Last week the local paper ran a front page article about someone shooting a 650 pound bear. My first reaction was 'jerk'. Later a related article appeared in the Washington Post to which a friend from Charlottesville wrote a letter that more or less captured part of my feelings. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/man-kills-650-pound-black-bear-while-hunting-in-fauquier-county/2014/12/24/081b8bc8-8b80-11e4-9e8d-0c687bc18da4_story.html
Specifically, why I felt the guy was a jerk is I felt by killing that old bear he was potentially diminishing my enjoyment of life. And if not deminishing my life he was doing it to someone else that had the potential to see that bear.
When you live out near and spend a lot of time walking in the woods one of the pleasures is getting a glimpse of a large bear. The same is true with other animals. The other day one of my neighbors, a retired marine, called to report, with pleasure, that he had just seen one of the few bald eagles that occasionally populate our area. On his living room wall he has a picture of a large bear, maybe not 650 pounds but close, that had walked into his yard a few years back.
Look at our farm facebook page. I post a picture most everyday of something that happened out on the farm. Vegetables, tractors, people visiting Generally we get about 100 hits a day. When we post pictures of owls, bears, wild turkeys and the occasional coyote the numbers go up into the 300-600 range. The most interest comes when we post pictures of critters that people seldom see outside of a zoo. It gets the most hits when there's a picture of one of the critters that people rarely get a chance of seeing outside a zoo.
To write this I've just gone back through my files looking for pictures of bears. Its
funny some of the most vivid images I carry around in my mind don't
have photos to go with them - a huge bear coming up the valley while
four of us are looking at the old civil war battlefield a couple miles
from our home. Another when Wenonah and I were first dating and we were
hiking in the park around Charlottesville when we spotted a mother and
her cub fishing in a stream below us. We stopped and watched for
several minutes before the bears realized we were there and then ran
straight up the opposite hill.
Why do I carry those images around in my mind so clearly and why is there such pleasure attached to those memories?
Like my neighbor I have a picture of a bald eagle in my mind. Its over on the other side of the mountain, I had been bushwacking through the woods and came out on an unused field. Way over on the other side was a bald eagle perched on a dead limb. I stood there for several minutes watching it until suddenly it must have seen me, or there was some prey. Something.
The eagle jumped from its perch and as it did the large dead limb it was sitting on broke and went crashing the hundred and fifty feet to the ground.
Outside of whether nature needs that eagle or whether the large old bear serves some purpose for nature the fact that they carry such intrinsic value to all that come across then, to the people that buy calendars of pictures of wildlife or to see the pictures on our facebook page it shows that they have a value far outside an individuals ability to kill it.
Yes, I know, I've heard the arguments, (regularly since we have a hundred acre wood lot full of wild life that people want to get permission to hunt on). 'By shooting large animals I'm performing a service'. 'Venison is wonderful to eat'. 'I want to control the animal population'. ' There wouldn't be a hunting season unless the animal population needed to be controlled'.
A few years back there was an albino deer that could be seen often (because she was white she really stuck out). One time I saw her in the woods down from our house. When I took out my binoculars I saw she was sitting in the midst of a couple dozen other does. She just stuck out because of her white coat.
A couple years later I no longer saw her around. One of my neighbors brought up the subject. 'you know that white deer that you occasionally saw around her. A guy down Waterfall shot her, he said because she was different.'
Unfortunately that captures to a t why some people shoot animals.
The 650 pound bear was shot because, well, how many 650 pound bears do you see out there?
The albino doe, like the buck with the large rack of antlers, was shot, not because the hunter liked venison, egven though he might, It was shot for the same reason that my neighbor called to tell me he'd seen a bald eagle,
The difference with the person shooting it over the person who observes it, Maybe takes a pictures, Maybe calls up a neighbor and tells then about it. Or maybe just remembers the event.
There is something pleasureable about seeing large, unusual wildlife. However, the person that kills it either doesn't care that others might see it. He's just thinking about himself.
The person that goes out into the forest and kills wildlife because its large, or different or rare, doesn't think about anyone else but himself.