Paul Hollander: Northampton hunting issue is where, not whether
NORTHAMPTON — Kevin Lake, chairman of the Northampton Conservation Commission, presented a spirited defense of hunting in general and on conservation lands in particular in a guest essay in the Oct. 9 Gazette and at a public meeting of his panel the next day.
I believe it was inappropriate for the supposedly impartial chairman of the commission to do so, and his position is not mitigated by the somewhat dubious claim that as far as his personal opinions are concerned, he is opposed to hunting.
This “personal opinion” was followed by numerous arguments in favor of hunting, even on conservation lands. By my reading, Lake was not merely paraphrasing what supporters of hunting think, he conveyed his own views at considerable length and with great conviction. He even invoked political correctness, suggesting that opposition to hunting is a form of prejudice, similar to what some people hold against certain ethnic groups or those wearing hoodies.
As these remarks suggest, his intention to separate his personal opinions from his position as chairman of the Conservation Commission has not been very successful. Under these circumstances he should not participate in deliberations about hunting on conservation lands.
There are two issues that Lake and some participants in the discussion at the Oct. 10 commission meeting seem to confuse and conflate: hunting in general and hunting on conservation lands.
Since until recently I have been unaware that some conservation lands are already used for hunting in Northampton, I would like to understand what conceivable justification there is for using these lands for such purpose. There are enormous areas in our part of the state — state forests, wildlife management area and others — where people can and do hunt. Conservation lands represent a small fraction of these areas.
Why add them to those already set aside for this purpose? Do some people favor opening them for hunting because these areas are close to where they live and as such more convenient?
Or are they in need of venison to feed their family — a need they cannot satisfy by hunting on already available areas? Or is it (as one writer in the Gazette suggested) because it used to be possible to hunt in what became conservation lands and the memories of such activities are cherished? Is it the overpopulation of some animals in conservation lands that requires that their numbers be reduced? (If so, nobody submitted evidence to support this point). Or is it the general principle that a venerable, traditional activity that some people enjoy, such as hunting, should not be restricted at all, or as little as possible?
The issue being debated is, for the most part, not whether or not hunting in general is uplifting, desirable or useful. Therefore it is pointless to appeal to the noble traditions of native Americans or talk about the fate of animals who die of causes other than hunting.
Similarly irrelevant is Lake’s suggestion that far more people get killed in automobile accidents than in hunting accidents.
The issue before the Conservation Commission is hunting on conservation lands, not hunting in general — although the former does raise some broader ethical issues.
As far as hunting on conservation lands is concerned there are powerful arguments against it, namely:
• Conservation lands were created for safe recreational use that doesn’t include hunting.
• There are vast areas already set aside for hunting, hence there is no compelling reason to add conservation lands.
• Hunting on conservation lands is incompatible with public safety and with the use of these areas for peaceful pursuits such as hiking, cross-country skiing, bird-watching and others. Various studies indicate (as was reported in the Sept. 28 New York Times) that accidental firearms deaths of children occurred about twice as often as records indicated. This also has implications for the safety of hunting — suggesting it is not as safe as its proponents would like us to believe.
While minority interests and preferences are not to be ignored or dismissed lightly, in this instance I believe these preferences are poorly justified.
Paul Hollander has lived in Northampton since 1976 and in the Valley since 1968. He taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst between from 1968 to 2000.