Stay in the Hunt

Jim Posewitz believes the hunters' nose-to-the-ground ethic can save the planet

  • "The one common ground (for hunters and environmentalists) is ... you have to start putting protective arms around the environment, the habitat, the land that produces this stuff." -Jim Posewitz


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HCN: Let's go back. You talk about the 1930s and this profusion of activist hunters and grassroots organizing. That doesn't exist today. ... What happened?

POSEWITZ: It's reconfigured. In the interim, lots of things happened. One of the big things that happened was Earth Day. Rachel Carson comes in and finds this horrendous problem with pesticides. She writes Silent Spring. It gets lots of people's attention. The energy crisis of the '70s aligns exactly with the generation of Earth Day. In Montana, we have a brief period of years, '69 to '74, when our adversaries are catching on to the fact that this "earth thing" is going to interfere with commerce. All of the new (environmental) groups and the hunter groups were of one mind then.

And so we rewrote all of Montana's natural resource law out of this political juggernaut of landowners, the new enviro-greens, the hunters and the anglers. The labor unions were in because of in-plant health issues and because they were hunters. And we rewrote the entire resource law in the state of Montana with the Fish and Game Department right smack dab in the middle of all that activity.

So what happens? They start breaking down the coalition in the late '70s. They take the Fish and Game Department, they go through executive reorganization and they align the director up under the governor so they can work it through the political machine.

The corporate interests ... fly their attorney to every ag meeting in the state of Montana to tell the aggies that the greens are going to take their land. And they split the agricultural interests out of the coalition, with the property-rights scare tactic. The unions fade as hard-rock mining diminishes. The agency gets lined up under political control and ... the influence of active minorities working through the political system begin to try and reverse that conservation ethic that the people were carrying when that coalition was intact. It's been defense ever since.

HCN: The timber wars in the '80s were a further extension of this wedge politics and turning hunters and greens against one another.

POSEWITZ: They're doing it to the Forest Service now. I mean, the neo-con philosophy is to wither all forms of government. And so we have the Forest Service budget year after year after year being diminished, ever since they took political control. Fish and Wildlife Service is going through the same thing. In this current administration, three different attempts were made to sell forest lands while they diminish the custodian's capacity to take care of the lands?

HCN: Why are so many hunters across the country aligned with the Republican Party and the resource-extraction industries?

POSEWITZ: Because they're easily deceived, unfortunately. And the gun issue is like the abortion (issue) of hunting. They holler, "They're taking your guns!" And it's just as emotionally charged as "They're slaughtering babies," even though neither one of those things is true. It's a wedge tactic that is worked on and invested in by people who are willing to exploit the resource. They're trying to create political cover for the Bushites to slash through the national forests. ... I mean, Machiavelli is serving this administration. He just got a shorter name.

HCN: In your book, you talk about great occasions. (Teddy Roosevelt held that one could not be a great statesman without seeking out a great occasion). Is there a great occasion now, in the 21st century?

POSEWITZ: Yeah - we're cooking the planet, how's that? The science of that is becoming undeniable. Who will find ways to address that? Theodore, he went looking for a great occasion and it was his idea that you cannot be a great statesman unless you have a great occasion. ...

You don't want to be a defeatist, and conclude, "This one's too big, we're not going to be able to handle this baby," and so how do you deal with it? Wendell Berry said the environmental problems that are impacting this planet reach such a proportion that they become abstractions, because we don't quite know how to deal with them or even describe them. And he said, what happens next is the hero of abstraction rides in on his white horse and falls off in front of the grandstand. And he went on to say that our wish to save the planet must be reduced to the humble wish of saving all of its humble households and neighborhoods. Find something within the range of your competence. That's what the hunter did.

I mean, if you looked at the collapse of our wildlife resource, that was a pretty great occasion. That was a pretty monumental problem, and I think - given their resources and the condition of the society of the culture in the dirty '30s - it was an insurmountable problem. How the hell are we ever going to emerge from this? And what do the hunters do? They go one pothole at a time, within the range of their competence. One timber sale at a time. One wilderness area at a time. Just stay in the hunt, and you just keep plugging. And so, I can't solve global climate change, but I can protect the roadless land I hunt on - and I'm going to do that. And because I'm a hunter, I'll know what the little mark in the mud means.

We have to find a way to nurture this ethic in (hunters), and I don't know of any way to nurture it more than to tell them the story of where they came from and how important that was to our society, to our culture, to our planet.


Nathaniel Hoffman is an independent reporter in Boise, Idaho. He edits

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