Hunting or Hurting?
Humans hunt animals as a natural resource, but hunting, believe it or not, has an impact on the environment. Let’s first learn what defines the environment. The environment is anything in the natural world, such as animals and plants. While hunting serves as a food source for many, modern day hunting tactics cause stress on the environment. Although various types of hunting can have certain positive environmental impacts, it is clear, however, that hunting causes negative consequences burdened upon the environment. These include negative animal behavioral patterns and evolution traits, indirect vegetation decline, and lead contamination in wetlands.
Negative Animal Behavior Patterns
One impact produced by hunting is abnormal animal behavior. Animal behavior is an important factor in achieving an ecosystem’s equilibrium and maintaining a functioning environment. An experiment led by Gitte Jensen explored how hunting directly affects animal behavior. In Denmark Jensen and other researchers observed three separate regions that were frequented by geese exposed to hunting. The number of geese harvested was collected as data to show hunter frequency in each region, while food resources for the geese were also observed. Researchers found that geese flee their normal feeding grounds due to excessive hunting. Jensen writes, “Collectively, our results suggest that geese depart from mid-Norway due to disturbance caused by too intensive goose hunting” (Jensen, 192). Hunting forces geese and other animals to evacuate their normal feeding grounds to survive.
As animals flee their feeding grounds in search of safety, competition with other animals increases. While competition isn’t a bad thing in an ecosystem, over-competition can result in depleted resources. Jensen says geese, in particular, will not “empty all available resources” but they can cause one species to struggle for resources needed to survive. Because of hunting geese and other animals are forced to struggle for resources which were once plentiful.
Effect on Vegetation
Hunting has direct consequences on the environment, but it also possesses indirect impacts as well. Vegetation is one of the many different ecological factors affected by other living elements in an ecosystem. One factor affecting vegetation is animals and their eating habits which change drastically due to hunting. A study led by Soizic Le Saout for the Canadian Journal of Zoology
observed behavioral patterns from hunted black-tail deer and their effects on four types of vegetation. Researchers focused on four plant species consumed by the black-tail deer: nootka reedgrass, red fescue, red huckleberry, and sitka spruce. All four species were monitored in two locations, the first, a control area, without hunting and the second with hunting. The results were specific to the species of plants. Both the nootka reedgrass and sitka spruce grew in the control area, but suffered a decline in the experimental area with hunting. The red fescue declined in both the control area and the experimental area. However, the red huckleberry declined in the control area yet increased in the experimental area. Le Saout writes, “We interpret this cascading impact of hunting on plants as being behaviorally mediated…through an increase in deer vigilance levels, with negative effect[s] on foraging rates, in areas of increased predation risk” (Le Saout, 923). The black-tailed deer within the experimental area with hunting developed different behaviors, thus indirectly affecting vegetation.
It is obvious hunting does not indirectly affect all vegetation, however, it is a cause for decline in certain species as exemplified in Le Saout’s study. This is a negative consequence, although indirect, of hunting. Biotic factors in an ecosystem are intertwined and when one becomes abnormal it causes a ripple effect. For instance, the vegetation decline can lead to different animals devouring different food sources. It doesn’t sound like a very big impact, but vegetation is important for food and also shelter in an ecosystem.
Another negative impact of hunting is its effect on evolution. The process of evolution is associated with forward progress and betterment of the species. However, hunting has caused multiple species to evolve with lesser qualities. Michael Le Page, author of “Unnatural Selection”, explains how hunters are the cause of multiple species losing their well-known traits. He writes, “Most predators target the young or the weak. We are different, targeting the biggest and best…Combine this with our ability to kill in great number and the result is an extremely rapid evolution of our prey.” It is not just one species suffering the effect of this twisted evolution. For example, caribou have decreased in size and bighorn sheep in Canada now have smaller horns. Male elephants have also evolved to have smaller tusks or no tusks at all due to over-hunting (Le Page). Species across ecosystems are developing physical traits that focus on avoiding humans rather than the natural traits that aid in their survival, making it harder for them to live in their environment. Again, there is a ripple effect due to hunting. The animals have evolved in a negative way and again disturb nature’s equilibrium. The negative ramifications of hunting affect more than just current animals, they affect the future for entire species, therefore affecting the future for the environment.
Some argue that hunting has a positive impact on the environment like population control. It seems logical; however, it is not as effective as it appears. Tommy L. Brown and a group of researchers analyzed just how effective hunting was at controlling the white-tailed deer population in New York. Brown writes, “Through the foreseeable future, hunting will remain a primary mechanism to control white-tailed deer populations at broad scales” (Brown, 789). While hunting may be the “primary mechanism” for population control, it is not meeting its potential for fully maintaining the population. Brown and his researchers concluded that the number of antler-less deer harvested (the deer without antlers killed) was lower than the amount needed to stabilize the deer population as seen in the chart.
In certain parts of the world, hunting does not provide a way to maintain a certain animal population. Andrew Bengsen and Jessica Sparkes conducted a study to examine the potential for hunting to control a small mammal population in Australia. They found the evidence to be inconclusive. Bengsen explains, “…there is little direct evidence to support or disprove the argument that recreational hunting…provides a useful pest animal control tool…” (Bengsen, 304). Hunting does not effectively control animal populations in America and is not considered a “pest animal control tool” in Australia. The use of hunting to maintain population is both ineffective and non-existent in some regions of the world, disproving a positive consequence of hunting.
The Damage is Already Done
Hunting continues to pose problems for wildlife, even after it has been made safer. Waterfowl hunters used lead pellets as ammunition until 1991 when a lead ban was enforced (“Concerns Rise Over Known and Potential Impacts of Lead on Wildlife”). But the damage is already done. If you don’t believe me you can see for yourself here: www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/lead_poisoning/
. Lead contamination is a threat to wildlife in and around wetlands subjected to hunting. Birds ingest the lead shot left by hunters and die of lead poisoning making it a major cause of death for waterfowl for the past one hundred years. Fortino Bianchi and a group of scientists performed an ecotoxicological study on lead contamination in the Padule Di Fucecchio Marsh in Italy. They found a significant amount of lead in both the soil and the water. Bianchi writes, “In general, lead concentrations were well above natural background levels for the Earth’s crust, even considering soil and sediment separately” (Bianchi, 159). Another study, similar to Bianchi’s, was done in Argentina by Marcelo Romano and another group of researchers. They found similar results with dangerous levels of lead in both the water and soil around hunted areas of wetland (Romano). The effects of lead shot are not limited to one region but spread throughout many regions where hunting takes place.
Although the lead shot is now banned in the United States, many hunters have already used lead shot in the past, similar to Argentina and Italy. According to the data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau below, waterfowl hunting makes up nineteen percent of all hunting in the U.S (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that nineteen percent has stayed the same since the lead ammunition ban in 1991 (“Fish and Wildlife Services Issues New Report On Hunting and Fishing Trends”). That means approximately 2.6 million hunters per year have used lead shot in the past. The lead contamination in the United States spells disaster for wetland wildlife of any kind. This is the most dangerous and direct effect hunting has on the environment. Lead contamination has already had an impact on the environment and will continue to do so in the future. It has endangered water and food resources for not only migratory birds but other wetland creatures as well.
Humans use hunting to survive. But with technological advances, such as guns and lead, hunting is causing problems in the environment. Animals’ behavior is altering, causing ripple effects throughout an ecosystem. Their behavior changes causing the vegetation to change and causing animals to compete for resources, putting stress on that particular resource. And hunting is not an effective population control, in some parts of the world hunting is not implemented as a means to stabilize population. It has made resources in wetlands contaminated with lead, affecting both aquatic and land bearing life. Hunting is not safe for the environment, it puts ecosystems out of equilibrium through abnormal animal behavior, twisted evolution, indirect vegetation decline, and poisonous lead in wetlands.
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