Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Trapping: A Defense Against the Animal Rights Argument

Okay, so I've been questioned by some people about the fact I intend to make at least part of my living through trapping. There are many mistaken beliefs and poor arguments against trapping and using fur. One main argument comes from the animal rights types: they believe animals have rights equal to those that people have, and that we should not use them for anything, be it meat, fur, dairy products, eggs, wool or even kept as pets. Now, this argument is heavily flawed and contains the seeds of its own destruction. Firstly: it should be noted that the concept of people having "rights," while near and dear to my heart and those of others, is an entirely human created philosophical belief. People alone have this concept, animals do not. A cat enjoyably playing with (torturing) a mouse it catches, for example, certainly has no concept of the right to not be subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. People are not even born with this idea in their heads. It is learned. Furthermore, people only have "rights" as long as other people respect them. Tyrannical governments, murderers, rapists, thieves, none of these people respect others' "rights." All animals and humans, as best as I can tell, are born with the instinct of self-preservation. That is, we don't want to die, and we'll go to great lengths to prevent this from happening. Hence, a hare will resist as best it can the efforts of a lynx to consume it, a wasp will sting to protect itself against an attacker, a bear will charge and attack perceived threats, and humans will kill other humans in war and self-defense. This does not, however, equate to a right to life, for it is necessary that there be death to be life. If a fox or a wolf respects the right to life of its prey, it will starve to death and die. If in fact a wolf has a right to life, does it not have the right to kill and eat its prey? But if its prey has a right to life, does the wolf eating it not infringe on that right? This reveals one of the major problems with this notion that animals have rights: animals simply can't live and survive if they all have rights like those of humans. Every animal must eat, and most are necessarily eaten by others that others may survive.

At the bottom of the food chain are plants. Are they not living things also? Is eating a plant, thereby killing it, not infringing on its right to life as a living organism? This illustrates the absurdity of the emotional arguments for animal rights as the logical conclusions inevitably lead to these problems. Instead of applying philosophy and emotions to this issue, let us apply some science. Scientists know that there is a food chain in any given area. Everything has its place in the food chain. To grossly simplify it, picture this: at the bottom are plants, which depend on water, CO2, nutrients in the soil and sunlight to live. These plants are then eaten by animals and insects. Those insects and animals are eaten by others, which in turn are eaten by others. This continues until you get to the top of the food chain. What or who is at the top? Generally, it is either humans or powerful animals such as bears. Polar bears are known for hunting humans but generally speaking humans are at the top of the food chain. Humans were traditionally hunter-gatherers. We are scientifically classified as omnivores. We can and do eat both plants and meats (fish included). We are intelligent and able to develop weapons for defense and hunting, to put us at the top of the food chain. Now, everything in the food chain has a purpose. The plants convert energy sources that most organisms can not use into useful energy sources such as sugars and starches that some animals and insects can use. Those animals and insects in turn provide food for others, and others and others up the chain, ending at the top. Those at the top depend as much on what's at the bottom as what they (at the top) directly consume. Built into the food chain are checks. If nothing ate the plants, they would spread out and eventually use up all of the available nutrients and space in the soil, and begin to die off in massive numbers. However, herbivores eat them, thereby controlling the population and, through bodily functions and eventually dying, returns some of the nutrients needed by the plants back to the soil. Predators control the populations of the herbivores. Each layer on the food chain is necessarily smaller than that below it in population, in order to not starve. Those at the top are the lowest in number, or are at least in theory, but they have the least amount of checks on their population too. Humans were a check on the population of all below them, and still are to this day. We developed agriculture which has enabled larger populations on less space, but, that has not ended the fact that our proper place in the environment is as hunter-gatherers. Just as a wolf's proper place is to hunt, and a deer's is to consume plant matter, humans are meant to hunt and gather, eat meat and vegetables. Every single animal uses another animal in order to survive and this is proper. Humans were not blessed with the warm fur of other creatures in order to keep ourselves from freezing so early on our ancestors quite appropriately used the fur of hunted animals as clothing. It is proper to do so.

Now here is where the animal rights extremists have destroyed their own argument with their own argument: they argue that animals have equal rights to those of humans, and that we must not kill them to use them for any purpose. Putting aside the nonsensical nature of the "rights" argument, if indeed animals and we humans have equal rights, humans have a right just as any omnivore, such as bears, to hunt. Animals use each other to survive and make their own lives more comfortable (generally for food), so likewise humans have the right to use other animals for our own benefit.

Humans were meant to be hunters and gatherers, and likewise were meant to use fur because we have none of our own. However some may argue that we no longer need to use fur, we have alternatives, and that we can buy food, vegetables, and not hunt or even eat farmed or ranched meat. Putting aside the fact that this is not based on reason and facts about humans and our history but rather on emotions based on a nonsensical notion of animal rights, let us look at what is truly best from a rational perspective. Synthetic materials are generally petroleum based. Petroleum extraction and refining is a dirty, polluting process. Oil spills have caused enormous amounts of environmental destruction. The synthetic materials themselves, be they fleece, fake fur, polyester or whatever else has been created, are non-biodegradable. They will never naturally rot into the earth and put back nutrients to be used by other organisms and eventually, through the food chain, us. They sit there and fill up landfills, polluting our world. Finally, oil is a non-renewable resource. Once it's gone, it's pretty much, gone. Trapping wild fur is non-polluting, there are different ways of tanning it but many environmentally friendly methods using natural and biodegradable tanning solutions are available, and the fur itself is biodegradable. Once it's no longer needed, it will eventually rot into the ground, putting some nutrients back into the earth to be used eventually to give life to plants and animals. Fur is renewable. As long as harvests are kept at sustainable levels, and endangered species are not used, there will always be animals such as foxes and beavers available. The Fur Council of Canada has done a very good job of detailing how much better for the environment fur is than the synthetic alternatives:

So how about cotton or hemp, some animal rights activists will say? Well to raise these crops land must be cleared, the crops raised (cotton farming, for example, is heavily reliant on chemical, petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides), and then woven into fabric. What are the results? Habitat destruction. Wherever you see today farmland being used to raise, say, cotton, there once was a wild habitat that supported diverse wildlife and wild plants. Instead of a sustainable harvest of animals for fur, resulting in the wild animals being present indefinately, the animals are largely wiped out and their numbers drastically reduced, for as long as the land remains cultivated rather than wild. This destruction of habitat is frequently cited by conservationists as the number one threat to wildlife. Many species have gone extinct or become threatened and endangered because of a loss of habitat. Carefully regulated trapping and hunting will never cause these results (not to be confused with un-regulated activities, which are dangerous to wildlife). Hunting and trapping will keep the animals from becoming overpopulated, which results in diseases and die-offs. This is what humans were meant to do. The supposedly "ethical" and environmentally friendly alternatives are far from being such. They cause more problems and damage to the environment and wildlife than sustainable trapping and hunting.

So let's get to ethics. This is important. Many are convinced that trapping is cruel. The animal rights activists say the foothold trap is torture and that animals struggle sometimes for days against these traps, losing paws even. This is not true with good, ethical trappers. If the foothold trap were so bad, it would not be used by wildlife biologists to re-introduce extirpated species, such as wolves. That's right: animals such as wolves were re-introduced through the use of the supposedly "torturous" foothold trap. Trappers were hired to trap such animals and turn them over, still alive, to the scientists for relocation. The animals don't struggle all night. They will try to get away initially when they are surprised by the trap but they will settle down. A fox or other animal in a trap is generally very calm when found in the morning by a trapper (traps are generally checked everyday, as otherwise the valuable animal can be lost through theft by humans or predation by other animals) and since the goal is to keep the fur in good condition, a good trapper will not want to use a trap if it results in injury and damage to the animal. See this video, for example, on destroying these myths:

Traps must be properly sized and targeted to the animals being targeted. A trap meant for beaver used on muskrat will lose that muskrat, and likewise, a trap sized for muskrat will likely lose any beaver. Best Management Practices, or BMP's, are being developed for each animal and for each region, and as these are developed and implemented animal welfare will be improved even further than now:

So I would say that trapping is not cruel if done correctly. True, there are unethical trappers just as there are politicians, religious leaders, businessmen, etc., without ethics, but the arguments of the animal rights groups are not based on facts at all, simply illogical emotions, and there is no reason to use the bad people out there as a reason to punish all. It is worth noting that by and large, the supporters of these groups are people who have little or no experience or first hand knowledge of trapping, hunting and the outdoors in general. Frequently these people are from large cities and have not ventured out far from cities. Being detached from the realities of nature and of life, of where food comes from and what goes into the products they use, of man's proper place in nature, is necessary in order to hold these views. This is of course not to say that all urban residents are this way, because that is simply not true, but it is true that the majority of these groups' members and supporters fall into this category. I see few lifelong residents of, say, Alaska's bush, running out to join PETA, ELF, Defenders of Wildlife, etc.

Now finally, there are those who don't oppose eating meat or even using fur, but who say, they buy their meat, there are stores, no one needs to hunt. To that I say, killing an animal for meat results in the same thing no matter what type is killed, be it a deer or a cow, unless it's an endangered animal. To say hiring someone else to butcher your meat is morally superior to doing so yourself, is the same as saying hiring an assasin is morally acceptable but murdering your victim yourself is not. Makes no sense, does it? And furthermore, the wild animal that spends its life in its proper habitat, free to do as it desires, is certainly better off than a cow or chicken raised in a pen its entire life with no way of escaping being killed for food or fur. And I must say this: how is being ignorant on how to survive on your own, how is being dependent rather than independent, morally superior? It strikes a thinking person as foolish, because it is. Ignorance and willful dependence on others are not virtues.

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