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Animals: Nonlethal Solutions

In response to:

Visitors from the February 21, 2013 issue

To the Editors:

Russell Baker’s review of Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars reflects many of the errors and prejudices of the book’s author, including miscasting the human-animal relationship as a “battleground” [NYR, February 21]. We see the various challenges Sterba discusses, whether in relation to conflicts we humans have on occasion with Canada geese, beavers, foxes, deer, or even feral cats, as an emerging field of human opportunity. The presence of conflict does not typically necessitate mass killing, as Sterba suggests, but a measure of human ingenuity and investments in technical and policy solutions consistent with our best inclinations toward wildlife and domesticated animals living in our communities, all wanting their own measure of peace and safety.

The concern we demonstrate toward animals by seeking nonlethal and nonviolent solutions to the dilemmas associated with their presence in close proximity to humans is not “unrealistic and sentimental,” but forward-thinking and in tune with both ecological sensibility and emerging technological opportunities. The rise of biophilic design, safe passage conduits for wildlife, beaver baffles and other tools for humane wildlife exclusion, and wildlife contraception technologies point to a future in which we address such challenges with energy, invention, and the instinctive compassion we feel toward the life that is all around us.

In a series of now classic studies published in the 1970s and 1980s, the Yale social ecologist Stephen Kellert and his students documented a long-term shift away from utilitarian perspectives toward wild animals and toward more humanistic and moralistic stances. Sterba’s portrayal of urban and suburban wildlife as enemies of the state, reinforced in Baker’s review, cuts against this powerful trend, and is a part, we strongly hope, of the last wheeze of the consumptive-use philosophy that has dominated wildlife management for many decades.

We would argue that these issues are more complex than the perspectives of Sterba and Baker allow, and that neither writer has done justice to the opportunities offered by nonlethal management approaches. These approaches, and not those of the sport hunter and sharpshooter, are where our future lies.

Wayne Pacelle
President and CEO
Bernard Unti
Senior Policy Adviser
Humane Society of the United States
Washington, D.C.

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