Next to abortion, I can't think of any more emotionally-charged topic than hunting farms or hunting behind wire! And yet, if you are a deer or elk farmer, the controversy over hunting preserves could have a profound impact on the future success and viability of your industry.
Along with velvet antler and venison sales, the hunting preserve market represents a significant source of revenue to deer and elk farmers. Also, the return on investment in selling a bull or buck to the hunt market is 10 to 20 times that of selling the same animal to the meat market. Yes, many deer and elk farmers are doing well on sale of breeding animals. However, this market (and prices) will soon collapse (as did the ostrich industry) unless there is a significant demand for the end products such as meat and trophies.
Approximately 26 states and provinces allow captive shooting operations for deer and elk. In Canada, these are Saskatchewan and Quebec. In the United States, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York allow some sort of hunting preserves.
In Canada, Alberta and Ontario allow deer and elk farming, but not any hunting farms. The industry associations in both provinces are lobbying the provincial governments for a change in regulations, but the governments do not appear to be very receptive. In Manitoba, where elk farming is permitted (but not deer), the government has come out and stated that it will NOT allow hunting behind wire. Overall, 20 of the states and provinces where elk farming is legal prohibit captive shooting.
In the USA, the laws and regulations vary significantly from state to state. In some states such as Michigan, the regulations are burdensome and complex. In other states, elk and deer are viewed as private property. They hold the same status as cattle. The owners of trophy bulls and bucks do not have any more restrictions than slaughtering hogs.
In New Zealand, the paid hunting industry has become a significant earner of overseas funds with substantial benefits to deer farming, the guiding and hunting fraternity and the tourism industry. Industry earnings are estimated to be $NZ10 million annually. In 1997, the New Zealand Association for Game Estates was formed to promote hunting for big game in private reserves. The Association spends considerable time and resources lobbying the government. As well, it has drawn up agreed standards and codes of practice to enhance the image and reputation of the industry.
So let's take a look at some of the arguments for and against hunting preserves:
1. Economic development - hunting ranches can bring in millions of dollars annually in increased tourism and spin-off benefits. (The Saskatchewan government reports that the 14 game ranches in that province earned $14 million in revenues in 1999).
2. Agricultural diversification - according to IRS figures, more than two-thirds of American farms operate at a loss. Deer and elk farming, along with hunting operations, can help diversify/save the American/Canadian family farm.
3. Use of marginal land - hunt farms and ranches can be placed on agricultural land that has little value for other farming activities.
4. Why not us - since hunting preserves are legal, viable and profitable operations in other states and provinces, why shouldn't we benefit as well?
5. Reduces pressures on wildlife - the availability of hunting preserves can reduce hunting pressures on native species in the wild.
6. Other wildlife benefits - the deer and elk farming industry has encouraged and supported much research in the health and wellness of these animals. Some of this knowledge can be used to better manage and look after cervids in the wild.
7. Convenience - as in many other aspects of life, busy people are short of time. Corporate types can only get a few days off, and thus want a meaningful hunting experience with guaranteed results, and are willing to pay for it. Also, hunting preserves offer greater flexibility as to when to hunt, compared to very limited public hunting seasons.
8. Quality - the quality of hunting at preserves is often greater than public hunting. You have a choice of trophy animals, you have a guide, and are generally very well looked after.
9. Safety - because of the limited number of hunters and the controlled environment, the odds of not getting shot at are much greater than on opening hunting day in highly populated areas.
10. Access - more and more private lands are posted, and public lands are becoming over-crowded. Paid hunting eliminates the hassle of finding a good place to hunt.
11. Market for older animals - hunting ranches are a good place to sell older bucks and bulls, and get a good return on animals that are no longer useful for breeding nor for meat.
12. Ethics - shooting a deer or elk behind wire is no different than shooting a deer or elk in the wild, nor much different than shooting a steer for meat.
13. Support for wildlife - hunters have contributed more money and support to conservation groups and programs than anyone else.
1. Ethics - it is morally wrong for humans to domesticate a wild animal so it can be shot for fun and profit.
2. Threatens wild deer and elk - wild populations of native species will be negatively affected due to possible spread of disease, fencing off of large areas of wildlife habitat, and because it cheapens and commercializes the idea of wildlife.
3. Reduces support for conservation - turning native animals into domesticated, privately-owned livestock will reduce public interest and support for wildlife conservation programs.
4. Access - if paid hunt farms become prevalent, this will negatively affect the access to "free" or public hunting areas and opportunities.
5. Violence - any kind of hunting encourages gun ownership. Guns are used in domestic violence and other crimes.
Hunting in general is declining. In Alberta, the number of hunters between 1980 and 1997 dropped by 42%. In Canada, the number of licensed waterfowl hunters dropped from 525,000 in 1978 to 197,000 in 1999, a drop of 62%. A lot of reasons are given for this decline - increased costs, decreased access to quality hunting areas, aging populations, increased restrictions to owning firearms (Canada), and the urbanization of populations.
So how do you resolve this conflict regarding hunting preserves? It will not be easy - if it was, it would have been resolved a long time ago. Let's take a look at the causes of this conflict.
In my analysis, this conflict is due to two major factors: a) different goals or values and b) different information.
A values conflict is nearly impossible to resolve because people's values are so ingrained and such a big part of them. There are three options in dealing with a values conflict:
1. Determine what portion of the population that is opposed to hunting preserves is against due to their values.
2. Accept their values - agree to disagree - as you are unlikely to change them. Don't belittle or try to discredit their values. It will only intensify the conflict and emotions.
3. Supersede this conflict by lobbying the law-makers directly, and getting favourable regulations in place. Then the opposition based on values does not matter anyway.
The other reason for opposition to hunting behind wire is lack of information, or prevalence of misinformation. This conflict is possible to resolve by providing accurate and timely information. Useful strategies for this type of conflict are:
1. Identify the misinformation, or lack of information out there regarding hunting behind wire.
2. Prepare a few key "messages" regarding the benefits of hunting preserves - these should appeal both to emotional and logical people.
3. Assemble facts and figures (from reliable and credible sources) to support your arguments.
4. Get believable, known people to support your position and fight for your cause. Bring in speakers from other provinces or states where hunting ranches are thriving.
5. Many people will be "sitting on the fence" (pardon the pun) regarding this issue. You should provide them with information to win their support at best, or at least keep them neutral.
6. Provide positive stories (see next article) to the media.
7. Have an on-going and regular communications programs to reach media and other key stakeholder groups. Be sure to have a website that provides information supporting your case.
8. Focus your attention on the government officials and elected politicians that can influence legislation. Be sure to provide them with information and arguments they can use with their colleagues.
9. Work on sub-objectives first if necessary. For example, it is much easier to change regulations if deer and elk farming fall under the jurisdiction of the agriculture department rather than wildlife.
10. Get your act together as an industry! Get an association that represents and polices its members, has standards and whose members follow an agreed-upon code of practice. One bad apple will spoil the case for everyone.
Properly run, commercial sport hunting fosters humane and ethical sportsmanship, enhances conservation of both animals and habitat, and provides hunters with a quality and satisfying experience, as well as providing significant economic benefits to the region. However, to keep, or introduce hunting preserves in your state or province, deer and elk farmers will have to work very hard to overcome the opposition.