A short documentary has been released by the BBC that explores bear hunting in Alaska. Many people in Alaska support hunting, arguing it’s needed for conservation, and the state has a long history of big game hunters and trade. But many viewers have reacted negatively to the footage, arguing it’s immoral and heartless.
So what’s the ethical argument behind the hunting of bears and big game? And do viewers actually have a leg to stand on?
Bear hunting laws
Home to 16 national wildlife refuges, Alaska’s refuge lands cover 76 million acres and stretches from the remote Arctic in the north to the Aleutian Islands extending far to the west.
Earlier this year Donald Trump’s administration changed the law on bear hunting in Alaska. It is now legal to kill cubs with their mothers, bait the animals and to kill hibernating bears. The change in laws also means hunters can also use aircraft across the parks to track and shoot these majestic mammals. Unsurprisingly the new bill, which came into effect on 3 April, was supported by the National Rifle Association—the highly influential gun rights lobby in the US.
The ethical question
To explore the ethical dilemmas of hunting and the new changes to the law, BBC reporter Claire Marshall travelled to Alaska and joined hunter and conservationist Christine Cunningham on a bear hunt in the mountains.
The documentary highlights Alaska’s longstanding hunting traditions and also tries to give both perspectives on the hunting of bears. Some hunters like Cunningham argue its importance for conservation, as a way to control bear numbers. States like Alaska and Florida have been known to issue official culls to reduce and control the bear population. But alongside this, the documentary also explores the very galling taxidermy industry, where skins and fur are seen as wads of cash.
The footage itself is pretty upsetting. Watching a human enjoy the killing of a defenceless animal, to me, is disturbing. Especially given these new laws which allows you to bait and kill hibernating bears and cubs. But Cunningham makes an interesting point. Speaking of shooting big game animals, she says [1.56]:
You shot this animal, you’re going to take it home, you’re going to eat it. Your food has a different value to you, it’s a bigger deal. It really impresses on you the weight of what you’re doing.
Is hunting bad?
In this sense, maybe hunting to eat isn’t a bad thing. Viewers sitting on their sofas scoffing down a beef dinner can argue it’s immoral to kill a wild animal. But isn’t hunting a more sustainable and fairer life than breeding volumes of cattle to funnel into a slaughter house?
Of course, there are problems with this argument, as bear meat consumption is on the decline. Elk, deer and moose are popular game animals to hunt and eat, but according to the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game, many hunters now shun bear meat because of its taste. Traditionally bear meat was a strong source of protein for Alaskan tribes, but now it appears many are killed just for “conservation” or trophy prizes.
In this sense killing a animal just as a trophy prize is immoral and thankfully some states, like British Columbia, are starting to agree. B.C’s new NDP government is ending the province’s controversial grizzly bear trophy hunt on 30 November 2017. Hunters will no longer be allowed to kill bears for trophies but can hunt them for meat.
While I personally don’t support the killing of any animal, I would actually argue that hunting a wild animal is better than breading animals for slaughter. It’s not only more sustainable, but also encourages the hunter to think about food in a different way. Hopefully giving them a greater respect for nature.
Featured Image: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr