Saturday, October 25, 2008

Preaching to the Choir Makes for a Small Church

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting is well-written, packed with information, and well-organized.

Unfortunately, it seems the publishing house has done as much as it possibly can to marginalize this book and keep it out of the hands of those who most need to read it.

That's a pity.

Why do I say the publisher has marginalized this book?

Simple. If you want to convert non-believers to your way of thinking, it's probably best NOT to start off the conversation by poking your finger in their eye and calling them names.

Sadly, however, that is what Regnery Publishing's "Politically Incorrect Guide" series is all about.

This series is not meant to convert people to anything, but to give die-hard conservatives a few cheap debating points to score against the Loony Left.

Which is fine, as far as it goes, but I think this book could have been so much more. You will pardon me if I mourn for what might have been.

You see, while The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting is somewhat flawed it is quite well written, and with a little editing and reframing, it might have been a truly important book. It misses that mark, I am afraid. Good, but no blue ribbon.

Stripped down to its essential frame, Frank Miniter's book has three core messages:

  1. Modern, regulated sport hunting is generally good for the environment, almost never bad for the environment, and creates a constituency for environmental and wildlife protection that is more meaningful than that generally offered up by arm-chair bunny huggers who tend to be ill-informed romantics;

  2. Modern, regulated sport hunting benefits all people, from tractor-driving farmers to SUV-driving suburban motorists, and from meat-eaters to vegetarians.

  3. Without regulated sport hunting, the cost of taxpayer-funded wildlife control would drive up taxes rapidly, even as public land and wildlife initiatives would be left politically weak and economically impoverished.

A lot of Miniter's research is pretty good.

For example, he offers up terrific data on deer-vehicle impacts, and his first chapter on the differences between alligator management in Florida and Louisiana should be required reading in every college.

Miniter correctly skewers the League of Conservation Voters for ignoring non-controversial and popular environmental votes (such as on the Conservation Reserve Program) in order to play up wedge environmental issues that may be less important to the overall picture.

Similarly, Miniter gets it about right when he says a lot of the Big Green organizations are selling out to large corporations and white-shirt-and-tie foundation managers.

He is spot-on when he talks about the failings of the deer immuno-contraception programs championed by the dithering idiots at the Humane Society of the United States.

So where does Miniter go off-track? A couple of places:

  • Miniter's first three chapters are about alligators, bears and cougars, and here he suggests that the real reason we hunt animals is so that they will not kill us, which is complete nonsense. Alligators, bears and cougars kill fewer people in this country than swimming pools and lawn mowers. Is control of these animals necessary? Absolutely. Can they be dangerous? Sure. But according to Miniter's own book, alligators, bears and cougars kill less than 8 people a year combined, while 93 people were killed from injuries related to hunting in 2003 alone. I am not opposed to control of bear, cougar and alligator (not to mention wolf) by well-regulated hunting, but let's not suggest that the motivation of hunters is to protect us from the dangers lurking in the woods and swamps, eh? It's simply not true. Most hunters are after sport, a few are after a peak experience and (with bear and cougar) a trophy. The state's motivation for having a regulated hunting season for large predators may partially be to reduce human-wildlife conflict, but that's not why hunters themselves are buying hunting licenses. Admit it and move on.

  • Miniter fails to give so much as a nod to a huge swath of American hunting. While Miniter spends a lot of time talking about such rare sport as hunting bear, alligator and cougar, he gives little (generally no) mention of such common fare as rabbit, squirrel, quail, pheasant, duck, grouse, dove, geese, wild pig, groundhog, raccoon, and fox. This is like saying American anglers are all about controlling shark numbers -- never mind that most of us are casting for bass, trout, sunfish, catfish, croakers, stripers, and blues.

  • Miniter trims history to fit his thesis. This is a serious problem with ideologues on both the right and the left, and a problem if your goal is to convince and persuade folks to join your side of a debate. Miniter's take is that the Big Green Groups are staffed and managed by bunny-hugging idiots, while hunters are leading the charge for the environment. Sorry, but that's not quiet true. After all, it was the National Audubon Society that sued the Humane Society of the U.S. in order to keeps traps legal in California, and it was Audubon, the Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society (along with many other small green groups) that led the push to protect 60 million acres of roadless forest across the U.S. The National Rifle Association was nowhere to be seen in that debate. And while Miniter was demonizing liberal environmental organizations as being "anti-hunting," the Sierra Club was sponsoring a "Why I Hunt," essay contest, National Audubon was putting a "Wanted: More Hunters" cover on its magazine, and The Nature Conservancy was busy creating and promoting the kind of conservation easement programs that Miniter speaks so fondly of (and which he fails to give proper credit for).

  • Miniter does not give enough credit to Mother Nature, the Endangered Species Act or Big Government programs funded by mandatory taxation. Hunters did not bring back the cougar, the alligator, the bald eagle, the wolf, or the manatee; Mother Nature and the Endangered Species Act did that. And though state wildlife agencies worked very hard to trap, move and reintroduce white tail deer, elk, bison, geese, turkey and beaver into areas where they had been extirpated, it was generally not hunters doing this reintroduction, but state wildlife agencies. Yes hunters paid a lot (but not all) of the tab through a compulsory tax system, but let's not kid ourselves that state wildlife management programs are some sort of voluntary "Point of Light" thought up by Peggy Noonan and Ronald Reagan. In fact, the Pittman-Roberston Act is a Democrat idea (both Sen. Key Pittman and Rep. A. Willis Robertson were Democrats, as was FDR), and at its core this program is all about the power of taxation and the positive roll of Big Government. And, let it be said that Big Government has been doing a generally fine job of restoring wildlife, year in and year out, regardless of which political party was in office (either locally, regionally, or nationally).

So what's the bottom line? Simple: Frank Miniter has written a pretty good book and it's well worth the price.

Buy it and read it.

That said, keep a skeptical mind. When Miniter brags that the NRA (his employer), has two-million members, remember that this is less than one-sixth of all hunters, which is a nice way of saying 84% said of all hunters are not members of the NRA. When you find out that of those 2 million NRA members, only 1 million wanted a free copy of American Hunter magazine, you can figure only 9% of hunters are actually NRA members -- and 91% are not.

When he says that urban sprawl is good for wildlife, ask which wildlife this sprawl is really good for (and here's a hint it's not any wildlife we actually need more of).

Also, ask yourself whether your own hunting access in your area is being improved by the rise of plastic houses in the countryside, or whether it is being constrained.

Above all else, remember that while wildlife may be influenced by political decisions, the wildlife in our forests and fields are not political animals in and of themselves.

The point here is that good science-based wildlife management and land stewardship is NOT going to happen by increasing the divisions between Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, but by unifying this country under the rule of common sense and moderation.

Sadly, this is a mission that Regnery Publishing has never signed up for. And so this book, which might have been great, slips down quote a few notches to the level of "a very good passing read." I really believe it could have been much more. Sadly it is not.


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