Kristian Connolly: Hunting for Montpelier's true fall colors

This commentary was written by Kristian Connolly of Montpelier. 

As autumn leaves turn in Vermont's capital, citizens have been vocal after the Montpelier City Council allowed hunting to continue on recently purchased public land in the same way it had been allowed when the land was owned privately. Defenses of hunting have essentially centered on culture and tradition, climate change, wildlife conservation and personal economics. 

This has raised problematic, troubling assertions and comparisons in support of modern hunting, promoting a worldview that can only be seen through rose-colored glasses.

First, let's not whitewash modern hunting by equating it or pairing it, in any way, with the practices of Indigenous peoples on this continent before European contact. Practices that, against great odds, continue to keep Indigenous cultures surviving today.

Indigenous practices have existed since time immemorial and are vastly different from the white, Western, Euro-American settler-colonial beliefs imposed upon this continent (and elsewhere). They shouldn't be co-opted to help justify what the dominant culture — the same Euro-American culture that for more than 500 years has enacted genocidal policies directed at stealing Indigenous lands and extirpating Indigenous peoples and cultures — would like to continue to do in the name of its "tradition," "heritage" or "culture" on this stolen continent.

Indigenous ways of being and knowing consider everything to be interrelated, a holistic understanding of the world that is wholly different from the "humans first, humans superior, humans only" worldview long practiced by the dominant culture. This absolutely extends to the thought, respect and consideration given to the hunted animal whose life has been ended for human use. There are always individual exceptions, but you can't divorce this country's hunting culture from the dominant culture and its detrimental effects on all beings and the planet itself.

Let's also not greenwash modern hunting. Just because an objectively horrible thing exists (industrial agriculture) does not make any alternative to that horrible thing implicitly good. This fall, count how many vehicles (both gas and electric cause devastating environmental and human damage) you see lining the woods, or at "hunting camps" that are tens or hundreds of miles from where the hunter lives (many camps burning fossil fuels for warmth and/or cooking). Is it a coincidence that weighing and permit stations tend to also be places to refill your gas and/or propane tank?

Think about all the equipment, gear and clothing used in modern hunting — some of it not even for the direct act of killing the animal but instead for the comfort, convenience and ease of life for the hunter — and wonder how and where that equipment and its materials were obtained, manufactured, shipped, and will eventually be disposed of before being replaced with the next best thing, and the effects of all of that on the planet.

How many hunters would be hunting if they could only hunt on their own land; or if they could only travel off their land by foot to another (potentially distant) place to hunt; and if they could only use relatively short-range tools that could only be made from what was in nature, which would generally require them to be closer, more attentive and connected to the animal, and better at hunting; and if they were not allowed to haul their kill back to their homes with fuel-powered machines?

You can see how much environmental devastation and destruction was necessary in order to be able to eat a single "local" deer. 

Turning hunting into some act of benevolent conservation is a pretty neat trick. If not for the intentional human activity that encroaches on, bisects and/or eliminates habitat and sources of food for the animal, creating "overpopulation," nonhuman animals would likely not be categorized by humans as suffering from such problems.

Not to go full Jonathan Swift, but if we're going to start killing off members of certain species because there are too many of them, there aren't enough places for them to live, they don't have enough food sources, and culling the population is the only "humane" thing to do to eliminate suffering, when do we start applying that rationale to humans?

Question the economic argument that hunting is less expensive than obtaining food, or growing it yourself. Consider the cost of everything used in modern hunting to bring that individual deer to a plate, or any non-survival-related spending, and whether that money would have been better spent directly on clean, local, sustainable food that is critical for individual and collective human health and survival, and the ecological well-being of the planet.

Hunters and non-hunters alike: please wear orange. It's dangerous out there, no matter how good or safe the intentions of those holding the weapons are meant to be. These are tools of death, after all, and if we insist on allowing them to exist, then the least we can all do is wear a bright color for safety.  

Lastly, let's modernize our conversations about hunting (including trophy hunting), as well as animal agriculture of any kind, to bring them in line with other realities and understandings of animal sentience and suffering, climate change, environmental health and justice. We know it isn't necessary that an animal must die (or live to be killed), or for (ill-treated) people to be employed in the deaths and processing of those animals, for a human to eat, or be clothed. Billions of people globally, and millions in this country, prove this every day. 

These are choices that humans make in the modern world. Choices that can be made differently.

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