Monday, September 7, 2009

Hunting Refuge

Hunting Refuge. The words hardly belong in the same sentence, let alone in the same title. But many nature preserves and conservation areas permit seasonal hunting, designed to control wildlife populations and protect threatened habitat; for those species under assault, the sites are surely not refuges. Of course, this regulated hunting has become necessary due to human destruction of natural landscape and our long record of obliterating natural predators.

While I am not personally opposed to hunting (especially when it is a means of subsistence or has become necessary due to our own misguided practices), few would argue that a significant proportion of hunters enjoy the art of the kill; certainly, most trophy hunters fall into that category. Though many hunting organizations (e.g. Ducks Unlimited) contribute substantial funds to the protection of natural habitat, one suspects that their primary motivation is to sustain target populations rather than to promote wildlife conservation and ecosystem diversity.

Yesterday, our visit to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, southwest of Columbia, turned up many empty pickups, their owners posted at the edge of cornfields. Their quarry was the mourning dove, that mellow resident of Midwestern suburbs and farmlands. I doubt that these birds are a significant threat to the agriculture industry and I suspect that few of these hunters were counting on success in order to feed their family. But the doves, common and docile, are capable of rapid flight, offering a true challenge for these masters of the kill. We were rooting for the doves.