New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious. It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.
For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.
New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.
Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached. But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.
The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.
But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.
A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.
Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN. Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.
At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.
The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.
To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators. Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.
This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.
Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.” The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.
The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.
But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.
And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.
And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.
This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:
But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.
They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.
This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.
And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.
Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.
And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.
In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.
And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.
I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.
My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.
It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.
And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.
I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.
I am a speciesist. Yep. I accept the title. I do believe some individual animals of certain species do have certain privileges that others don’t.
Owned domestic dogs should be treated as individuals, as should anything else kept as an actual companion animal.
Individual animals that must be culled through hunting seasons, like white-tailed deer, get no individual consideration. What matters about those species is carrying capacity as determined by wildlife managers.
Invasive species anywhere should receive even fewer protections than the game species.
That’s because as a conservationist, I value biodiversity over individual animals.
So I really don’t care that conservationists have trapped and killed introduced arctic foxes in the Aleutians, feral cats in the islands of the Sea of Cortés, or red foxes in Australia.
I don’t care about the individual deer that are shot every year in the United States. I care much more about what they are doing to temperate forest ecosystems. They exist in a world without predators, predators that will never be reintroduced in significant numbers, and it is vital that humans manage their populations.
I don’t think an absolute moral system can be applied to all animals. Indeed, I have issues with the concept of an absolute morality period.
I know, though, that we are but one chain of biodiversity on the planet. And it is out of this chain that we somehow became the dominant species on the planet. As the dominant species, we like to think we’re above all other species, when we’re just the ones at the top right now.
I don’t think every invasive or introduced species is a negative on the ecosystem. Ring-necked pheasants are mostly banal where they have been introduced. In North America, common carp are generally not an invasive species either.
But many things that have been introduced clearly are.
Especially on islands.
New Zealand had rabbits that were introduced, which ate down much of the good sheep grazing. Then stoats, weasel, and polecat-ferret hybrids were released to control the rabbits, and the mustelids wreaked havoc upon the ground-nesting bird population. New Zealand is a place full of unique ground-nesting birds, and it was once fuller of those species before the weasel horde hit its shores.
Therefore, to protect things like the kakapo, a massive ground-nesting parrot, it is necessary to kill these predators.
Animal rights ideology, which posits an absolute set of rights for individual animals, cannot allow for this killing.
So this ideology would rather have all the kakapo and native New Zealand birds go extinct, just because this ideology doesn’t want to see a guild of invasive predators killed off.
And I must say that I have to reject this ideology, because it clashes with my aesthetic, which requires us to maintain biodiversity as much as possible.
That’s because I know fully well that in a hundred years, that biodiversity will be reduced. Habitat loss, poaching, pollution, climate change, and invasive species will take their toll on a whole host of species.
And the diversity of life from which we descend will be reduced because of us.
Therefore we must kill invasive species to protect as much of life as we can. It is this paradox that many people cannot understand, but failure to understand this concept is ultimately going to add to the many species that will go extinct.
But in the end, animal rights ideology and conservation are not the same thing. Hunters who oppose animal rights ideology should stop conflating the two systems of thought. Animal rights ideology has no room for hunters, but true conservationists, who want to protect wild places from rampant development, believe hunters are part of the solution.
And virtually everyone is a speciesist. I am one, and it is only a small minority who try to hold absolute values when it comes to animals.
We have these inconsistencies, but they are not without reason. And although most mammals are very much like your own pet dog, they don’t act in the ecosystem in the same way. Transferring one’s feelings about a pet dog onto a mongoose in Hawaii is not wise– that is, if you care about nene. If you don’t care about biodiversity, then go ahead.
But don’t pretend that these two concepts are consistent. They are not.
And they are very much in conflict with each other.
I feel like hoops and tassels are all I’ve worn for earrings in the past year, so I went searching for something unique and fell in love with all of these above. I love that they’re mostly statement earrings, but they’re understated. (Does that make them Understatement Earrings? Hmmmm.) Which is your favorite?
(All of these earrings are from Madewell, but this is not a sponsored post. Just love them all!)
We’ve got a special giveaway of interest to movie-loving dog lovers! Enter to win a special ISLE OF DOGS movie prize pack to celebrate the release of this new stop-motion-animated film from…
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This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of Carter’s; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
When my son Emmett was born in January of 2016, I had absolutely no idea just how profoundly the milestones he achieved as a toddler would affect me. Throughout his sister Essley’s first year (she was my first babe and is now four), I obsessively researched baby milestones, and she hit all of them at what is considered to be on track or early. I assumed Emmett would be the same way. And then, at seven months old, he was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, the most catastrophic form of childhood epilepsy. Most children with IS go on to have severe developmental delays. And while Emmett is one of the rare few who “beat” IS – he responded quickly to medication, is one year and seven months seizure free, and has been repeatedly assessed as developmentally on track – every little thing new he does, milestone or otherwise, brings us such joy and a deep sense of gratitude. Many of you have little ones in your lives as well, and regardless of whether you’ve had unique challenges like we have or a very typical experience with your babes’ development, I know you can relate to the emotions that “firsts” trigger in us as parents. In many ways, we grow right along with our children. So today I thought I’d share some of Emmett’s recent magnificent milestones (what his big sister Essley calls it when he does something new), and a little more on why they make me so, so happy.
Now that the baby “firsts” (first tooth, first solid food, first time crawling, first steps, etc.) have all been met and Emmett is in full toddler mode, the biggest developmental milestone for us is speech. While Emmett has been assessed as on track (and even ahead) developmentally in most areas, his speech, while not technically delayed, has always come in a couple of month behind his age. He is actually in speech therapy now twice a month, so we work a lot with him on repetition, short sentences, etc. He has really taken off over the last two weeks with stringing words into sentences, which has been a huge goal. (I have tears in my eyes even typing it out!) I especially love when he pretends to read books, and makes his little two word sentences along with long sentences of made up word full of the most daring inflections. I could sit there and listen to him for hours. Watching Emmett progress with his speech brings me a great sense of pride, as he’s worked so hard. It kind of feels like a miracle.
Emmett has also recently started counting everything (he can make it to 12, but sometimes prefers to leave out 7 and 9). His new favorite activity is playing his own special version of hide and seek, where he counts even when he is the one hiding (which is always in the same spot of our living room, right by the piano). He also loves to count each puzzle piece as he places it into a puzzle. It makes my heart so full of joy you guys. Truly. When I think back to being in the hospital with Emmett after we got the news of his epilepsy diagnosis and reading about how he would likely never even say one number, much less know how to count, I feel overcome with gratitude. It’s incredible.
Another milestone that has brought me such happiness is seeing Emmett move on from the parallel play stage to really socializing with other kids. He loves playing with his big sister more than anything, and seeing them become best friends allows me to see our family in a new (and amazing way) as well. When we’re at the park or one of Essley’s activities and he sees another toddler, he immediately runs up to them and initiates play. Once again I think back to our early days of his diagnosis and the uncertainty of his future in terms of social interaction, and I feel so thankful when I see him connect with others.
Emmett has also taken on a new love for performing, especially dancing, which is pretty freaking fantastic to watch. His sister has been taking dance since she was 18 months old and often practices at home, and now Emmett has to participate too, every time. He recently learned to jump with both feet and is quite proud of himself, so he incorporates that into his sweet dance moves. I hope the unique qualities he brings to his dancing continue into his life as he grows. It brings me such joy to see him developing a personality and his own little quirks that make him him.
Emmett is also starting to follow in his big sister’s footsteps in terms of a desire to pick out his own clothes each day. (He even – albeit awkwardly – attempt to dress himself!) His taste in fashion isn’t quite as eclectic as Essley’s, but he knows what he likes. And if there is a dinosaur on it, that’s what he wants to wear. His current favorites are this blue jersey slub tee and this pocket tee from Carter’s – both featuring dinosaurs of course. I love pairing them both with these super cute and comfy pull-on poplin pants and denim dock shorts, and can’t wait for it to get warm enough for him to wear these flip-flops on the daily! We’re big Carter’s fans in this house. (Essley is wearing her favorite nightgown in the piano picture above, also from Carter’s, and you can see them in their matching PJ sets from this past holiday season below.) Carter’s has been with us from the start, honestly – some of the first baby gifts I received when I got pregnant with Essley back in 2013 were Carter’s baby clothes – and has been a part of our milestone journeys with both babes. I have so many pictures on my phone’s camera roll with the kids wearing Carter’s clothes. And their new video, With You From the Start, gave me all the feels – because it’s so true.
Watching Emmett progress through his own magnificent milestones has been – and continues to be -such an intensely wonderful experience for me. Each new thing he does as he grows genuinely makes me grow too, as a parent and as a human being. He and his sister are truly my hearts. I am so grateful for them, and every single experience that comes with them.
If you are a parent, and aunt/uncle, a grandparents, or have special kids in your life, I would love to hear more about your little ones’ magnificent milestones and what they’ve meant to you!