By Mark Olson
Since our founding, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers (HHA) has held Aldo Leopold in high regard. His writings concerning issues such as a land ethic, wildlife management and sportsmanship has guided HHA as we strive to fulfill our mission. Our newsletter was even called “The Leopoldian”. But what does it mean to be a Leopoldian? How are we different from other hunters and anglers out there? What are our core beliefs? What follows is a quick sketch of two of the core ideas of a Leopoldian and how they relate to the Mission of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers.
Leopold writes, “ a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”. This forms the basic premise of a land ethic. For a Leopoldian, every piece and part of the natural system is equally important and necessary to the proper functioning of the ecosystem. We may not understand or like certain parts but that does not diminish their role in the system. Whether game animals or non game species; predators or scavengers; soil microbes or a ponderosa pine - all are necessary parts of their biotic community. Leopold says it best:
The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant:
‘What good is it?‘ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every
part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course
of aeons, has build something we like but do not understand, then who
but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? to keep every cog and
wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.
In this view, homo sapiens are no longer viewed as superior or separate from the rest of the biotic community. We are no longer the conquerors of nature but fellow members of it. A leopoldian includes soil, water, plant, and animals in his definition of community and so has a deep respects for all the other (non Human) members of the community.
One key aspect of HHA’s mission is to conserve wildlife and wild places. From a Leopoldian standpoint you cannot have one without the other. Our efforts to conserve wild places in effect conserve wildlife and vice-versa. Wild places are essential to the health and long term survival of all wildlife. They need places to roam away from the human dominated landscape. HHA strives to help protect critical habitat for game and predator species and hopefully everything below them on the land pyramid. HHA comments on everything from forest travel plans, to land acquisitions, roadless designation, and public access.
In regards to wildlife management, HHA takes a balanced long term approach. We seek to conserve all wildlife -- both game and non game species; predators to scavengers. Every piece has a role to play in the health of the landscape and is necessary to the functioning of the whole. This may occasionally put us at odds with those who think there should be fewer or no predators and also with those who think we shouldn’t manage predators. But with a view to towards the sustainability and long term survival of the system we are protecting the game when we protect the predator. Leopold says it best:
You cannot love game and hate the predator... The land is one organism.
Its parts compete with each other and cooperate with each other. The
Competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the cooperations.
You can regulate them - cautiously, but not abolish them.
Leopold defines sportsmanship as ethical restraints. “Voluntary limitations in the use of armaments. Its aim is to augment the role of skill and shrink the role of gadgets in the pursuit of wild things.” This type of sportsmanship is key to HHA’s mission to conserve our fair chase hunting and fishing heritage. Skill and preparedness; respect and right choices; woodcraft and marksmanship are held in higher regard than gadgets and other aides to help overcome the rigors of the wild. The “go light “and “one bullet one critter” philosophy are American Traditions stemming from our early history of exploration and pioneering. Going light means taking only what you need because a lot of stuff just gets in the way of our experience with wild things and places. Having skills in outdoor living and travel is ultimately safer and instills in ourselves and our children a sense of self-respect and self-reliance.
HHA works to protect this ethical tradition through education, outreach, partnerships, and youth camps. We actively work to recruit new hunters into the fold and to help lead them on the way to good choices. Because every hunter must learn the hard lessons for themselves -- through trial and error, on their own, with their conscience as their guide. Leopold should have the last word on this as well:
Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one is watching -- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.