Title: The Duality of Environmental Concerns and Animal Welfare

Marissa O’Connor

            While both environmental concerns and animal welfare concerns seem to encompass one another, groups respective of the two interests often clash due to competing values and different prioritization. Generally, groups concerned with animal welfare and ethics place the well-being and interests of sentient individuals at the center of their concerns. Conversely, groups primarily concerned with environmental conservation focus on the preservation of biodiversity, entire ecosystems, and nature itself.  Where the wellbeing of individual animals matters less and species, ecosystems, or nature as a whole are emphasized, ethical dilemmas and disagreements may arise. These dilemmas and disagreements are seen quite often when concerning wildlife management practices. Animal activists often claim that their values come second to environmentalist values, instead seen as an emotional response instead of rational since environmentalists opt for values concerning entire ecosystems, and therefore do not give the individual species concern that animal activists do. When in terms of wildlife management, animal activists would claim moral consideration for the species and environmentalists would speak for the entire ecosystem. Wildlife management practices that have the potential to create conflict are population control methods such as introducing predators in an ecosystem and hunting practices. Further, the allowance of recreational hunting practices and the management of invasive species also creates moral conflict.

            Environmentalists, such as Aldo Leopold, have claimed that hunting is an integral component of successful wilderness management. While it is against the interest of the deer to be hunted, it is in the interest of the ecosystem as a whole where overpopulation is occurring. The two competing interests would argue for opposite sides, but still share a common interest: neither want the other to suffer and die. In cases of recreational hunting, or hunting for sustenance, there is once again a moral dilemma. The hunting of whales is highly controversial, even if the species of whale being hunted is not vulnerable. An Inuit hunter once put the dilemma starkly: “The greatest peril in life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls.” Whale hunting does may not damage the environment itself, as it can recover, but does that negate the harm done to the individual? As with Inuits who rely on whale meat as a large portion of their sustenance, deer hunters regularly utilize the entire carcass. Environmentalists would deem this “ethical hunting”, animal activists would claim there is no such thing.

            How wildlife management groups deal with invasive species also sees a great conflict between the two interests. For primary example is the Mute Swan, which is considered an invasive species to North America whose management practices have seen their fair share of disagreements. With a population explosion in the early 2000s, a management plan to curb the rising population of a species once protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to “minimize environmental damages attributed to Mute Swans”. This proposal was supported by all thirteen state wildlife agencies, as well as 43 bird conservation and wildlife management organizations. In opposition were ten animal rights organizations and the majority of comments that were submitted by individuals. The proposal included methods of population control such as the act of “egg shaking”, which disrupts the yolk so no embryo may develop. The controversial methods of population control of the Mute Swan bring into the question of when the intervention is necessary, and how do wildlife managers decide when it is?

Environmentalist values do not always take precedent over the values of animal activists, however. There is, what some animal welfare activists consider to be, a “moral panic” over free-ranging and feral cats. In terms of their extremely destructive behaviors to ecosystems, but special prioritization it sees as charismatic species and household pet, the opposing sides conflict on how to mitigate their impact. The ethical dilemma is quite profound, but feral cats need not see any hunting practices enacted on them, a grace that some animal welfare activists think should be extended to additional species.  Where animal rights activists see a win with household cats, environmentalists, and countless birds, lose.

A solution to these dilemmas could be found in a hybrid view that draws upon the establishment of an ethical framework in order to delegate prioritizations and actions. An example of a hybrid view is an approach developed by American philosopher Bryan Norton, who distinguishes animals in three different contexts: wild, domesticated, and mixed. In terms of wild animals, the ethical framework should be concerned with respect to the struggle of wildlife to perpetuate their species. This respect and accounting to the struggle sacrifices the interests of the individual for the whole. Opposite to the framework suggested for domesticated animals who should not be individually sacrificed for the good of the animal populations or species. Regardless of an ethical framework, wildlife still has every opportunity to lose.

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