Sunday, August 16, 2015

More on Cecil the lion

In last week's post on Cecil I didn't have time to do much more than copy an extract from the NY Times piece, but I think it's also worth trying to unpack the argument made or echoed in the story that "hunting... is part of a complex economy that has so far proven to be the most effective method of conservation".

One argument seems to be that demand for hunting gives government preserves a lucrative source of income, which they can use for conservation:
While hunting is banned in government parks here in South Africa, animals inside their boundaries are routinely sold to game ranches when their populations are considered excessive, generating money to maintain habitats and fight poachers.
But that's not really an argument for hunting, that's an argument for letting parks sell "excess" animals to those willing to pay for them; not only hunters, but ivory collectors, medicine preparers, zoos, or whomever.

Another argument seems to be that private, for-profit management is better at conserving land and species than government conservation:
In southern Africa, the emergence of a regulated trophy hunting industry on private game ranches in the 1960s helped restore vast stretches of degraded habitats and revive certain species, like the southern white rhinoceros, which had been hunted almost to extinction, conservationists say.
It's not clear what the connection between hunting and restoration is here, other than providing an incentive to private ranch owners to restore land and species so they can make money from hunting. Surely government could do the same, without the financial incentive.

In a strange twist, the article then says:
Representative Absalom Willis Robertson of Virginia
A similar shift occurred in the United States decades earlier when the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 allocated the proceeds from hunting to bring back lands and animals, [conservationists] argue.
The "proceeds of hunting" allocated by the Pittman-Robertson Act (the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937) to habitat restoration are actually the proceeds of an excise tax on firearms and ammunition. Now, while it may be true that hunting makes such a tax more palatable from a political point of view, there is no inherent connection between government spending tax money on conservation and hunting.

There are, of course, other conservation arguments for allowing hunting, including keeping populations in check to prevent habitat degradation and giving local populations a financial incentive to preserve wildlife and their habitat. But I find the arguments cited in the newspaper article wanting.

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