Brian Block: Hunting honors the wishes of voters


Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:34 p.m.

Texas State University history professor James McWilliams took issue with my comments on some Alachua County conservation land being opened for hunting and made it very clear that he is opposed to hunting (Sun, Feb. 10). I agree with him.

In fact, I agree with almost everything the history professor had to say as it relates to the science of ecology, ecosystem management and the ethics of hunting in general. But he inferred an attitude that I am compelled to correct, and he appears to have missed my entire point, so I’ll expound.

McWilliams stated that I, (in a roundabout way) advocated for hunting from a utilitarian perspective because of a belief that doing so would garner more support for taxes levied for conservation. What I wrote, was that it might, and I did so as parenthetical comment.

For the record, I am opposed to any unnecessary violence, against humans or any feeling being, including recreational hunting. I don't even like the Everglades python eradication program or killing feral hogs on public lands, but I have resigned that both are necessary and without realistic alternatives. But we’re not talking about wildlife management methods, but rather opening public lands to recreational hunting due to recent decisions made by county commissioners to allow it in specific circumstances.

I support that decision, and would have voted the same way, though not without great reservation and caveats. Why I would do so, I thought I made clear, but perhaps not.

The reason why I wrote to the Sun in the first place had nothing to do with the merits of hunting (recreational or otherwise), or the lack thereof, or how I feel about it. McWilliams is evidently not a resident of the area and may not have a historical knowledge of these programs nor how they are being implemented. Perhaps he's not aware that in most places, conservation does not just happen, it takes great effort, a hell of a lot of money, and in the case of government programs, solid public support.

The passages of Alachua County Forever and Wild Spaces, Public Places were a reaction to sprawling growth at an alarming rate, but concern about losing our open spaces that isn’t all it took to get them passed. While have a solid core of “greenies” here, like Austin, I don’t think we have enough to pass county-wide ballots measure like we did, not alone. In a democracy, compromise is what it takes to get to “yes”, and that was my essential point. No bait and switch tactics, actual compromise.

Further, the science of crafting successful ballot measures to buy land for conservation by local governments is a well-studied and predictable field; you do a good job of polling, you listen to what the people say and you craft your ballot initiative language in a way that should ensure a victory (or you don’t and wait until you can, if ever). If you don't listen and try to push an agenda that does not appear to have sufficient support, you probably go home a loser. In the interests of integrity, truth as well as pragmatism, it is imperative that when you strike a deal, you live up to it. It wasn't just the conservation community making a pledge to spend the money wisely, as would be the case for a private non-profit like Alachua Conservation Trust, but our local government (under the leadership of one particularly highly-motivated conservationist, who, from what I understand, is an awful shot).

I am very happy to have been a part of two very honest county programs that serve not just the public who created them, but also serve as an example of good governance that benefits everyone. By honoring the wishes of the voters, including recreational hunters, we hope they will let us do it again and protect more land. I assure you, that when the economy has improved sufficiently, they’ll be asked again.

Lastly, as technical point, not all county-owned land is managed by the county; a small amount is managed by the city of Gainesville and much is managed by water management districts or the state as additions to areas already under their management. The land-management policies of the managing entity are what dictate (provided that there are no bond covenants that would restrict it, and so long as the will of the voters is obeyed).

Of those lands managed by the county, only those where it can be done safely (for humans), relatively easily or where it is perceived by both county staff and county commissioners to be ecologically responsible, will such a use be accommodated.

Where recreational hunting will be allowed, it will not be a free-for-all but limited and possibly by lottery, a far better scenario for the wildlife than on much of the private lands I have seen.

Brian Block lives in Gainesville.

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