Hunting season in Arkansas ended in February, and hunters are locking up their guns until the sport returns in the fall. While some students think hunting is on the wrong side of a line separating ethical and unethical conservation practices, one student sees hunting as a way to escape from his busy life.
Hayden Webb, a sophomore finance major, hunts to escape the chaos of urban life, he said.
“I live a pretty domesticated home life,” Webb said. “I’ve been channelled through private school, and then college, and I probably have a pretty strenuous desk job waiting for me after this. When you’re engrossed in the information age and are dealing with constant pressure, the opportunity to hunt becomes coveted.”
Beyond the peace and quiet he enjoys while hunting amidst natural beauty, Webb hunts to help the environment, he said.
“Hunting practices are closely tied to the health of wildlife populations,” Webb said.
William Etges, a UA professor of ecology, thinks hunting and fishing are meant to conserve wildlife, he said.
“Hunting and fishing are an essential part of the conservation methods that keep these populations alive,” Etges said.
Hunting is necessary because the environment and its resources can only support a limited number of wildlife, said Scott Connelly, a professor of ecology at the University of Georgia. The carrying capacity of a population is the number of individuals that the environment can support indefinitely. When a population exceeds its carrying capacity, resources are exhausted, and individuals die from disease and starvation, Connelly said.
Clay Herman, a senior sociology major, is president of the Registered Student Organization Arkansas Animal Rights Club and he thinks letting the natural environment balance itself out after exceeding carrying capacity is a better alternative than human regulation, he said.
“If a wildlife population gets too large for the environment to sustain it, the population will decline,” Herman said. “By hunting, people are preemptively killing these animals in anticipation of those events, and I think that is wrong.”
Mac Elliott, a junior supply chain management and finance major, has been hunting pheasant and quail since he was 11 years old, he said. He hunts small game for the relationships he forms with the other hunters, the land and the hunting dogs.
“I love small-game hunting for pheasant and quail because of the hunter’s dependency on their dogs to sniff out the birds and flush them out of their cubbies,” he said.
Beyond the comradery of the sport, Elliott hunts to conserve wildlife species, he said.
“Environmentally conscious and responsible hunting helps the environment in a positive way,” Elliott said. “Responsible hunters understand the importance of conservation to preserve the wildlife populations.”
Biologists of state wildlife agencies calculate the carrying capacities for wildlife populations so that they can use conservation strategies to slow the growth rate as carrying capacity is approached. The agencies then set state hunting regulations and limits based on these calculations, Connelly said.
“Hunting is part of the calculation to maintain crowd control,” Etges said.
Regulations for hunting and fishing in Arkansas are guided by the Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan, which identifies the actions needed to conserve each of the state’s species, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Etges thinks hunting is a win for all involved: the wildlife populations that need regulation, the states that need a source of wildlife management and hunters who enjoy the sport, he said.
“When these resources are managed appropriately, they serve as conservation measures to make sure that these species don’t go extinct,” Etges said. “So overall, it’s a win-win situation for both humans who enjoy hunting and fishing and for the resources that are being conserved.”
Students who are opposed to hunting think that the argument that hunting is a method of conservation is faulty because the same theory cannot be applied to humans, Herman said.
“If you’re going to cause harm to another organism that can feel harm, you need to be able to justify it,” Herman said. “So, if we are harming animals and justifying it by saying it’s for conservation, then presumably it would be okay to harm a human for conservation purposes.”
Overhunting has the capability of putting animals at risk, but the lack of conservation would be just as dangerous for wildlife populations, Etges said.
“Many endangered species have come back because of the regulations and management of the resources in a way that makes it sustainable over time,” Etges said.