The grey areas of hunting, meat, and conservation

I was out hiking at one of our favorite spots with my nephews last weekend when we came across a deer stand and multiple piles of corn. At five years old, one of my nephews is super curious about everything, obviously leading to 100 questions regarding the “tree fort.” I didn’t even know hunting was allowed in this public park close to Dallas, so I struggled to answer many of his questions. Turns out, Jan. 3 was the last day for open season (bow only in this area), with an extension for youth until the Jan. 17. I may have been thrown off by a tree stand in the park, but I was reminded of how much has changed in “hunting” and how we often forget the impact the meat on our plate has on the environment.

Can you spot the deer stand?

Can you spot the deer stand?

The Merriam-Webster definition of hunting is “the activity or sport of chasing and killing wild animals.” In the corn piles placed right underneath the tree stand, it just didn’t remind me of what true “hunting” is. But this is how it’s done pretty much everywhere. After eradicating deer predators, killing off mountain lions and wolves, from Texas in the mid 1900s, we are left with an overabundance of deer. The way we manage our deer population now is hunting to keep numbers at a viable level that doesn’t destroy their habitat. It’s an orchestrated management plan, but it works.

Most hunters eat their meat, getting a more natural product than what we buy wrapped in plastic wrap in the grocery stores. Most beef in stores comes from a feed lot where animals are kept in a confined space, causing great environmental impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates a single dairy cow produces 120 pounds of manure per day. When animals are housed in small spaces, this waste, if not properly disposed of or utilized, pollutes our groundwater and can lead to harmful algae blooms in water bodies. Air quality is effected by decomposing animal waste and other pollutants from feed lot farming. If you take into account the entire life cycle process of harvesting the steak on your plate or cheese on your pizza, you also have to consider the habitat destroyed, water and chemicals used to produce the feed grain (mainly corn), and water and energy used to process the finished products. Seventy percent of grains grown in the U.S. are fed to farmed animals.

Hunting deer requires resources as well, yet pales in comparison to feed lot beef. There is however, another option, farmers that are raising beef in organic sustainable conditions. I visited a few grocery stores in the Dallas area to determine the best place to find high quality sustainable beef. My first choice is Whole Foods. There selection of grass fed organic beef and knowledge from the butcher, was the highest out of the four grocery stores I visited. The cost may be higher for higher quality meat, but if you factor in the entire process and environmental impacts, it’s a steal.

There’s also another extension of hunting. The annual Dallas Safari Club Convention happened Jan. 7-10, right here in downtown Dallas. The Club has faced backlash after auctioning off a chance to bring home an endangered species trophy two years ago. This year, the big auction item will be an opportunity to dart a white rhinoceros, and take home a picture, not its head. There will still be several opportunities for hunters to bid on trophy hunts. There is a grey area between hunting for food, sport, trophies and conservation. The management and survival of each species is dependent on a variety of factors from reproduction success, diet availability and most important habitat available. Our world population is on a continual upward trend, leaving less uninterrupted habitat for wildlife. In my eyes, that’s the fight we should be fighting, preserve the habitat there is now, build our urban spaces up not out, and find and protect more land for wildlife.

No matter what your views are on hunting, it’s a complicated space deserving of much thought, research and investigation. I only hope everyone can be as curious and ask as many questions as a five-year-old.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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