In its effort to gain support from Americans whose connections to the natural world have become less direct and more emotional, environmentalists made a deal with a devil that is coming back to haunt them.
The devil in
question is the animal-rights movement. For nearly four decades, it
has skillfully manipulated the media to propagate a vision of the
natural world that is dishonest, misleading and ultimately
disastrous for wildlife.
Their message is one of a
Disneyesque world in which animals are little humans in fur and
feathers. Zealous animal-rights advocates reject scientific notions
of balance, holding capacity and cataclysmic cycles of life and
death. Instead, they portray a mythical world of peace and constant
abundance where the only threat is man and the only environmental
concern is the individual animal.
They reject nature in
favor of Bambi. One example is the odd notion that the level of an
environmental commitment is inversely proportional to the amount of
meat one eats. This is demonstrably false, since the growing of
grain and other food crops continues to be be one of the great
engines for environmental destruction to our land and water.
Policymakers at the major environmental organizations
recognized what was happening two decades ago. They saw the choice
facing them: to confront the animal-rights juggernaut or turn a
blind eye and take advantage of the passions it stirred.
Most chose the latter course. In a country where most people have
become increasingly remote from the natural world, it was simply
easier to play to our emotional attachments to cute animals. It
also generated contributions. So the environmental movement mostly
remained silent, letting the media blur the distinctions between
dubious animal-rights doctrines and sound environmental policy.
Unfortunately, this decision is proving to have hidden and very
The first cost was the opening this
created for anti-environmentalists to drive a wedge between
sportsmen and the environmental movement. Hunters and anglers
helped found the environmental movement and have been the backbone
of conservation efforts for most of the last century. To this day
they remain the only segment of American society that voluntarily
taxes itself to provide the vast majority of funding for habitat
preservation and restoration, environmental research and wildlife
Yet in the 1980s, when hunters expected the
environmental movement to support them against the attacks of the
animal-rights extremists, they heard only silence.
hunters and anglers got the point, and came to view the
environmental community and the animal-rights community as the same
thing, and no longer colleagues working toward the same objectives.
The irony is that in selling out the sportsmen, the
environmental movement traded millions of committed hunters and
anglers, who for the last seven decades devoted hundreds of
billions of dollars to habitat and conservation, for a far smaller
animal-rights movement that devotes nothing to habitat and
conservation. What’s worse, they don’t even get the
As costly as this split was, it has not proven to
be the highest cost that the environmental movement has had to pay
for their deal with the devil. The animal-rights bias -- that
animals to which we have an emotional attachment are more important
than less charismatic species, or the health of whole ecosystems --
is condemning entire species and ecosystems to death.
many communities around the country, advocates for homeless feral
cats have bullied local authorities into permitting them to
artificially support populations of these hyper-efficient and
non-native predators, despite their deadly impact.
populations of songbirds, small mammals, and reptiles have been
eliminated by these decisions. In California, efforts by various
animal rights organizations to end the use of leghold traps have
limited the ability of wildlife managers to control predators
around the few remaining nesting sights for species of endangered
shorebirds. In essence, California voters chose the extinction of
native bird species to avoid the trapping of a relatively small
number of coyotes, foxes and cats.
folks have worked hard to turn environmentalism into a popularity
contest for cuddly or charismatic species. In failing to speak out
against this anthropomorphized view of nature, the environmental
movement has narrowed its appeal and narrowed its base. The longer
the environmental movement panders to the animal rightists, the
higher the cost will be.