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No winning wildlife politics

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

Low Tide By Brandon Loomis

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urges Americans to celebrate "National Wildlife Amnesty Day" Saturday by teaching their children kindness toward wildlife.

In a letter from its national headquarters, the animal-rights group suggests the following:

• "Hunt only with a camera. An enlarged, framed photo of a living animal is far more appealing than a creepy taxidermied head.

• "Take a nature hike, and learn to identify birds, trees and plants.

• "Pack a picnic lunch and go biking.

• "Have a beach or shoreline cleanup party, to give everyone a sense of accomplishment in beautifying the environment.

• "Have each kid list five reasons why, if they were an animal or a fish, they'd enjoy being alive."

Evidently the conventional wisdom holds that anyone who casts a rod or shoots a rifle or shotgun would never think of picnicking, hiking, biking, birding, photographing, boating under their own power or cleaning up. But because I have done all of these things with my sons, and some of them routinely, I ignored them and zeroed in on No. 5; why a would-be animal or fish would enjoy being alive.

I asked my cat, "Stink, why are you glad to be alive?" In that perturbed, one-syllable language of his he squinted and said, "Pretty presumptuous, Loomis," then turned back to his Fancy Feast chicken hearts and livers.

I asked my 10-year-old son for five reasons. He was in a rush to join fifth-grade classmates for a camping trip on which he would collect and kill insects for a science project. He could offer only one.

"I'd get all the girl fishies," he said.

When he has time I'll remind him what happens to spawned-out salmon. But his response is no sillier than the question. Everyone's the expert on what animals mean to them, and it makes for some awfully stupid and hard-headed politics.

I don't blame animal-rights supporters for loving animals. I don't even blame them for putting animal amnesty ahead of the human kind. I know plenty of people who acknowledge they like animals more than they like people. But it is not barbaric to respectfully kill animals, and the unlikely day someone bans hunting and carnivora will be the day our species loses its touch with the Earth. We'll lose our link to the significance of life - to the interconnectedness of all species, and the importance of each. I picture androids.

Here are things my sons killed this summer: king crab, dungeness crab, pink salmon, silver salmon, halibut, rockfish. All were delicious. I make no apologies, only thanks. The boys' enthusiasm for the sport and the feast - and their eyes bulging at all Alaska wildlife from whales to squirting clams - made this summer about the best ever. I have my own ideas about animal rights. I'll keep them, and practice them personally, no matter who's proselyting.

The other side of the debate often is equally shrill. This week, bear baiting opponents in Alaska complained that opponents of a proposed statewide ban fudged their portion of a state-sponsored voter guide, claiming it's "proposed by out-of-state extremists like Greenpeace and PETA," and that someone with a camera and a birdfeeder that attracts a bear could be prosecuted. Like it or not, many Alaskans don't support dumping rancid foods in the wild, and as one who has stumbled across a bait station I consider the practice as odious as it is odiferous. I picture zombies.

Several years ago my father, while waiting on a cross-country train in Seattle, spotted a wounded and flightless pigeon. The pigeon, not knowing or - I would add - understanding its luck, made the trip with him to New York state in a box, and was nursed back to health. For years Dad has sent me letters about the personalities of stray cats that come to live in his barn, and he has kept hunters from his land, which is thick with wild turkeys, grouse and deer. This summer he sent me a letter about the significance of his dog's recent death. I recall a time when he was writing a memoir of sorts entitled, "Animals I have known."

Within a year of the pigeon rescue, I shot a mountain goat. That hunt and the ensuing solitary retrieval from an Idaho mountain range may have been my toughest physical challenges to date. Like all animals I hunted in those days - mostly birds - the goat pulsed into me a spirituality that I otherwise lacked. I was in awe of its beauty and its tenacity, the life force that would become a part of my own. Soon I hosted a party ("Goat Fest '97") at which even my vegetarian girlfriend of that year insisting on partaking. It was a good time. My memoir, were I to write it, would more aptly - and not callously - be called, "Animals I have killed."

I don't hunt on my father's property.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at brandon.loomis@juneauempire.com.



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