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Pity the poor hunter
The penultimate public consultation on the draft wildlife policy was held this week at the centre of mediocrity in Macoya. Unlike the previous two, extra chairs had to be wheeled into the filled-to-capacity-hall. This was more likely a function of geography rather than appeals for wider attendance.
There were certainly more individuals there representing the voice of the conservationists and environmental activists, even if that voice was curiously muted in the presence of a boisterous contingent of hunters. This session lurched out of the blocks with a widely held view (supported in some instances by wildlife activists!) that the draft policy document unfairly targets the hunter/conservationist (=unicorn).
We were assailed with the road march, “we is de ones out dere who put on tall boots and go in de bush so we is de one who relly knows what going on!” This is a crucial plank of the hunters’ argument: they interact more than anyone else with the wildlife so they are the ones who should be trusted to provide accurate information on the welfare of wildlife populations.
These folks often contradict each other and even more frequently contradict themselves. Hunter #1: “Allyuh doh know cos allyuh dozen be dere, but de ah-knee-mal yuh seein’ mos’ out dere is deer! It have plenty!” Hunter#2: “Trute be known, ‘t’have times when we go out dere and dozen see nuttin’, like it have less ah-knee-mal…but dat is because ah de illegal hontas, dey settin’ pipe gon!”
This is also a running theme of the hunting fraternity; the draft wildlife policy is designed to excoriate nature-loving sport hunters while paying little attention to the commercial hunters who “only killin’ out everyting.” Many seemed keen on having the policy make a clear distinction between the sport hunter and the “poacher.”’
I brazenly submit that without a system of bag limits (which would rigidly enforce set-limits of wild game which can be caught) there is absolutely no difference between the two. Even sport hunters will readily admit that the prevailing system of registering your kills is fundamentally flawed.
Everyone present in that room could easily agree, however, that the contingent of game wardens in this country is grossly inadequate and distressingly under-provisioned. A policy promoting the expansion of an effective force of wildlife officers sounds easy enough on paper; competing with sexier political projects for funding is an agouti of a different attitude.
Conservationist and wildlife rehabilitation proponent, Ricardo Meade, was able to have everyone in the room concur that an immediate and considerable adjustment to the fines imposed on illegal hunting would be an excellent start—one which would not require the interminable gestation of legislation to be effected. The crowd erupted in violent opposition, however, to the idea of a $1000 fee for a hunter’s license.
The way I see it, a properly functioning system of game wardens, with a separate court to prosecute wildlife offenses and administrate licensing for sport hunting, could fund itself through rigorous application of the laws. If you are caught hunting illegally in the Caroni swamp, you can be fined up to $20,000. That money should be ploughed back into the mechanism meant to adequately patrol and protect our wildlife habitats.
Reaction to the suggestion of a substantial increase in the license fee was surprising given that one hunter at the forum indicated that in one year the hunting industry generated $95 million in the economy. Serious hunters pay thousands of dollars for their hound dogs and veterinary bills. Why not pay for the sustainable management of the environment which affords you the blood sport that you are so passionately defending?
Another valuable recommendation at the consultation was that licenses be based on information of the breeding patterns of specific species, replacing the broadly applied “license to kill.” My own suggestion is that a cost benefit analysis ought to be done comparing the economics of hunting and eco-tourism.
Without an abacus, I am fairly confident that eco-tourism would contribute far more than local hunting to the economy.
Given that the wildlife in law “belongs” to the State, then the State, in consideration of any information gleaned from such studies, might determine that eco-tourism would serve the greater interest of the entire nation as opposed to a handful of hunters. The hunting posse posits that the real threats to wildlife are quarrying, illegal logging, indiscriminate burning of the forests and unsustainable industrial development.
These are indeed very grave threats, but according to the late Professor Julian Kenny, hunting poses just as severe a threat. He has always warned that hunting is enhanced by the aforementioned environmental evils because they all open up our forests to more hunters! Look, I am a realist/dreamer (=bipolar). I know that hunting will not be banned in this country, certainly not anytime soon.
The hope is, however, that in the drafting of this policy the legitimate concerns of environmentalists (backed up by scientific data) will inform a way forward that will secure our natural heritage for future generations to appreciate.
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