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The Green Room: Wildlife “Rights” Vs. “Management”- Perspectives Underlying The Debate

Inspired by the intense controversy over Ann Arbor’s deer cull, this two-part series focuses on underlying value systems that shape perspectives on wildlife management issues.

David Fair (DF):  When it comes to how humans should treat animals, public opinion can be complicated.  Take the debate over House Bill 5321.  It would ban wildlife sterilization in Michigan.  Those who testified against the measure in Lansing included people on opposite sides in the debate over the Ann Arbor’s deer cull.  In this instance, they agreed with each other: the city’s deer sterilization study should be allowed to continue.  In this installment of 'The Green Room,'  Barbara Lucas looks for more common ground on questions of wildlife management. 

Noisy restaurant sounds.  Clanging bells, whistles and horns.  Shouting, “Welcome to the Antlers!”

Barbara Lucas (BL): That’s the famous welcome at the century-old Antlers Restaurant in Sault Ste. Marie, over three hundred miles due north of Ann Arbor. I almost feel like I’m on another planet.  There’re over two-hundred taxidermy mounts gazing on us from every available wall and rafter, from deer fawns to polar bears.  But, it’s likely safe to say hunters feel right at home here.

Szabo:  All my kids hunt and fish.  Chippewa County Hunting and Shooting Association has their meetings here. 

BL: I’m talking with owner Chris Szabo, and trying not to let the taxidermy bother me.  The Humane Society of the United States has a campaign against trophy hunting, and truthfully, I’m not keen on it either.  But when Szabo talks, I can see his points.

Chris Szabo: We have lions, but those are 50-year old mounts. When those animals were hunted, it was legal, you know.

BL: Szabo says they are a “taxidermy orphanage”—they don’t buy or sell mounts, and thus don’t contribute to that market.

Szabo:  What do you do now?  Do you get rid of the mount, just because… or do you follow the rules, like, OK, these mounts can’t cross state lines, stuff like that? 

BL:   Regardless, he acknowledges that some city folk just might not get the hunting mentality.

Szabo:  Why would you shoot Bambi?  Why would you take your kid out and ‘learn em’ how to shoot a gun and then he’s going to end up shooting up the school?  The concept is a little tricky for people who don’t live in rural areas.

BL: For instance, the uproar over coyote hunting…

Szabo: A coyote hunt, to them it sounds inhumane.  But you come up here, and I’ve got them in my yard.

BL: He says they’re so numerous, they roam his lawn in broad daylight.

Szabo:  …and our deer population is decimated because of them, it’s seems like a fairly natural thing to do.  The coyote population is not endangered—it’s not! 

BL: From a hunter’s perspective, a healthy deer population provides both outdoor recreation, and nutrition. It’s a resource to be protected, whether from coyotes, from disease, or from sterilization programs.  Back in Ann Arbor, some people want to protect deer for very different reasons.  

Coffee shop sounds.

BL:  I’m a coffee shop with Dr. Nirmala Hanke.  She’s a member of FAAWN—Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature.  She’s guided by the principle:  “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Hanke: “Do no harm.”  The golden rule is basic to most world religions in one form or another. And why don't we extend that to animal beings, and plant beings to the extent that we can? I mean you don't have to devastate forests, or whatever.

BL:  Dr. Hanke does acknowledge that hunting has deep roots.

Hanke: OK, so yes, it's part of our history, but consciousness is always evolving.  And so now we're at the point where we can say no, we don't need to be killing animals. Why do we need to kill animals? It's not, it's not the right thing to do.

BL:  She says her group, FAAWN, is united against Ann Arbor’s deer cull. 

Hanke: What right do we have to call any species a nuisance species? We're all here living on this planet. We need to live together. The humans need to figure it out.

BL:  And they don’t go for the argument that culling will benefit the herd by reducing the likelihood of spreading the deadly Chronic Wasting Disease.

Hanke: How is it that we think that we can do what's best for the deer by killing them, instead of letting nature take its course?

BL:  While they may be of one voice against the cull, she says within FAAWN’s ranks there are various opinions on the city’s deer sterilization program.  Personally, she has reservations.

Hanke: So we're interfering with the life of a doe. She's no longer going to be able to have children, you know.  Who are we to say that’s OK to do?

BL:  But she does not want the sterilization option to be taken off the table in Michigan, which is the intent of House Bill 5321 as proposed by Representative Triston Cole.  Cole feels hunting is the answer, even in urban areas. Hanke disagrees.

Hanke: It's going against what I would say is the value, the values that people in Ann Arbor hold about nature and about the sacredness of life.

BL:  But she acknowledges Ann Arbor is not of one voice on the cull, and thus, feels the sterilization option has value.

Hanke: This is kind of a compromise point, between the two groups—not the two groups, the two sides.

BL:  The deeper I delve, the more nuances and common ground appear.  For instance, while Dr. Hanke is a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), she has reservations about some of their less than peaceful tactics.  And back at the Antler’s restaurant with owner Chris Szabo, while he admits…

Szabo:  We aren’t the spot for PETA. 

BL:  At the same time, he praises PETA’s efforts to reduce suffering in factory-farmed animals. 

Szabo: I think they have some things that they do well, such as how are those animals treated in large volume situations?

BL:  Szabo feels it’s counter-productive to focus only on polarized views. 

Szabo: You know, I think most people fall into that middle ground, but the people that get a lot of the press are the ones on both sides of it.  “You can pry the gun from my cold dead hand, or we need to go to 100% vegan and stop killing animals,” those two people are actually minorities.  The rest of the world falls somewhere in between.

BL:  While he believes knowledge and communication can reduce polarization, he says we often prejudge rather than carefully consider the issues.

Szabo: And I think that’s a flaw in our society in general.  As a high paced member of society, you read the headlines, and make a decision—not the content. You know, the way the internet is, and the way people’s attention span is, they don’t dig real deep.  You don’t see a lot of people engaging an issue and then gradually changing their mind.

BL:  I’m reminded of Dr. Hanke’s comments about her Jain religion.

Coffee shop sounds.

Hanke: Inicantivada, which is another Jain principle, means respect for multiple points of view.  That the truth is in all points of view, not in one side or the other side.  It’s that fable of the Indian… the elephant with the five blind men and each blind man thinks he knows what he has: the tail, the trunk. But no, all of them together know what they have.  And that's true for this issue too.

Noisy restaurant sounds. 

BL:  Respecting the complexity of issues and diversity of opinions wasn’t always a value at the Antler’s Restaurant.  Back in Prohibition times, it was named the “Blood Bucket Saloon,” for all the fights that broke out.   

Szabo: Originally the bells and whistles meant that somebody had a gun, or a knife, or there was a fight, or the feds were on their way….

Bells and whistles.

BL:  Now, the ruckus serves to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  And open minds are valued, not closed fists.

In “The Green Room,” I’m Barbara Lucas, 89 One, WEMU News. 

The bill to ban wildlife sterilization in Michigan was recently changed to allow Ann Arbor to continue its deer sterilization study through 2020.  The proposal is now in the hands of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.  It will need a hearing, a committee vote, and a full senate vote before it goes to the Governor. You can follow the status of the bill at www.mileg.org


Michigan House Bill 5321(to prohibit the sterilization of game) 

Legislative Analysis of Michigan House Bill 5321

Michigan Senate Natural Resources Committee

The Humane Society of the United States on trophy hunting,

Friends of Ann Arbor Wildlife in Nature

The Humane Society of Huron Valley’s Stop the Shoot website

Michigan United Conservation Clubs on HB 5321

City of Ann Arbor Deer Management resources

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Barbara received a master's degree in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan. She began her association with WEMU in 2003 as an intern with Washtenaw County, assisting with the weekly "Issues of the Environment" show. In 2003 she also began working in documentary film, and later established her own video production company.
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