While nonprofit groups like Ducks Unlimited or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have sharply defined positions on hunting, most environmental groups - composed of both avid hunters and anti-hunters - waffle somewhere in the middle.
Hunting is an issue most environmental
groups choose to ignore, even though many groups, such as the
Wilderness Society, were started by "hook and bullet" users to
protect diminishing habitat. Others, such as the Audubon Society
and the Sierra Club, trace their roots to founders sympathetic to
Staffers from most groups, when
asked if they had an official position on hunting, seemed
perplexed: "Uh, I'll have to call you back on that." But once
cajoled into taking a position, most repeated the same refrain: "It
doesn't matter whether you like to hike, bike or hunt on the land,
we're all in this for the sake of habitat conservation."
To the horror of many animal rights advocates,
most environmentalists say the individual suffering of animals is
secondary to the health of the species.
Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States concedes that
most groups have other priorities, but he doesn't see habitat
protection and animal rights as inconsistent goals. "Obviously,
they're not in the business of cats or dogs or farm or lab animals.
It's a misplaced concern to criticize them on that front, but the
humane treatment of wildlife must be a consideration."
An article in E magazine's October issue echoes
that criticism: "The concern (for wildlife) is that much more real
when the individual face of an animal is attached to it.
Environmentalism's distant "ecosystem" approach sometimes lacks
visceral appeal." The article also points out that while animal
advocates generally call themselves environmentalists,
"environmentalists tend to see the animal movement as hysterical,
shrill and "one note." "
rifts, politics can make for strange bedfellows. Animal rights
activists sometimes find themselves aligned with those they
consider heartless killers. A few years ago in Hawaii, members of
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals successfully stopped
the Nature Conservancy from using wire snares to kill feral pigs
that were destroying rare native plants. PETA nicknamed the
Conservancy the "Torture Conservancy" and joined forces with local
hunters who wanted to hunt and eat the pigs. Now, dogs chase down
the pigs and a hunter stabs the animal in the
It's not the most humane solution, says
David Cantor of PETA, but the suffering lasts minutes, rather than
days or even weeks as with wire snares.
staffers at most environmental groups say they have more in common
with hunting organizations than with animal-rights groups, several
environmental groups joined the Fund for Animals to lobby for the
creation of a national park - and not a preserve - in California's
Mojave Desert. Because hunting is outlawed in most national parks,
the National Rifle Association lobbied on behalf of bighorn sheep
and mule deer hunters who wanted a preserve.
"The NRA took it on as a symbolic fight," says
Melanie Griffin of the Sierra Club. "They said: "You can't keep our
guns out." " At Mojave, the guns won.
another case, sporting groups joined environmentalists to oppose
New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici's grazing bill. Both
groups were angered that the bill placed grazing above all other
public land uses. And consensus isn't only with the sporting
groups; Pacelle of the Humane Society adds that his group often
works with environmental groups on ballot initiatives banning
In fact, alliances between
environmentalists and groups on both sides of the hunting questions
are getting stronger in the face of an environmentally hostile
Congress, says the Sierra Club's Griffin. "It wasn't clear why we
needed each other before," she says. "But when Congress started
attacking our basic environmental protections, we overlooked