As a wildlife biologist by trade, someone who has hunted for many years, and has been part of the firearm industry in some form for over 10 years, I am often confronted with the idea that hunting policy and legislation should be based on science, not emotion. I agree completely. However, it has become clear to me that many in the Australian hunting community may have a limited understanding of the science that applies to Australian recreational hunting. In fact, the misunderstanding on this topic is one of the reasons why I uprooted my life in my mid-20s to go to university and study this very topic. I wanted to ensure that I was as well informed as possible on this topic, not only for my own ethical hunting practices, but also to become a more effective advocate for recreational hunting.
Aims of the article
My aim here is to begin to equip the hunting community with the right tools and more information to arm yourself in defending Australian hunting, however first some hard hitting questions and self-reflection has to occur. Understandably, this may make some people uncomfortable, this may emotionally trigger some people, and may come across as “anti-hunting” if you purposely misinterpret it. If you do start to feel uncomfortable in this self-reflection or start to feel yourself become emotionally triggered, it is important to take a step back (figurative or literal), take a deep breath, and continue later. Also understand, the end goal is to eventually make sure the hunting community has the right tools to better, and more honestly, advocate for better hunting laws.
To achieve this goal, it is important to begin by asking some hard-hitting questions and engaging in self-reflection. While we can, and should, all agree that hunting policy should be based on science, it is essential to ask ourselves:
- Do you really know “the science”?
- Do you actually know what the science is that you believe should direct hunting policy?
- What do you actually know of the Australian environment, ecology, and invasion ecology?
- Do you know how to access the scientific literature that many people claim disagrees with hunting practices?
In this article, I want to challenge the Australian hunting community to reflect on those questions and their understanding of the science they claim to back up their thoughts and opinions on hunting. To advocate for science based hunting policies, it is important to question our understanding of ecology, particularly invasion ecology, have to come to an educated understanding of how invasive species impact our environment, accept that research on invasive species is non-partisan, and use this knowledge and proper understanding to develop an honest message of how hunting can and should be used as a legal tool to mitigate these impacts of invasive species.
Questions for self-reflection
Do we really know “the science”?
One question members of the community should ask of themselves is: do you actually know what the science you claim to back your beliefs is?
When it comes to policy surrounding recreational hunting, many people in the community say that it should be backed by science, and go on to claim that their opinions are backed by science. We want to make sure our opinions and beliefs are grounded in scientific knowledge, rather than personal beliefs, but that leaves a question remaining: how can you ensure that your beliefs and opinions about hunting are grounded in a comprehensive understanding of scientific research related to ecology and conservation?
Do you actually know what the science is that you believe should direct hunting policy?
This leads us to the second question: do you actually know what the science is that you believe should direct hunting policy?
In my opinion, many hunters have a general understanding of what the laws are in relation to hunting, but from my experience, many hunters have a misrepresentation of the scientific research that underpins the issues we face in Australia. Various buzzwords are used, such as “management” or “conservation”, which are great concepts, however are used incorrectly or in a manner not conducive with the needs of the Australian environment. It’s important to ask yourself if your beliefs and opinions about hunting policy are based on a solid understanding of the scientific principles behind management and conservation, or are they influenced by others and personal biases?
What do you actually know of the Australian environment, ecology, and invasion ecology?
The third question to consider is how much you actually know about the Australian environment, ecology, and specifically invasion ecology, and are you open to gaining a comprehensive understanding of the principles of each that relate to what we can hunt recreationally in Australia?
Not everyone in Australia who is interested in hunting needs to uproot their life to study this, however I was blown away by how much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. This topic is deeply complex, and while not every hunter needs to be a scientist, accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know, and seeking to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scientific research that underpins this topic will make you both a better hunter and hunter advocate. It is important to be aware of how invasive species impact our environment, how research is conducted, so you can accept this, and advocate for recreational hunting as a mitigation tool more accurately. Without this understanding, the risk of forming and spreading opinions, thoughts, commentary, and proposing policy, based on misinformation, may have unintended consequences.
The scientific literature?
Finally, you should ask yourself a 2-part question:
- Do you know how to access the literature published on invasive species and recreational hunting in Australia? And;
- Have you, do you, or would you, read it?
There is a significant amount of research done in Australia on invasive species and recreational hunting, some of which can be freely accessed, while others require payment. Reading of scientific literature on this topic, in my opinion, is important but too often disregarded. I have interacted with many people who have made commentary on articles they have claimed to read, on topics about specific documents, but when queried, they admit to not actually reading the articles or documents. Often, the articles, research, or documents, either support the need for hunting or are neutral, rarely are they anti-hunting, but the commentary from many in the hunting community would lead one to believe that the article, research, or document, is indeed anti-hunting. If you are someone who makes this commentary, do you believe you are making honest commentary if you have not actually read the piece you are commenting on?
To assign an anti-hunting message from something that has not been read, in my opinion, is dishonest and has led to negative consequences for the hunting community.
This has then created an artificial divide between the hunting community and research, which again in my opinion, is only one way. Commentary from the hunting community would lead you to believe that research is done from an office, using office workers, and no real field work. This is simply untrue. By simply reading the research you will learn through the methods that it is mostly field work, with some analysis of the data collected done in an office. It is important for hunters to access and understand the scientific literature that relates to recreational hunting in order to make informed decisions and spread an honest message.
In conclusion, as hunters, it is our responsibility to ensure that our opinions and beliefs actually are grounded in science. By asking ourselves these questions, we can begin to reflect on our understanding of the science behind hunting in Australia. We should strive to expand our knowledge of invasive species and invasive ecology, and access and read the published scientific literature. Only by promoting evidence-based approaches to hunting policy can we ensure that our actions, proposed policies, opinions, and beliefs, are based on scientific research rather than personal beliefs.
Where to go from here?
This article will be part of a new series of articles about the scientific research done on invasive species and recreational hunting in Australia. I will write on how to find and access these articles, read, and interpret them. I will also endeavour to write about different animals and their effects on the ecosystem, various policies, and how to be an effective advocate. I hope that everyone can learn something from this.