culling grounds

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Recently my Facebook friend Lorrie Deck posted a thoughtful entry entitled “Snow Geese” on Splendippity, her wonderful blog. With Lorrie’s permission, I’ve included several excerpts from that post here, because it inspired me to do some thinking about the issue of hunting and the birds and animals involved. Here is my abbreviated version of her post.

Over to you, Lorrie:

I awoke yesterday morning to the sound of hundreds of snow geese in the farmer’s fields behind our home. They show up every year to rest and to glean the leftover corn to fill their bellies before moving further north. Ultimately, they will arrive at their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. I look forward to their annual visit because they’re the only Arctic animal I get to see living here in Pennsylvania and because I’m amazed at the length of the journey they take every year, flying from the Arctic to the southern United States to winter in warm marshes, and then back to the far north every spring.

snow-geese-for-postThey arrived a month early this year. Most years they show up in the middle of March, but spring arrived early here in Pennsylvania, and I knew that the geese, true harbingers of spring, would not be far behind. 

I grabbed some tea and stood at the window watching the geese and planning on how I was going to approach them to take photographs without being seen.

After watching them for a while, I headed upstairs to get showered and dressed. While in the bathroom, I heard seven loud gunshots. I looked out the bathroom window and saw the geese in the sky, honking and flying away. I ran downstairs and went outside – still in my pajamas – to see two hunters picking up dead birds and heading back to their vehicle.

I was stunned. These geese have been coming here for years and as far as I know, they have never been hunted here. The field behind our house does not belong to us; it belongs to a farmer who lives down over the hill, and I have no reason to believe that the hunters did not have permission to hunt in the field, nor do I think they acted illegally. Not only is hunting snow geese legal, but the number of geese hunters may take has been increased because snow geese have made such a great recovery from their depleted numbers in the past that their breeding grounds are now being threatened by overpopulation.

Despite this, it saddened me, because it turns out that snow geese do mate for life and now some of them have to continue the journey to their breeding grounds without their mate.

[Click here to read Lorrie’s entire post.]



I too was saddened by the thought of some of those geese having to fly away from their mates, shot and lying dead in that field. To me, the fact that snow geese mate for life seems to make it even more unjust that mated pairs are so cruelly separated.

When I became a Buddhist, I accepted the Tibetan Buddhist teaching that we humans have no right to knowingly take the life of any creature. Early on, however, I had to reconsider my approach to this aspect of Buddhist thought. For instance, unlike many Buddhists, I simply do not thrive on a vegan diet, although I’ve tried many times over. Each time, food intolerances have forced me back to what is now called a paleo diet. I’m a meat eater, plain and simple.

For another example, if I see an insect in my home, I either carry it outdoors or – with apologies – I kill it. Now, you and I both know that apologizing to a creature that you’re going to kill anyway seems specious, at best, as an approach to respect for all life (So sorry for the inconvenience, SMASH!), but I’ve discovered that if nothing else, at least it contributes to a degree of mindfulness about what I’m doing. If I have to kill or eat the results of others’ killing, I’m not doing it thoughtlessly.

Most people, I think, would agree that killing ugly, nasty insects is one thing; on the other hand, killing Bambi and The Snow Goose is entirely another kettle of fish. How can we even think of killing creatures so beautiful, so harmless? Nevertheless, the issue is the same: how to control creatures that, through absolutely no fault of their own, have become pests.

canada-geese-postWe have a huge, lovely wooded park in our city near where I live (one of many in this city, actually) that has unfortunately become overrun with several large gaggles of Canada geese.

The city created grassy areas in this wooded park, with picnic tables and soccer goalposts, so that families could come and play in the summer, and there’s nothing the park’s resident Canada geese enjoy more than juicy, freshly-mown grass to feast on – and eventually deliver themselves of (about a pound a day per goose of the messy green stuff).

Some Canada geese still migrate, but a percentage of them (known as resident Canada geese) have adjusted to living near people. They no longer migrate in the winter. And why would they? Global warming has made deep snowfalls and frigid temperatures much rarer nowadays. Visitors to the park feed the birds year-round, so (except during the nesting season) they’ve become almost tame. In Canada, firearm restrictions apply everywhere.

In addition, thanks to the rapid growth of our suburbs, which have appropriated fields and woods formerly the home of local wildlife, resident geese no longer suffer the predations of such natural enemies as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, and foxes that would normally keep down their numbers.

Whereas migratory Canada goose populations are held in check by predation, migration accidents and late winter storms, resident populations, safer and better fed, begin nesting at a younger age and produce larger clutches of chicks than migratory Canada geese.

As a result, their numbers have risen well past the point of sustainability and are, in fact, increasing every year.  

These birds are fast becoming little more than pests. They’re overrunning our city parks, golf courses, and farmers’ fields, crowding our wildlife refuges, and causing hazards at airports. There are even concerns about public health and water quality from their droppings.

doe-fawn_1-final-for-postWithin an hour’s drive of our city, one of our beautiful provincial parks suffers the same problem, but here the challenge is to limit the overabundance of white-tailed deer.

Deer populations have flourished in recent years, leaving biologists and conservationists with the problem of what to do with the glut of animals that all compete for the same food, stripping the areas in which they are contained of that particular food.

Beautiful as these animals are, the absence of any checks and balances (natural predators like cougars and wolves and coyotes, among other things) leaves them free to reproduce far beyond what nature intended to maintain ecological equilibrium. In order to sustain species diversity – a forest with a rich variety of flowers and shrubs, and animals – the deer population has to be reduced.final-buck

Some say overpopulation is biologically impossible, and that if too many deer, for example, are trying to live and feed in one contained area, they’ll simply die off naturally of starvation or disease.

Indeed, this is exactly what nature herself does. However, forced illness and starvation wouldn’t be the “solution” for so many wild animals if they had been able to continue living in their wild habitat, subject to the laws of nature and the natural predators that keep it all in balance. Living and dying would proceed as they have done for centuries.

Non-killing might have been a manageable ideal in the Buddha’s time, when global warming, industrialization, and constant growth and development had not yet overrun the forests and fields where wildlife made their homes; but I don’t think it’s possible in the overdeveloped, urbanized world we live in today.

It is we humans, with our constant, ongoing expansion into the natural world, who have cramped its wild creatures into tiny areas that are no longer ecologically balanced. Having played God with the environment thus far, we now have the responsibility of filling whatever ecological niches we’ve ruined, taking the place of the natural enemies that would have culled the animal population if human expansion hadn’t intervened.

Nowadays, in an effort somewhat analogous to closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, attempts are being made to fulfill that responsibility in a variety of ways: eggs are destroyed, birds and animals are relocated to wilder areas (although I have to wonder how a creature born and raised in proximity to civilization suddenly manages to survive in the wild), or they are culled by means of controlled hunts. Various approaches are being attempted for other species that must now be managed (including, for instance, wild turkeys, moose, elk, black bears, wolves, and coyotes). 

Various approaches are also being attempted for other species that must now be managed (including, for instance, wild turkeys, moose, elk, black bears, wolves, and coyotes). At the end of the day, it’s all artificial culling, in one form or another.

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And this Buddhist, who wholeheartedly agrees with the necessity for action, is still trying to pick her way through the minefield of modern practical concerns on the one hand and the ideals of spirituality on the other.

It’s not an easy journey.

Namaste,
Susannah

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6 Comments

  1. In general, I agree with you. Specifically, I am vegan, and try very hard not to kill anything. I wonder if you have tried any of the wonderful new vegan cookbooks, including the one by your fellow Canadian, Angela Liddon, The Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook. I think you will find her recipes are amazing, and she uses easy to find ingredients to create her marvels. I would urge you to try again, although I respect your prior attempts and expect you know best.

    We are having a similar problem here in Vermont, only with coyotes. I think they are wonderful creatures, and the indiscriminate hunting of them here guarantees the deer will again overpopulate. Hunting is a brutal sport that feeds men’s egos while starving their empathy centers, if they have any. I feel deeply for the problems you are facing with the nonmigratory birds.

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  2. Barb, I’ve tried many times to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, and I’m intolerant to pretty much all grains, legumes and dairy–which cuts back considerably on what I can actually eat. Even gluten-free doesn’t work for me, so I’ve reluctantly decided that I simply can’t do the no-meat thing. Basically, I can eat many vegetables without worrying about a reaction. And meat, of course. 😦

    I’ve heard wonderful things about the Oh She Glows Everday Cookbook from my vegan friends,

    We’re certainly not alone in North America with problems of animal and bird overpopulation (along with the depletion of such harmless populations as songbirds and frogs – and bees). The little research I did was an eye-opener; the issue is becoming endemic in the US and Canada, as well as in many other parts of the world.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Barb. Be well!

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  3. It is so hard isn’t it? No one wants to be over run by deer or Canada geese or any other wildlife. But the destruction they cause in such large numbers, since they are largely left unchecked by natural predators, makes for some hard decisions. And what makes it harder for me is remembering a time when there was not as many geese. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s we did not see them so often. So the good news is they, like the raptors, have recovered. Thank you for the shout out to my blog Splendippity. I love the photos with this story too, they truly show the beauty of the geese.

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    1. I’ve never seen a snow goose in life, because they migrate north up the western provinces and I live in the east. When I was a kid in the 50s living in Quebec (eastern Canada again), the only time I ever saw Canada geese was when they flew overhead on their migrations; they didn’t land to feed in our area. It was a big deal to watch the huge V’s of Canadas flying and hear them honking high overhead, even though we never saw them close to.

      Nowadays, of course, they’re everywhere. I love watching them when they’re with their goslings, while at the same time disliking the mess they leave in their wake. (Walking in the park is an exercise reminiscent of that Tiny Tim song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” only not quite as pleasant….) 🙂

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  4. I avoid killing anything; even the tiniest insect or beetle gets rescued if it falls in the sink when I open the window. I feel everything has a right to life, and I have no right to take it.

    I do think the whole subject is difficult. We have to eat to stay alive, as does all of nature, and we’re okay with lions killing wildebeest because we say that’s nature. So why shouldn’t man eat meat? If I had some chickens they would definitely die of old age because I couldn’t bring myself to kill them, while a pre-packed chicken in the supermarket doesn’t have the same effect on me. The hunters that truly disgust me are the trophy hunters, who like to put animal heads on their wall. That type of mindset, to me, is really beyond belief.

    Good post Sue! 🙂

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  5. Hey, Jude! Yup, it’s a difficult subject, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it’s a personal choice, and compromises (at least in my case) have to be considered.

    Trophy hunters disgust me too. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to display the head of a dead animal (or, usually, more than one dead animal) on a wall. I suppose it’s some kind of mighty hunter thing: man against dangerous animal or whatever.

    And perhaps it was that, back in earlier times. Nowadays, however, the hunted animals don’t stand a chance. Every detail is geared to the success of some jerk who goes out there with his high-powered gun and waits for the facilitator to herd the poor beast toward the gun. Mighty hunter, indeed! Pah, it’s horrifying!

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