In a recent negligent hunting trial in Clark County, brought when a hunter accidentally shot a man and his young son in Buck Creek State Park, there should have been a co-defendant - the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODW). ODW aggressively promotes the archaic “sport” of hunting and continues to push this cruel and dangerous practice into Ohio's state parks.
The public, which largely opposes sport hunting, acquiesces to the stalking and killing of tens of thousands of animals every year because ODW maintains it is necessary to keep populations of other animals “under control.” In the case of deer, for example - the quarry of choice for most hunters - ODW officials claim hunting and killing them is necessary to avoid crop damage, deer-vehicle collisions, and deer starvation. The view promoted by ODW is deceptive and manipulative.
Like many other animals over the years, deer largely would have disappeared from the modern landscape if not for the efforts of ODW, which manages deer populations and deliberately cultivates their large numbers to increase opportunities for hunters.
Through their management of tens of thousands of acres of game preserves - euphemistically called wildlife preserves - ODW creates and nurtures the habitat required to support large deer populations. ODW cultivates deer food plots in these regions and permits farmers to plant and harvest crops in some wildlife areas, provided they leave a sizable portion for deer.
When hunters' awful plundering of deer decreases the populations, state wildlife officials will set conservative “bag” limits for a few years, particularly for female deer, to permit the regeneration of a large population. Thus, ODW cultivates not only large deer populations but also misinformation when it purports to manage animal populations in the animals', and the public's, interest.
Tens of thousands of deer are ruthlessly stalked and killed each year (many, shot with arrows, bleed to death, or die horribly from infected wounds), and between 1988 and 1999, 34 Ohioans have been killed and 20,157 injured in deer-automobile accidents.
All the while, ODW promotes the hunting of deer, doves, squirrels, geese, rabbits, and other woodland animals - in part because the department is partially funded by the sale of hunting licenses and permits.
Some members of the public also acquiesce to the stalking and killing of animals because they believe many hunters need food. The exorbitant prices hunters willingly pay to kill animals, however, belies this assumption. By the time the costs for license, weapons, clothing, and other accessories are tallied, the price per pound of “meat” - for those who eat the animals they kill - is far greater than retail costs.
Aware of the widespread public opposition to recreational hunting, licensed hunters - only about 7 percent of the population nationwide - have organized themselves into a highly effective political force. They have a virtual monopoly on ODW policy-making boards and committees and use the ODW to promote and protect their “sport” under the guise of “wildlife management.”
Their financial clout is augmented by that of gun manufacturers, who heavily promote sales of weapons and ammunition. Their products, however, are not confined to killing animals but are used in the killing of humans as well, a fact that has begun to spawn numerous lawsuits against the gun industry.
Moreover, countless retail “sporting goods” businesses rely heavily on the sale of guns and other “sportsmen's” accessories. Their combined political clout is strongly felt in the Ohio Legislature where their view of woodland animals, as merely quarry and game, prevails over the view of a largely animal-friendly but unorganized public that is profoundly misinformed by ODW public relations campaigns.
The power of the hunters' and gun manufacturers' control over the ODW is so strong that ODW is now seeking to increase gun use among Ohio youth at a time when deadly incidents of gun violence in the schools chill the nation. ODW also continues to push for increased opportunities for hunters in Ohio parks, which should be a refuge for both humans and other animals.
The publicized hunting-related shooting at Buck Creek State Park certainly gives pause to anyone who may wish to spend a morning or afternoon walking through the park, with a hope of spotting a glimpse of some of the inhabitants of the woods. Indeed, who wants to place himself or his family at risk of being severely injured or killed by someone stalking animals with guns or bows and arrows?
In a society where democracy could prevail over moneyed interests, the deceptive ways of the ODW would be more widely publicized. In such a society, the suffering and spillage of blood ODW promotes in Ohio's woods and parks, the deaths and injuries of Ohioans whose vehicles collide with the artificially maintained number of deer, the death and injury caused in gun and hunting-related accidents and the fear of Ohioans to journey into public parks all would lead to a call for reason and justice.
Instead, during the recent Clark County trial (in which the hunter was found not guilty) the practices of the ODW that contributed to the shootings were ignored, and another terrible and preventable incident masqueraded as “mere accident.”
David Nibert is an associate professor of sociology at Wittenberg University in Springfield.