Sunday, November 28, 2010
The Real Threat to Hunting in America
A repost from this blog, July 2004.
For America's hunters, fluttering orange tape and popsicle-colored sticks mean only one thing: Doom.
This is the spoor of the tract-home surveyor. This is the end of the game.
The hill where your terrier worked that fine red fox last season will soon be covered by plastic-sided houses and kiddie swing sets.
The hedgerow you counted on for the occasional raccoon and a steady supply of groundhogs will soon be an asphalt ribbon.
Across the country the same story is playing out, again and again. It is not PETA that is hammering America's hunters, but real estate developers.
Pheasant, quail and bear are long gone from most areas, as are bobcat, cougar and wolf.
Even if deer and geese manage to thrive on 15-acre tracts, the American hunter will not.
When land is cut up into small parcels, acquiring permissions is difficult and firing a gun impossible. More houses means more roads. It does not take too many roads before a man with working dogs no longer feels comfortable letting them off leash.
Most of us know the big picture: forests are falling to farms, and farms are falling to freeway all over the planet. Across the globe wild rivers are being dammed, and increasing numbers of species are being pushed on to the endangered species list. Cars, factories and electricity-generating power plants are spewing forth greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, even as mile-long gill nets decimate fishing grounds, and raw sewage spills untreated into once pristine waters.
The environment is not committing suicide -- we are killing it. As Pogo so aptly put it, "we have met the enemy, and he is us." The common denominator to every clearcut forest and decimated hedgerow is human population growth.
It’s hard to overstate the speed of human population growth. It took perhaps two million years to add the first billion people to the population of the world -- a number reached about 1830. It took only 100 more years to add the second billion people (1930), and just thirty more years to add the third billion (1960). The global population counter clicked past four billion by 1975, five billion by 1987, and six billion by 1999. World population will climb past seven billion within the next 15 years.
It’s hard to get a handle on such numbing numbers. Let's bring it closer to home to gain a little perspective. Surely, we have nothing to worry about here in the United States, right?
Consider what has happened in your own lifetime. Take a look at the table below, and find your approximate age in the far left column. The number next to it is the size of the U.S. population when you were born, and the number to the right of that is the relative population growth that has occurred in the U.S. since then.
Of course, the U.S. population growth that has occurred since you were born is only part of the story.
Let’s think for a minute about the U.S. population growth that will happen over the rest of your lifetime. I will use middle-range Census Bureau projections even though these numbers have consistently been too low for over 50 years because Census Bureau demographers habitually under-estimate illegal immigration and over-estimate emigration (people leaving).
In the table below, look in the left column to find your approximate age -- or the age of your children or grandchildren if you prefer. Now look at the next column to see what the population of the U.S. will be when you (or your children or grandchildren) are age 70. The third column gives the percentage population growth that will occur in the intervening years. Again, these are very conservative numbers.
Another way to think about these numbers: over the course of the next 50 years, using the very conservative mid-range projections of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. will add about 150 million people to its population -- a sum greater than the population of the United States west of the Mississippi River today.
To put it another way, over the course of the next 50 years, the U.S. will add more than twice the current population of the United Kingdom.
Where is all this population growth coming from? Most of it originates overseas.
About 70 percent of all future U.S. population growth will be due to immigration (legal and illegal) and the children and grandchildren of immigrants that have not yet landed on our shores. In a very real sense, America's hunting and angling future is being determined in Karachi, Mexico City, Beijing, Moscow, Dublin and Hanoi.
Most of the organizations that we think of as protecting the environment and sports hunting do not mention the speed of U.S. population growth, not because it is not an issue, but because they are afraid that talking about limits on immigration might harm future membership growth. After all, today's illegal alien is tomorrow's permanent resident alien or U.S. citizen, right? At the top reaches of organizations as divergent as the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, success is not defined by what is going on in forest and field, but about what can be done to grow out the membership base now and in the future. Association executives are as enamored with population growth as any real estate agent or strip mall developer.
I suspect it will only be in hindsight that we realize what we have lost and what we have gained. Very few people notice the absence of box turtles or make the connection between population growth, habitat change, and Lyme disease.
Only when we are very old and America has changed to the point where we no longer recognize it will we understand the wisdom of Sioux Chief Ben American Horse, who warned Vice President Alben Barkley, "Be careful of your immigrations laws. We were damn careless with ours."