Thursday, February 28, 2013

Clash of Opinions is Actually a Clash of Knowledge

In Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality and Wildness in America, David Peterson notes that back in 1978 Yale University behavioral scientist Stephen Kellert authored a paper entitled "Attitudes and Characteristics of Hunters and Antihunters" in which he summarized his research into the psychology and world-view of these two opposing groups of people.

Kellert breaks hunters down into three core groups:

Utilitarian-meat hunters;
Domination-sport hunters, and;
Naturalist-nature hunters.

Kellert notes that while the groups blur a little at the edges, these three psycho-demographic groups do exist, and represent striking differences of attitude within America's hunting population.

Utilitarian-meat hunters represent about 44 percent of all American hunters. This group tends to talk of "harvesting" game as a renewable resource and many have a "pioneer spirit" forged in self-sufficiency. As a group utilitarian-meat hunters tend to be older, more rural and less educated, but test pretty well when it came to knowledge about wildlife. Few Americans oppose them.

The second group, the domination-hunter, comprise about 38 percent of all hunters. Most domination-hunters are urban men, have served in the military, and see hunting as a way of expressing their manly prowess. Domination hunters know very little about wildlife, and many actually fear it, having an exaggerated "dangerous game" mindset of the kind we often see in pulp hunting magazines ("Mauled by a Grizzly," "When Sharks Attack", "Stalked by a Killer Moose"). Domination hunters showed little interest in wildlife in their youth, and as adults tend to see wild animals as uncontrolled and therefore as "bad" or nuisance animals. The domination hunter is the group non-hunters dislike, and which antihunters try to use to negatively portray ALL hunters.

The third group of hunters -- naturalist hunters -- represent less than 18 percent of all hunters. This group tends to be younger, more educated, and with higher levels of education and income than the other groups. This category also includes more women hunters. Nature hunters tend to backpack, bird watch and camp, as well as hunt. This group also spends more time actually hunting than either of the other two previous groups. Nature hunters have far and away the highest level of knowledge about wildlife and seek an intense involvement with wildlife and do not fear it.

Kellert also goes on to analyze antihunters as a group and finds, not surprisingly, that about 80 percent are women. Most are urban women living on one coast or another.

Antis had very little actual experience with wildlife and, along with domination hunters, had "among the lowest knowledge-of-animals scores of any group included in the study."
In another ironic parallel with domination hunters, "it appeared that antihunters manifested more fear and lack of interest in wildlife" than average Americans.

What was striking to me about reading Kellert's research was how it explains much of the silliness and stupidity we see in the arena of wildlife management today, where antihunters who have never walked a hedgerow clash all with macho-men domination-hunters who would never consider going into the woods without a Bowie Knife as large as medieval falchion.

Neither group seems to have very much knowledge about wildlife. One group does not hunt at all, and the other does not seem to hunt very much.

Left out of the debate -- and too often ignoring it -- are utilitarian-meat hunters and nature-naturalistic hunters which form a majority of the people who actually spend any time in forest or field.

The good news is that in America, unlike in much of Europe, wildlife management decisions tend to be left to an increasingly well-educated groups of professional wildlife managers with degrees in biology, zoology, resource management, forestry, population dynamics, law enforcement and even economics. The watchword in the U.S. is not knee-jerk emotionalism, but sustainability and habitat protection. As a consequence, we have more deer, elk, moose, bear, wolf, fox, alligator, whales, peregrine falcons, bald eagle, osprey, groundhog, raccoon, possum, coyote, bison, beaver and mountain lion today than we have ever had in the last 100 years, and the numbers for all of these species is going up, up, up.
.

2 comments:

Noel said...

Good post. I wonder how the percentages have changed since 1978. I suspect there's fewer of the first category and more of both others.
Too bad the domination types seem to get TV shows.

Jescargill said...

Excellent summary of the situation - you can only imagine how my Animal Ethics class in college went, however, as chock full of antihunters as it was.

However, as an actual biologist, I was easily able to wipe the floor with their arguments.

I think it's really important to note that conservation efforts (in tandem with natural trends like increasing urbanization of the population) have made a difference in wildlife populations. It SHOULD calm some of the more radically panicking elements in the environmental movement . . . should.

Ah, well.