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Paul Hollander: Northampton hunting issue is where, not whether

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.

Related

Kevin Lake: Northampton Conservation Commission chairman explores assumptions and facts about hunting

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Following recent letters and columns in the Gazette about hunting on city conservation land, I want to respond as chairman of Northampton’s Conservation Commission. I don’t know where my colleagues on the commission stand on this issue. Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law prohibits us from deliberating other than during public meetings. I speak only for myself. Although like most … 11

Comments
Legacy Comments3

Can dogs be walked off-leash on Conservation land?

Were the taxpayer dollars used to conserve the land from development? With the property off the tax roles, does it not increase the burden for everyone? Everyone should be able to use it within reason. That includes off road vehicles like quads and dirtbikes, and yes hunting. It's always one group trying to tell another group what is right and wrong. Everybody is paying for it, so everyone should be able to use it, not just a "select" group. I don't hunt, but I encourage it. I like to bike, walk, run, quad ride, and be out enjoying nature and the outdoors.

There is virtually nowhere in this area to hunt in this city that isn't conservation land now. The reason there is not an uncontrollable deer population here is because hunters, guided by the laws of the state have kept the deer population at bay. Without deer population control, what you will quickly see is a deer population that breeds to a herd so large that we will have more deer vs automobile accidents than you could ever imagine. They cause over one billion dollars worth of property damage in these accidents every year in the US. You think it's bad with bear and beavers around here? If hunting is not allowed to continue in these areas, what you are going to see is the hiring of paid hunters by the city or state to come and eliminate the problem right in your backyard. It happens all the time. Deer have few natural predators. In two years deer populations can double in size. Rather than 10 deer per square mile, you're going to end up with 60+ in a few years time. And don't forget about our friend Lyme Disease... more deer, more deer ticks. Fitzgerald Lake is conservation land. There is and has been hunting there for a very long time, yet it has such a little impact on the land and the other people that use it, that you didn't even know it! What makes you think bringing hunting back to where it was before is going to make any difference ? Clearly sir, you are biased. Please educate yourself and look at facts that match your argument. This is OUR city too. It is our tax dollars too. And if you don't think hunters experience discrimination and prejudice in this area, I dare you to walk downtown wearing full camo or a hunting shirt. Unfortunately, the close-minded people in this city see hunters as a bunch of NRA card toting conservatives. Well let me inform you- this anti-NRA, liberal woman fully supports legal and ethical hunting in this city, as do many more women just like me.

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