Hunting, fishing, and voting

There’s a bumper sticker that’s quite popular ’round these parts: ‘I hunt, I fish, and I vote.’ It’s a statement I always find fascinating to break down, because there’s a great deal embedded within it — and a number of different ways you could read it. The way people interpret it also says a lot about attitudes toward rural people, particularly those who hunt and fish for subsistence or sport reasons.

I favour any kind of political involvement, for any reason. I really do. I might not agree with how people vote or how they lobby in regards to a particular cause, but that’s not relevant — what is relevant is that I also get politically involved, that I vote too, that I talk with these people. It’s not my job to suppress the social and constitutional rights of other people in this great nation of ours, which means that I don’t get to decide that only people with politics like mine should be allowed to vote or engage in political conversations.

Aside from the fact that this would be a gross violation of rights, it would also be incredibly boring. Am I disappointed when elections swing in a direction I do not like? Of course I am — incredibly disappointed, and sometimes angry, and frustrated, and sad. I try to channel that disappointment into picking up the pieces and learning lessons about how to do better in the future, or taking up the charge to take down a bad proposition or ensure that a bad politician isn’t elected again in the next turn of the election cycle.

There are a lot of problems with the way politics is conducted in the United States. I am particularly deeply troubled by the heavy role played by industry in political lobbying and related activities. Elections in the US are heavily influenced by money, and thus it’s hard to take election results as seriously as I want to — is an election really fair if it’s bought? Are voters really exercising informed choice and making decisions based on their own beliefs and opinions if they’ve had political ideology crammed down their throats right up to the ballot box?

But people still hunt, fish, and vote. These things are not actually mutually exclusive, and some hunters and fishers are very involved in the political process, as implied by their bumper stickers. Some are actually ardent environmentalists, because a world with better environmental management is also one with a richer diversity of wildlife. Protecting our forests and parks, preventing sprawl, and taking other measures to ensure that the wilderness remains wild is good for the planet and good for those of us who like trees, but it also offers benefits to hunters, by creating a habitat for animals like deer. In fact, in some cases such protections lead to problems like overpopulation, in which case hunters become a welcome part of the environmental dynamic by thinning the population.

Environmentalist hunters are not so rare as some people seem to imagine. They’re not just concerned about the amount of open space, but also about its quality; for example, hunters were among those behind the push for green ammunition in California. Lead shot presented a number of dangers to the natural environment, including to the very animals hunters want to pursue, so they had a vested interest in demanding a switch to different forms of ammunition — hunters can be greenies after all, it would seem.

Fishers also have their own concerns about the environment, especially with bad fisheries management posing a serious threat to many fish species. They want a wealthy, healthy population of fish, including large specimens — if they don’t have access to that, then there’s really no point in fishing. So they, too, have a vested interest in environmental protection, including measures like preventing pollution, addressing erosion and eutrophication, and related issues. They want the environment to be healthy.

On that level, it makes complete sense that people who hunt and fish would vote. Environmental policy may be determined primarily by government agencies, but they do so at the behest of mandates from constituents. Voters can decide who’s elected to office, and by extension who’s appointed to head environmental agencies, and what kinds of environmental programmes and policies are promoted. Voters can also decide, in states with initiative and referendum systems, on specific propositions that might address environmental issues. If you don’t vote, you don’t get a direct say in these things, and thus you have a direct incentive to vote if you care about the environment.

On the flip side, though, some hunters and fishers (along with some members of the general population) believe that we’re experiencing a crisis of overregulation on all levels of government. They want to see a reduction in formal regulations and policy, rather than feeding more, and many are particularly frustrated with environmental policies that limit or restrict their activities — not just hunting and fishing seasons, for example, but caps on the number of abalone that can be taken each season, or restrictions on where they can hunt. For them, voting is a personal matter in which they balance their dislike of government in general with their hatred of government interference — for them, fishing, hunting, and voting isn’t about promoting environmental policy by electing for officials who promise to dismantle or curtail it. But this doesn’t make them uninformed hicks, as many people like to imagine. It makes them people with different political views.

So when I see a truck with an ‘I hunt, I fish, and I vote’ sticker on it, I don’t really know which politics it endorses. I’m hesitant to make assumptions about the driver — and other people should be too.

Image: Big Fish, Donnie Nunley, Flickr