Over at The Thinking Hunter, Galen Greer writes "Recently I was in a discussion with a non-hunter (as opposed to anti-hunter) and this simple question was put to me: 'if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?' My answer was that 'hunting has, for many people, a psychological value that is important to their well-being. Also, the protection of the right to hunt, more specifically the choice about whether to participate in hunting or not to participate, is often equally important to the non-hunter as a guarantee of the recognition of fundamental rights which therefore provides them with a sense of well-being.'"
That sounds like a pretty good answer to me. I'll offer (unsolicited) another one and expand a bit upon a contention from my last post about this sort of thing.
In a world where "sustainable" seems to be a powerful buzz-word, the sport hunting of game and fish is a useful means of preserving habitat and ecosystems. Unlike other use classified as consumptive, sport hunting generally has little impact on land or wildlife populations, besides generating funds and advocacy for their preservation and maintenance.
"Why allow hunting?" is a corollary to "Why is hunting dying?". After all, why indulge the whims of a shrinking, aging minority engaged in an arcane practice? We hunters are concerned about numbers because we worry about our opportunity to hunt in the future and seek allies, hoping to be seen as a "vibrant subculture" rather than marginalized throwbacks to an (allegedly) less enlightened time. In looking for allies, the "environmental" ("environmentalist", "radical environmentalist", "conservationist" all loaded terms) movement at large hasn't been a likely source of allies(here's a view from the other side) and the "shooting community" (scare quotes because I'm not certain of the extent to which it is a community) certainly isn't necessarily congruent with hunter's interests. After all, "hunting" doesn't necessarily equate with "guns". Accordingly, our best bet, perhaps, is to convince the vast non-hunting majority that our sport is also good work.
Economic arguments have been a powerful political tool for sportsman. One of the most compelling examples I can think of was the CCA (then the GCCA) campaign to stop the commercial fishing of redfish in Texas. The heart of their argument were economic analyses showing that while a fish caught commercially by net or trot-line resulted in only a few dollars brought to the state and local economies, that same fish was worth several times that if caught by a sport fisherman. With a limited and public resource, the highest, best, use of that resource was the one that brought the most dollars, argued the conservationists. The argument, while far from applicable to every situation, worked and similar arguments can make our case for us many times.
But see Aldo Leopold-
"When one considers the prodigious achievements of the profit motive in wrecking land, one hesitates to reject it as a vehicle for restoring land. I incline to believe we have overestimated the scope of the profit motive. Is it profitable for the individual to build a beautiful home? To give his children a higher education? No, it is seldom profitable, yet we do both. These are, in fact, ethical and aesthetic premises which underlie the economic system. Once accepted, economic forces tend to align the smaller details of social organization into harmony with them.
No such ethical and aesthetic premise yet exists for the condition of the land these children must live in. Our children are our signature to the roster of history; our land is merely the place our money was made. There is as yet no social stigma in the possession of a gullied farm, a wrecked forest, or a polluted stream, provided the dividends suffice to send the youngsters to college. Whatever ails the land, the government will fix it." Round River, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993, pp. 156-157.
Which gets us back to why hunting is important and should be allowed. Unfortunately, to the extent that there is an ethical or aesthetic premise for the condition of the land, it seems to be frequently based upon bad information and it isn't applied broadly enough. "Pretty" and "healthy ecosystem" aren't always the same thing. However, hunting can be a valuable means of developing that practical and aesthetic ideal for land of which Leopold wrote. Hunters require good prey populations and enough room to pursue that prey. In other words, decent and plentiful habitat. Much as I appreciate the contributions of time, money and voice by "non-consumptive" users of land and wildlife, I fear that for many of them any little remnant is adequate. They can be content to travel to Matagorda Island to see the whooping cranes, or to see a bit of preserved native prairie and the birds it hosts. If there are some parks, a suburban hiking trail or three that will accommodate mountain bikes and hikers that offers a pleasant view and nothing charismatic going extinct at the moment they're pretty happy, it seems to me. However, to hunt we require more. More space. Healthy populations of game- which themselves require diverse and healthy ecosystems to exist for any length of time. Token patches of habitat, or a few parks, don't meet our (or animals', or ecosystems') needs.
Noted by Reid Farmer on Querencia, here is an excerpt from an Annie Proulx interview illustrating a bit of what I'm talking about: "Proulx liked the people she worked with, but she is not a fan of what she calls "sanctimonious environmentalists." She seems angry at their failure to save this place. 'We never, on all our trips to the Red Desert,' she says, 'ran into any of those people out there. How come the rest of us didn't know what was happening? There's a lot of talk and very little action. I don't like all the speeches and the glossy pamphlets.'"
I firmly believe (and generally find nonhunters somewhat surprised to discover) that hunting is important because it changes the way you look at things. You become invested in a piece of country as you hunt it. You appreciate it more. It is one thing to say "Gee, this area is really beautiful, it's my favorite hike/bike/ski trail" but if that spot is posted or subdivided, folks will just move on. They may mourn it, but it lacks the immediacy of loss that you feel when you have spent time learning how land is used by its other occupants, plant and animal, and see the change. Absent hunting to inspire the focus on land, most people just move through it without really seeing all that much.
As you hunt an area year after year you notice the changes for better and worse. Those changes are more noticeable because of your history with the place, the memories tying you to spots. This is the sort of thing that results in real ties and passionate advocacy for land. As the number of hunters shrink, so, too, will the number of people who really appreciate any given stretch of woods, prairie, or desert. For that matter, hunters are more likely to be in the ranks of those advocating for preservation of "useless" land like river bottom swamp, sagebrush flats, or desert.
So, anyway, there's another long-winded answer about "why allow hunting".
P.S. Lots of dividing going on in this post, what with references "hunters" "shooting community" "non-consumptive users" "environmentalists". Of course, in the real world most of us fall into many or all of those categories to different degrees at different times. The most promising group of hunting friendly (non hunting) folks I perceive right now are the cooks and chefs focusing on the source of their food, folks who read and talk about Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma". Bob del Grosso has been working on a farm this last year and, with fall and slaughter, doing a lot of thinking and writing about the consequences of eating meat. Pieces like this strike me as the writing of a person who groks how important hunting and the myriad connections it promotes can be. No surprise how often the subject of Michael Pollan and his books come up in various posts by the folks I read and have on my blogroll.