Aldo Leopold :: This is a repost from 2010.
There is something vaguely ridiculous about European hunting with its dress-up clothes and potted birds.
Even some of the descriptions of terrier work can border on the absurd. Does every fox have to be described as a "lamb killer"? I suppose so in a country that has no coyote, wolf, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, alligator, or grizzly! When your biggest game animal eats worms and bulbs, and your largest predator dines on mice, you may have to dress up your rationale for the hunt every bit as much you dress up yourself. Mere sport with dogs cannot do!
In America, of course, such a claim would be met with laughter. A red fox threatens your farm? A badger? Please! We have real predators from one end of this country to another. No need for tales of Beowulf here! A country full of bears and coyotes does not need to invent dragons.
To be clear, what makes America special is not some extra gene coursing through our blood. What makes American special is the land, and the fact that, unlike Europe, we have not killed off everything big enough to kill a cat.
No one ever said it better than Aldo Leopold who, back in 1925, wrote an essay called "Wilderness As a Form of Land Use," in which he reminded us of what we were (American), and warned us of what we might become (European):
The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage. When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism. Joliet and LaSalle will be words in a book, Champlain will be a spot on a map, and canoes will be merely things of wood and canvas, with a connotation of white duck pants and bathing "beauties."
The time is almost upon us when a pack-train must wind it’s way up a graveled highway and turn it’s bell-mare in the pasture of a summer hotel. When that day comes, the pack-train will be dead, the diamond hitch will be merely rope, and Kit Carson and Jim Bridger will be names in a history lesson. And thenceforth the march of empire will be a matter of gasoline and four wheel brakes.
European outdoor recreation is largely devoid of the thing that wilderness areas would be the means of preserving in this country. Europeans do not camp, cook or pack in the woods for pleasure. They hunt and fish when they can afford to, but their hunting and fishing is merely hunting and fishing, staged in a set of ready-made hunting lodges, elaborate fare, and hired beaters. The whole thing carries the atmosphere of a picnic, rather than that of a pack trip. The test of skill is confined almost entirely to the act of killing, itself. Its value as a human experience is reduced accordingly.
There is a strong movement in this country to preserve the distinctive democracy of our field sports by preserving free hunting and fishing, as distinguished from the European condition of commercialized hunting and fishing privileges. Public shooting grounds and organized cooperative relations between sportsmen and landowners are the means proposed for keeping these sports within reach of the American of moderate means. Free hunting and fishing is a most worthy objective, but it deals with only one of the distinctive characteristics of American sport. The other characteristic is that our test of skill is primarily the act of living in the open, and only secondarily the act of killing game. It is to preserve this primary characteristic that public wilderness playgrounds are necessary."
Read the whole essay which I have linked to here [PDF].
Are we there yet? Is our land so gut-shot with people that we have lost the wild and become European?
The coyote population is growing, and so too is the population of mountain lion, wolf, black bear, grizzly, and alligator.
We are not yet European, thank God!
Yet we may get there if we do not do more to slow population growth, most of which is now fueled by unbridled legal and illegal immigration. We cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossesed, and it's high time we stopped trying.
Above all, we need to remember that we need to fight to continue to preserve large blocks of wild lands, including wilderness.
Preserving wilderness and wild lands is about nothing less than preserving America's soul.
Save it now, or someday soon, it may be gone forever.
Angeles Requiem from Tocho on Vimeo. The above video is not just amazing because the camere trap survived a forest fire, or because of what it else it got on tape (thanks Chaz!). It's amazing because it was all filmed by a single camera trap in Angeles National Forest just a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. Thiry minutes from downtown L.A.! This is still America as God intended, a country made by bear and lion, fire and rain, buffalo and deer. This land is your land. This land was made for you and me. .