play>recreation>re-creation>eating the hunted validates the hunter and the hunted. "The Hunt" is born as play amid the pure joy of nature; the game becomes recreation to nature as re-creation. Through the kill and utilization, the hunted and hunter becomes one. When the hunted's renewal precedes all else, the circle closes and the game, sealed in blood, becomes sacred. They become one. Hunters validate the relationship when they assure the environment is suitable for the hunter and the hunted.
John Edwards – Rather than spend our energy defending the term sport hunting -that we already know many hunters and non-hunters find distasteful- maybe a better approach is to define what hunting is in the context of sport and pleasure without using the modifier.
Jim Tantillo - The importance of keeping the modifier 'sport' in mind is that logically this concept provides the only possible explanation of where ideas of "fair chase" come from, i.e. from ideals of "fair play" and sportsmanship--and explains why these ideals are important for thinking about recreational hunting. Whereas law obligates us to maintain the bare minimum standards of codified acceptable behavior, sportsmanship holds us to higher, uncodified standards of behavior, i.e. to standards of fair chase.
And we *voluntarily* elect to follow these higher standards, as opposed to being obligated (legally or otherwise) to follow them.

Other benefits of hunting; and confusing these benefits with why we hunt

If you want to play, you need a playground. Our playground is the environment and all the necessities of life, which are necessary for our lives and the lives of all the animals including those we don’t hunt. Creating this playground takes money, knowledge and skill. All of which hunters have supplied, thus the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. But all of these good things are not why we hunt.
When we try to justify hunting on these results, it comes off as self-serving and is easily countered. For example, a common justification for hunting is controlling populations. This falls apart when you look at a hunted species such as woodcock. There is no overpopulation of woodcock, yet we hunt them (and many other species like them). Does that mean they should not be hunted? Even species that need population control can be controlled by many other means such as sharp shooters, elimination of critical habitat or the introduction of predators.

Sacred vs. Profane

The profane world is the world of work and subsistence. You do work because you must in order to live. The sacred world gives you the reason to live beyond the basics of reproduction and survival. Play/games/sport are in the sacred sphere and are critical for man’s psychological and spiritual well-being.
History shows that the Greeks hunted rabbits for fun. Sport hunting has a far longer history than the 100 year span that most people think.
(The rest of this section was added by Jim Tantillo)
The connection of sport to religion is made most explicitly in the literature pertaining to the philosophy of sport, for example in Charles Prebish's anthology, Religion and Sport: The Meeting of Sacred and Profane.
But before we ask how sport can be seen as religious, we need first to see more fundamentally how play and leisure are sacred to humans.
At the risk of over generalizing, the sociology of religion typically characterizes our daily work or our routine daily toil as the realm of the ordinary, i.e., as the realm of the profane; whereas play, leisure, festivity, and celebration are the realm of the sacred.
In Leisure as the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper writes, "Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces to his own being. . . . Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude."
This insight highlights the importance of meaningful leisure activities such as hunting for human happiness. In this sense leisure (as is play) is generally seen in contrast to work. Pieper comments:
"Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as toil, leisure appears . . . in its character as an attitude of contemplative 'celebration,' a word that, properly understood, goes to the very heart of what we mean by leisure."
As regards hunting, one might argue that it is the experience of authentic leisure in hunting that is the spiritual experience, not necessarily the experience of hunting per se. Or stated another way, it is the contemplative aspect of hunting that we enjoy most when hunting,.
Here again we see the importance of interpreting hunting fundamentally as a form of play, i.e., as first and foremost a form of recreational activity. As Huizinga writes in Homo Ludens:
"PLAY. It is an activity that proceeds within certain limits of time and space, in a visible order, according to rules freely accepted, and outside the sphere of necessity or material utility. The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm, and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action."
Essayist Diane Ackerman builds upon Huizinga's themes in her book, Deep Play, and she emphasizes both the religious aspects of play but also echoes Pieper's view that leisure is a spiritual attitude:
"Deep play is the ecstatic form of play. In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights. Thus, deep play should really be classified by mood, not activity. It testifies to how something happens, not what happens. Games don't guarantee deep play, but some activities are prone to it: art, religion, risk-taking, and some sports-especially those that take place in relatively remote, silent, and floaty environments, such as scuba diving, parachuting, hang gliding, mountain climbing.
"Deep play always involves the sacred and holy, sometimes hidden in the most unlikely or humble places-amid towering shelves of rock in Nepal; crouched over print in a dimly lit room; slipping on AstroTurf; wearing a coconut-shell mask. We spend our lives in pursuit of moments that will allow these altered states to happen. The Australian Aborigines search for it on wilderness treks called walkabouts, during which young men of the tribe go alone into the dangerous outback to gain strength and wisdom. Buddhist lamas and Hindu sadhus travel, nearly naked, to pray atop glacial mountains in Tibet. People from many cultures have gone on soul journeys into the wilderness, where risk, hunger, pain, exhaustion, and sometimes self-torture might inspire visions. Young Masai men set off on a pilgrimage to Mount Kilimanjaro, the sacred center of their world, as part of the initiation rite known as Moranism. Native Americans have often used ritualized running to scale mental heights. The Hopis stage many such races every year, featuring paint, costumes, fasts, and prayer. The Crow Indians run to exhaustion to persuade the gods that they deserve good luck. The Zuni run twenty to forty miles while kicking a sacred stick. The official purpose of these ordeals may be religious, but the physiological goal is to impel the initiate into a higher state of consciousness that kindles visions and insights, in a locale where survival may depend on a combination of ingenuity and nerve."
The literature on play, deep play, and the theology of play is vast. I used "sacred" and "profane" at the McGraw think tank as a kind of shorthand for the entire subject. To me the concept of hunting as play, i.e. as deep play, again is what explains so much, from understanding the rules of fair chase as resulting from the structure of hunting as play to the experience of the spiritual felt by hunters when they truly lose themselves in the activity.

Harm vs. Offense

This concept can be summed up as follows: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” Swinging a fist may be offensive but it is tolerated up to the point of doing harm. The American form of democracy allows for offensive people to do what they want as long as they do no harm.
This question gets tricky when you try to look at hunting practices through the eyes of non-hunters and when you project into the future. How much political consideration should be included in our decision making on practices that may hurt the future of hunting?

Definition of Hunting

Sunday morning we came back to the definition of hunting. On Saturday, we were divided on whether we should try to draw a line in the sand – on this side was hunting; on that side was shooting or killing or something else. Was high-fence hunting doing us harm or was it offensive? (It was noted that reasons to oppose high fence operations-such as denial of wildlife as a public resource; thus the denial of several components of the North American Model, such as “public resource”, “democracy of allocation” and allocation by law, among others-are the best arguments against captive shooting operations.)
How about preserve bird hunting such as is practiced on the grounds where we were meeting? Again, evaluation of the circumstances is important, in this case looking at it from topography or location. The McGraw Center is an island of opportunity set in a sea of concrete/suburbia 40 minutes from downtown Chicago. It is as good as could be done in this place and time. Whereas, a western wilderness of millions of acres of public lands is as good as could be done in that place and time- both the product of the conservation ethic of hunters.
Conversely, a high fence operation out on the vast open spaces of
Texas represents a denial of the North American Model and a retreat to the fortress that is not necessary for any real conservation purpose.
Consensus began to emerge that most of these practices did not rise to the level of harm, from the hunter ethic view. Most of us felt that they and some other hunting methods did serve as an entry point for new hunters and opened the possibility for them to gain more skill, so they too could eventually enjoy a wilder and more challenging hunting experience in the future.
Edwards’ comment - We started to consider the benefits of hunting and hunter numbers and explored the idea that if the results of the hunting practice are positive then the practice should be accepted and would constitute hunting. Much of this we wrestled with and I don’t think that we really arrived at a consensus – several unresolved issues. Do we want to make these “open” ideas available to misinterpretation?

Framework for thinking through hunting ethics and esthetics/preferences

We decided it would be very helpful for agencies, rule-making boards and hunters to develop a framework to assist in working through what is acceptable hunting and what is not. This could be in the form of a series of questions, a decision tree or something else. If we do this well, such a framework could over time become the equivalent of the seven sisters of the North American model, and we could offer talks, workshops, and guidelines for asking these questions and making informed decisions. This process could also help locate areas of disagreement and help focus the debate where it will do the most good. Currently there is a lot of time is wasted on fighting over preferences (mistaken for ethics), which only divides hunters and distracts from the pressing issues.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

And the Oscar goes to…..Aldo Leopold?!?

From the Wildife Society Blog

And the Oscar goes to…..Aldo Leopold?!?
Yesterday at 11:41am

The Guardian describes China’s chic approach to make wildlife conservation more appealing. The lavish ceremony, complete with Chinese celebrities, prizes and Oscar-style glitz, was held again this year to honor wildlife heroes by escalating them to celebrity status. Although China has more nature reserves than any other country, they can’t compete with the ever-rising markets for endangered species. The goal of The Second China Border Wildlife Conservation Awards Ceremony was to highlight the federal employees such as the border patrol and customs police who risk their lives tracking down armed smugglers and confiscating contraband animal products. In America, we might not need to concentrate as much on tackling wildlife smugglers, but we still need to fight for publicity for the thousands of endangered species, of which only a small fraction are protected under the Endangered Species Act. I’m not sure if China’s celebrity approach will, in fact, reach a wider audience and consequently transform people’s actions but I can guarantee it’s a better strategy than posing nude (for animal rights…so they say) and becoming spokesmen for environmental issues, which they have no credibility or knowledge of, as American celebrities tend to do.

Read full story here:

Ethics versus Preferences

Some of the recent discussion on this and other blogs has reminded me of the need to carefully distinguish ethical or moral values from other, non-moral values. Non-moral values can include aesthetic values, or economic values.

The following is the text of an article I originally published in the IHEA journal that explores some of the differences between ethical values and non-moral aesthetic values as these pertain to recreational hunting. Perhaps this can help further the dialogue a bit. thanks for reading.


Ethics versus Preferences

When I give lectures on the topic of hunting, I find that there is a need to distinguish between hunting ethics and hunting aesthetics, or between ethics and preferences. Perhaps due to our underdeveloped understanding of ethics, most people today who think about hunting tend to lump all value questions together under the heading “ethics,” without regard for whether that classification is accurate or not. Most of what passes for “hunting ethics” today is really hunting aesthetics. I believe that when hunters speak of a “right way” or a “wrong way” to hunt, they generally mean something more like “the way I like to hunt” versus “the way you like to hunt.” (We see this in current disputes about the use of antique muzzleloader rifles versus modern inline muzzleloaders; about hunting with hounds versus dogless stalking; or about the merits of compound bows, recurved bows, longbows, and crossbows.)

Aside from hunter safety and the issue of killing animals cleanly, quickly, and humanely, there are very few ethical issues involved in how the practice of hunting is conducted. Hunters and anti-hunters need to be made more aware of this as well. Much anti-hunting legislation that has been passed so far, in the U.S. and elsewhere, has regulated essentially aesthetic aspects of the hunt: the practice of hunting over bait, the use of one type of technology over another, or the hunting of game with hounds. This is a bit like legislating one's preference for vanilla ice cream. If hunters and anti-hunters were more aware of the essentially aesthetic nature of these various hunting practices, I hazard the guess that there would probably be far less eagerness to regulate or ban certain forms of hunting on the part of either hunters or anti-hunters.

Examples Illustrating Hunting "Ethics" versus Hunting "Preferences"

There is a difference between the “morality of hunting” and what many hunters refer to as “the ethics of hunting” (for an example of the latter, see e.g., Posewitz 1994) The first involves the moral discussion of the rightness or wrongness of hunting in general, the latter involves the ethics of a specific hunting practice. The morality of hunting covers all forms of hunting, each with its own individual set of traditions, unique customs, and particular “ethics of practice.” In contrast, what most hunters think of as the “ethics of hunting” generally refers to the specific rules that govern a particular form or genre of hunting, or one might think in philosophical terms of different styles of hunting. Each style, genre, or form of hunting has a loyal following and, usually, an internally consistent set of ethical and aesthetic standards that typify the form.

I generally hesitate to weigh in on questions of “hunting ethics,” which usually involve more aesthetic than ethical issues. One or two examples may illustrate the point. Shooting ducks on the wing is one case: true devotees of duck hunting insist upon the necessity of a “rule” to shoot ducks only on “the wing,” i.e. in the air, and not while they are at rest on the water. The phrase “sitting duck” captures the essence of unsporting practice—the shooting at any target that is not “fair game.” And yet, shooting a duck on the water may be a far more deadly shot, more likely to kill the bird cleanly, more guaranteed to put a bird “in the bag” than an ethically riskier shot at a duck flying straightaway at a high speed over forty yards distant. “Potting” ducks (as in killing a duck for the pot, i.e. as food) on the water in the latter case is simply a violation of the aesthetic norms that make duck hunting, duck hunting. The question of how ducks are shot during the course of duck hunting is thus largely (not entirely) an aesthetic issue and not an ethical one at all. This distinction is often misunderstood by hunters as well as by anti-hunters.

Another example may cement the point. The practice of “baiting” game animals is constantly debated among hunters as a question of “hunting ethics.” (I will ignore for the moment concerns about CWD and the like.) Critics say that baiting is too easy and that it reduces the amount of effort and skills needed to successfully hunt game animals such as deer, bear, or moose. Practitioners of the art of baiting typically respond, “Don't knock it unless you've tried it.” Aside from the moral issues surrounding the vice of laziness and related moral concerns about the lack of human character such a vice implies, baiting does not seem to be an “ethical” issue per se as much as it is an aesthetic issue. Let me explain.

In northern Wisconsin there is at least one individual that I know of who begins his daily baiting of deer at least two months before the beginning of deer season. Reasoning that he wants the deer to show up at his stand in the woods when he is there, he goes out to the woods twice a day: once in the morning to lay out his spread of corn, apples, sugar beets, and whatever else he uses to attract deer to his location, and then once again in the evening to take it all away. That's two trips a day, for two months: or 120 trips to the woods, all in the hopes that the deer become habituated to visiting his chosen site only in daylight (legal shooting) hours. During the two months of baiting, this individual also occasionally climbs in his tree stand over the bait pile for the pleasure of simply watching the deer that come by. His enjoyment of deer hunting is thus extended considerably in this way, and during the time period when he is simply a wildlife watcher certainly does not involve killing in any way. All of this is for the privilege of being able to select his own venison, “on the hoof” so to speak, come opening day.

Another deer hunter hunts his own land and sits under apple trees that the previous owners planted some seventy-five to a hundred years earlier. He shoots and kills the first deer that comes along on opening day.

Who is to say which hunter has the richer, more authentic hunting experience? If the primary objection against the practice of “baiting” is that it is too easy and requires little or no effort, then certainly the Wisconsin deer hunter has put far more effort into killing his deer than has his counterpart who has merely staked out his deer stand on opening day and rather opportunistically “hunted” the deer he knows beforehand will frequent his apple trees.

In the case of the habitual deer baiter, what outsiders would criticize as unfair advantage and unsporting practice actually contributes to a year round interest in deer. The deer baiter is probably more of a “hunter-naturalist” or “nature hunter” than most hunters. His shot at close range on opening day is almost assured of being a well-aimed, carefully selected, and quickly killing clean shot.

The second hunter may hunt only deer; and only hunt once a year. His hunting experience lasts approximately an hour, or two at the most, among the apple trees on opening day. He may not give much thought to nature, to deer biology, to the wind or the vagaries of scent, or to much else. (Perhaps he is a college professor who is in a hurry to get back into the office for a 9:30 appointment with a student advisee.) Nonetheless, his shot at close range on opening day is almost equally assured of being a well-aimed, carefully sighted, and quickly killing clean shot.

And yet at the moment of the kill, each of these two individuals may feel that pang of remorse: that momentary sense of pity and fear, of attraction and repulsion at what they have done—regret for having killed, but gladness for having done it well. That emotional response may in fact be partly what drives them each year to make the effort that they do make, to get up well before dawn on opening day and to go afield in pursuit of killing a deer. Each individual experiences the hunt in a different way. Each individual takes care to ensure that there is a high probability of killing the animal almost instantly if and when the opportunity to shoot presents itself.

Where these two hunters' experience differs is in the respective style or aesthetics of their hunts, not in the ethics of their hunts. “Ethics” generally is a term that is chronically misused in the popular hunting press. Each hunter follows his own ritual way of preparing for the hunt; each hunter conscientiously minimizes the chances of wounding and losing a deer; and each hunter enjoys the hunt in his own fashion. “Baiting” of game animals seems to attract the same type of criticisms that the potting of sitting ducks does, and for similar reasons. But I think it important to recognize that each form is simply a variation on a theme: the musical metaphor is apt.


For these and other reasons I believe that for the most part, the state and other people should stay out of these hunters' business. Each hunter experiences the hunt in his own idiosyncratic and highly personal way. Assuming the hunter is respecting the laws designed to protect game populations and human life and property, each hunter acts ethically. Neither hunter is hurting anyone else. (The deer, if well shot, certainly feels almost nothing.) Each hunter's choices, whether hunting over bait or hunting on one's own land, simply implies different aesthetic preferences, and little else. I cannot speak for either hunter's experience, nor would I want to impose my own idiosyncratic hunting values and force my aesthetic preferences on another hunter. I may choose to employ my full powers of aesthetic suasion to convert either or both hunters over to my way of thinking, but that's as far as my legitimate authority in either hunter's affairs should extend. In other words, as a matter of concern for social or governmental intrusion, hunting should be virtually “off the radar screen” for the moral or aesthetic police.

And as a group, hunters are their own worst enemy when it comes to pointing fingers at each other and saying, “My way is better than your way; so let's ban your way.” Such arguments are often made by hunters who profess to wanting simply “to clean up hunting's image.” In reality, such well-intended efforts by hunters may simply be hastening hunting's demise.


orig pub info:
Tantillo, James A. (2004) "Ethics Versus Preferences." Hunting and Shooting Sports Education Journal 4(1): 39-40, 47.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ballistics Calculator

I recommend visiting this new site and plugging in your favorite loads. We all strive for one shot kills - this calculator can help and it is way cheaper than figuring out bullet drop and wind drift on your own. Enjoy...

Winchester Ballistics Calculator

Winchesters' award winning ballistics calculator is considered the most advanced one on the market, using cutting-edge technology to provide ballistics information for shooters and hunters.

The Winchester Ballistics Calculator allows users to choose their type of ammunition and compare bullet types with easy to read and high-tech ballistic charts and graphs. Enter specific conditions like wind speed and outside temperature, adjust zero marks for sighting in, and then view the ballistics of your favorite load.

Monday, January 25, 2010


From NSSF:

WISCONSIN'S MENTORED HUNTING LAW HITS THE TARGET . . . After the first season of mentored hunting in Wisconsin, officials are calling the program an unqualified success, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We had good participation and, most importantly, an excellent safety record, said Randy Stark, chief conservation warden with the state's Department of Natural Resources. Some 10,564 young people aged 10 and 11 were introduced to hunting last fall in Wisconsin because of a new law that became effective Sept. 1, 2009, and 13,271 mentored hunting licenses were sold. Wisconsin is one of 28 states to adopt Families Afield legislation, an initiative of NSSF, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, to break down barriers preventing young people from hunting with their families and other supervisory adults.

Note from Eric - Hopefully Vermont's Apprentice hunting bill (H243) will move this winter. Currently it is in Ways and Means after passing out of Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources last session.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Last 10 years were warmest on record

From the NY Times - more bad news, but not unexpected. I crossed Lake Champlain on the ferry last week - not a sign of ice on the big lake. I believe this will make 11 out of the last 13 years that the lake doesn't freeze.

NASA report: Last 10 years were warmest on record
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration released figures on Thursday that indicated that 2005 was the warmest since record keeping began in 1880, and 2009 was the second warmest.
New York Times ; Jan. 22

The only way to hunt . . .

with a spear.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's time for Vt. hunters to see orange

Take the poll to the right and give us your reasons in the comment section. In talking to folks at the Yankee Classic I was supprised at who was for it and who was opposed. I'd love to hear what you think...

From the Rutland Herald

It's time for Vt. hunters to see orange

Dennis Jensen Staff Writer - Published: January 17, 2010

A heavy fog drifted in that morning. It was midway through the firearms deer season in 2006 and I was running a bit late. I quietly made my way through a stand of 20-year-old pine trees And low, thick brush when I detected movement, about 50 yards away.

I stopped and studied the figure. It took a few moments before the object materialized into a man — a man dressed head to toe in camouflage clothing.

I never lifted my rifle to look through the scope. My policy is, unless I can clearly see a deer with my own vision, I won't raise my rifle and risk making the mistake of a lifetime.

I was stunned. He was facing away from me and moving slowly, as if he was stalking a deer. He never saw me, despite the fact that I was wearing a blaze orange hat and vest. I watched him walk away, then made my way to a ground blind in a thick section of woods some 50 yards away.

Perhaps three hours later that morning, the same hunter found his way back to my ground blind. My blaze orange cap, hanging from a nearby limb, gave me away.

I recognized the young man as a nearby resident. We talked for a few minutes and then he was on his way. I sat there stunned, once more. Even his boots were camouflaged.

That image, on that morning, stays fresh in my mind because, to this deer hunter, wearing camouflage clothing during the firearms deer season is not merely a poor decision — it could cost you your life.

I'll take that step farther: Going into the deer woods — or hunting moose, bear or small game, for that matter — without wearing a blaze orange cap and vest could cost you your life.

Here's why: I understand the point of view of some Vermonters who say they don't need to wear a blaze orange (also called hunter orange) hat or vest or both items. From their standpoint, they are safety minded to the point that they would never shoot another human. At least that is what they say.

Even assuming that that is true, why would anyone assume that everyone else in the woods is as safety-minded as you are? The fact is, where the wrong people are concerned, the woods can be a very dangerous place.

Every year, hunters are mistaken for game and shot: some are peppered with bird shot; some are seriously wounded by rifle fire; others are fatalities, carried out of the woods.

No one is immune from hunting mishaps. Even folks wearing blaze orange are occasionally shot. But, the data is in and it is irrefutable: Almost half of Vermont's hunting-related shootings might be prevented if hunters wore hunter orange, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

While 40 states require hunters to wear at least some blaze orange, Vermont does not.

Maine requires deer hunters to wear a blaze orange hat and vest; New York and New Hampshire have no blaze orange law.

Chris Saunders, the hunter education coordinator for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, said the department is clear about its position on wearing blaze-orange clothing while hunting deer, bear, moose, "basically everything but waterfowl hunting, turkey hunting and bow hunting.

"We absolutely, strongly recommend that all hunters, during the firearm deer season, wear at least a blaze orange hat and vest in the field," he said.

Wayne Jones, the sportsman education administrator with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, said that hunters wearing blaze orange clothing are far safer in the woods than those who do not.

Over the past 10 years, more than 20 people were killed when they were mistaken for deer or bear and only one was wearing blaze orange, he said.

"A person with no orange is 12.4 times more likely to be shot than a person who is wearing hunter orange," Jones said.

Vermont had three hunting fatalities in 2005, a staggering statistic for a state with about 80,000 licensed big-game hunters. Those deaths sadly illustrated how "mistakes" are made during deer season as well as in bear, moose, turkey, small game and other seasons.

The two fatalities that occurred during the 2005 firearms deer season might have been avoided if blaze orange had been worn by the victims.

Every year, it seems, a member of the Vermont Legislature comes up with a blaze orange bill. And every year, the bill is dropped like a buck shot in the spine.

Most Statehouse legislators develop a form of "political paralysis" when it comes to any proposal that involves the Vermont deer season.

In truth, they have little or no idea just how popular or unpopular a blaze orange bill might be.

But they are savvy enough to know that taking on any issue involving deer hunting can be politically dangerous. In the end, they would rather ignore an issue that would clearly save lives than invoke the wrath of the few and the loud.

Like plenty of Vermonters, I don't like having Big Brother telling me what I can and cannot do. But there are times — and this is one of them — when a life-saving law is in the public interest.

It's time Vermont caught up with 40 other states in this country. A blaze orange law would save lives. That's good enough for me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nuse named Executive Director

Press release sent out for Orion by me:

For immediate release

Orion-The Hunters’ Institute Names Vermonter Executive Director

Orion is pleased to announce the promotion of Eric Nuse to executive director.
Nuse served 33 years with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as the game warden for Lamoille County and State hunter education training coordinator. He is the former executive vice president of the International Hunter Education Association. After retiring in 1996 he joined the board of Orion becoming president in 2009. Orion founder Jim Posewitz notes that, because of Eric’s experience and his personal commitment to hunting, he is in an excellent position to take Orion across the start-up threshold and strengthen the organization’s educational mission as hunters and hunting find their course in the 21st century.
The Montana based organization is also moving its business office to Vermont. Orion is best known for its strong stance on ethical hunting and promoting the value of North American’s hunting heritage. Posewitz’s book, Beyond Fair Chase, is a standard for hunter education classes in North America with 500,000 copies in circulation. For more information please contact us at 802-730-8111, or visit

Eric Nuse, (802) 730-8111
Jim Posewitz (406) 229-2795

Issues Related to Hunting Access

From Responsive Management:

Issues Related to Hunting Access in the United States

The purpose of this study is to better understand issues related to hunting access. Research indicates that difficulty with access to lands for hunting has become not just a point of frustration, but a very real barrier to recruiting and retaining sportsmen. A nationwide telephone survey was conducted to look at factors related to hunting access in-depth, to identify solutions and incentives that may improve access, and to assess the success of many national and state initiatives and programs related to hunting access. In addition to the nationwide analysis, 17 states were oversampled in this study to examine state-specific factors and programs related to access.
Click here to download national and state reports

From the National report:

The survey asked eight questions about possible reasons that landowners may close their land to public hunting. For each possible reason, the survey asked hunters if they think it is a very important reason, a somewhat important reason, or a not at all important reason that landowners close their land to the public for hunting. Five items stand out above the rest in the ranking by the percentage saying the reasons are very important, the top three of which relate to misuse of the land: irresponsible shooting, alcohol use, or other bad behavior by hunters (72% say this is a very important reason that landowners close their land); property damage caused by hunters (excluding litter) (67%); litter (64%); the landowner wanting to allow only personal/family use of the land (64%); and liability concerns (58%).

Monday, January 11, 2010

No Pay, No Say

From Fly Rod + Reel online by Ted Williams.
Note - I am involved with the Vermont Wildlife Partnership that is pushing for broad based, adequate and sustainable funding for the VT Fish and Wildlife Department

Even in the best of times, the funding system for state fish and wildlife management is grossly inadequate. But three states have implemented partial fixes, and Congress may soon offer federal relief.

No Pay, No Say

By Ted Williams

... Missouri is one state in which the sporting culture never devolved. Rather than puffing about the accomplishments of their dead ancestors while attempting to preserve their power base by fighting public funding, Missouri sportsmen built a management model for the nation. It wasn’t easy. The Conservation Federation of Missouri—which includes virtually all the state’s hunting and fishing outfits—started its campaign for increased revenue for the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1969, 32 years after it had shepherded through a constitutional amendment to establish the agency. The federation sponsored a ballot initiative that would have raised $20 million a year by levying a one-cent tax on each bottle of soda. But the drive withered under intense lobbying by the St. Louis-based Seven Up Inc.

Smarter and tougher from that defeat, the federation launched a campaign for another ballot initiative, this time for a one-eighth-of-one-percent state sales tax, with proceeds to be allocated to the Department of Conservation for fish, wildlife, and forestry. Resistance was formidable. The Farm Bureau ranted endlessly about what it called a “government land grab.” And if there’s one thing legislators hate, it’s dedicated funding because it circumvents the appropriations process and makes them feel nonessential.

...And for all the enlightenment in state wildlife agencies and all the evolution in America’s sporting culture, there is still no shortage of knuckle draggers to preserve good-ol’-boy networks. Nowhere is this more apparent than in otherwise progressive Vermont, where, as in so many states, the Fish and Wildlife Department is nearly busted. Between 1987 and 2008 sales of hunting licenses declined from 111,542 to 80,831, sales of fishing licenses from 161,014 to 122,642. The agency has gone begging to the legislature for extra funds, never with good success, and it has been laying off staff and leaving positions open.

So the department’s former commissioner, Steve Wright (then the National Wildlife Federation’s northeast representative), and Patrick Berry (then communications director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council) helped develop a legislative mandate for a study committee that would explore alternate funding. And they helped put together a support coalition called the Vermont Wildlife Partnership with a strong, diverse membership of 60 groups—from Wright’s and Berry’s outfits to Trout Unlimited to Audubon Vermont to the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

In due course the study committee hatched a proposal (Vermont has no ballot initiatives) to redistribute one-eighth-of-one-percent of the existing sales tax to the Fish and Wildlife Department. Of every 48 cents collected, 31 would go to the general fund, 16 to the education fund, and 1 cent to the Fish and Wildlife Department. It wasn’t much, but it would boost the agency’s paltry budget from about $14 million to $20 million.

“Governor Jim Douglas has a mantra of ‘no new taxes,’ ” says Wright. “The word on the street was that just at the end of the 2007 legislative session, his office found out about the study committee and sent over one of its heavies to proclaim that the governor wouldn’t sign the bill unless he could appoint committee members.” Co-chairing the committee was Douglas appointee James Ehlers, who had gained public attention by whipping sportsmen to a froth of paranoia with hook-and-bullet-rag harangues about alleged plots by greenies who, he charges, are “equating the constitutional rights of humans with the supposed rights of bugs.”

Current Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Wayne Laroche—an Ehlers acolyte who once wrote that wilderness sacrifices “tangible values to achieve the ‘spiritual’ values of the so-called environmentalists at the expense of traditional users”—had been propelled to office by the anti-wilderness, pro-clearcutting, pro-mechanized-access-at-any-cost Hunters, Anglers, and Trappers of Vermont (HAT), which Laroche used to serve as a director. HAT perceives alternate funding as a plot to keep its members out of the woods and turn over wildlife management to anti-hunters. Basically, Laroche killed the sales tax proposal when he announced to the press that it was “imprudent.”

“The whole process became a tragicomic opera,” says Wright. “Laroche got up and gave an hour-and-a-half PowerPoint about all the things the department was going to do and how it wouldn’t need any more money. If you had been there, you’d have laughed out loud. Then Ehlers talked about everything the study committee hadn’t done—‘Yes, I co-chaired the group, and our members agreed on an eighth-of-a-percent sales tax, but they didn’t say how the money would be spent. . . .’ ”

The other co-chair of the study committee was Jim Shallow, conservation and policy director for Audubon Vermont. “I don’t have a lot of hope for the near term,” he told me. “The fiscal situation here is really bad. We just had a budget enacted over a gubernatorial veto.”

In most states, an element of the general public complains that it is denied a voice in wildlife decision making. But if it wants a say, it has to pay. Moreover, I have always questioned the fairness of “user-fee” funding in which hunters and anglers are taxed on their equipment when they’re already giving the general public a free ride by providing it with national wildlife refuges purchased and managed with duck-stamp revenue, by providing it with permanently protected state lands and waters with their license revenue, and by protecting it from irruptions of ungulates. Under today’s regulations no species is remotely threatened by hunting or fishing, and a few (that would otherwise overpopulate) are benefited. The general public should pay for protection and restoration of its fish and wildlife, but the people who should pay most are those who hack, gouge, and poison habitat. There ought to be a “resource-extraction tax.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Otter Creek decision reminiscent of old buffalo hunter

From the Great Fall Tribune:

December 31, 2009
Otter Creek decision reminiscent of old buffalo hunter
I attended the State Land Board Hearing Dec. 21, not to testify, since I had done that in writing, but to watch the political theater around a major decision.
The rationalization that emerged to cause four of the five board members to vote in favor of leasing Otter Creek coal was that somebody was going to supply the coal, so why not us. After all, regulatory safeguards will protect us, there is an export potential to Pacific Rim countries, and we can pick up some big revenue.
It was, however, not possible to view the proceedings solely in the context of Otter Creek coal and the Tongue River Railroad to haul it away. There was more before the board than a simple decision to lease or not to lease coal.
The testimony relative to pollution, climate change, high-sodium coal, ruptured aquifers, tons of carbon emissions, and unsustainability mounted as witnesses presented their views.
The board's carefully crafted responses carried the hearing through the morning. Listening to the board, my mind drifted back to Charles "Buffalo" Jones, a 19th century commercial hide hunter.
Here is what he said:
"Often while hunting these animals as a business, I fully realized the cruelty of slaying the poor creatures. Many times did I 'swear off,' and fully determine I would break my gun over a wagon-wheel when I arrived at camp. ... The next morning I would hear the guns of other hunters booming in all directions and would make up my mind that even if I did not kill any more, the buffalo would soon all be slain just the same."
In the winter of 1882-83 ranch hands of Levi Howe shot the last buffalo on Horse Creek, tributary to Otter Creek. In the summer of 1883 rancher Walt Alderson shot one lonely old bull near Tongue River — the last of millions. This hearing was about the very same landscape — only deeper!
The majority presenting testimony pleaded for the current sustainable ranch economy, the people's fish and wildlife, and a healthy planet.
The commercial boosters were also there to make argument for industrial strength employment and revenue. Both the commercial boosters and the board placed reliance on the Montana regulatory structure to insure temperance.
The fact is, the regulatory structure put in place over 35 years ago, has been severely depleted by legislative erosion and a lack of regulatory resolve. In essence, those very same interest groups who traditionally line up for lowering environmental protection were now offering the regulatory residual as
assurance for our future.
Those original protections were put in place in a precious period in Montana history, a time when there were progressive politicians on both side of the political aisle.
That "golden moment" in history was replaced with one where one side of the aisle resembles little more than a population of corporate lemmings, while the other holds all the seats on the board. That expectation of the electorate was a misplaced hope.
As a result, addressing the environmental peril at hand once again falls to the people, who carry the burden of Sisyphus, and to one board member with the courage and wisdom to say "no."
Everyone ignored the real possibility that this buried carbon at rest called coal, may well be burned in China. Current events just concluded in Copenhagen reveal the Chinese diplomats as less than enthusiastic about curbing global contamination.
We can still remember they had to momentarily shut down their industries just to get through the Olympics. Also ignored was a promised Montana ballot issue that will seek to impose a "takings" claim with the potential to either raid state funds or cripple the already compromised regulatory process.
The most refreshing part of the hearing was the testimony of students from Missoula's Big Sky High School. The students presented factual, emotional and inspirational testimony; but, then it is their future on this planet that is at stake.
However, the moment they finished, the board, without pause, began reading carefully prepared motions and statements — statements obviously prepared long before the morning's proceeding.
Positions prepared before the students wrote theirs, before their icy drive from Missoula, and before listening to their emotional but reasoned pleas.
Granted, the board already had substantial input, but still, this was a government body with an educational trust responsibility. They chose to give the students a tough civics lesson in real world politics.
Finally, Jeanie Alderson presented testimony relative to the value of sustainable agriculture and the benefits of non-industrial landscapes.
Her testimony returns the buffalo to the story, since it was her great, great uncle Walt who shot that lonely bull above Tongue River in 1883.
It was her great, great aunt Nannie who clipped the old bull's curly mane to stuff a pillow. The Alderson testimony was a dramatic demonstration of the conservation ethic that emerged and grew strong in our Montana culture, generation upon generation.
It is a land ethic now held at the grassroots level in this state. It is an ethic that deserved better political representation than the single lonely vote of one board member.
For the Montana Land Board it is now the same next morning experienced by Charles "Buffalo" Jones.
Four of the five could only hear the guns of other planetary polluters. Only one had the courage to break my gun over a wagon-wheel and stand on principle. Denise Juneau was that person when she voted "no" and told us why.
They are words that warrant repetition: "We cannot vote as if we have blinders on and only see our
present economic picture. We must take lessons from the past seven generations and also look forward and provide for the interests of the next seven generations."
She only had one vote, but it keeps hope alive.