A Vegan View of Deer, Coyotes, and Bobcats

Deer-stalking season is back. Time to remember defending the free is the core of the vegan ethic.

A vegan humanity wouldn’t breed chickens, emus, cows, horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, llamas, or, for that matter, Chihuahuas. Nor would it pack ammunition and go chasing after hapless herbivores.

A vegan humanity wouldn’t compete against wolves, coyotes, and bobcats to keep the above-listed animals available for our use and amusement.

And if our hero, a pleasanter humanity, stops warring on wolves, coyotes, and untamed cats, then the claim that moose, elk, and deer have no natural predators would be history.

Now, some people stalk animals regardless of their numbers, because they think it’s fun, so they must have been led to regard an object that can kill as a toy—but people with this ugly view would not be brought up by our hero.

Canids Come Back

Long ago there were wolves here on the eastern side of the North American continent. Our anti-hero killed them off.

But you can’t keep a good bio-community down.

The Great Lakes wolves have mingled with eastern coyotes, producing coyote-wolf hybrids. Deer make up about a third of their food. These coyotes are apex AF.

So, why are there still so many deer?

 

Coyote on deck: Steve Jurvetson / Wikimedia Commons

The states’ hunting and trapping rules are dead-set against coyotes. About half of the coyote population winds up dead each year in Pennsylvania.

Bobcats are targets too—so there’s a community of capable carnivores under fire.

Federal managers ought to be heeding the growing body of scientific knowledge of the harm done when lands lose big predators. They ought to work with state agencies to reverse the current obsession with snaring, poisoning, hunting, and trapping them. We need to make this point heard.

Philadelphia’s Bloody Green Space

Know what shooting does? It creates a huge population of deer to keep shooting.

At the Wissahickon Valley Park, the northwest section of the city’s Fairmount Park, indigenous deer are baited and shot each winter.

Here’s the story, as recorded by Bridget Irons, archivist for Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer.

  • 1994: Friends of the Wissahickon called Natural Resource Consultants, Inc. for a deer population survey after people around the park observed—Oh, my!—deer.
  • 1996: An aerial survey counted 159 deer.
  • 1998: The Fairmount Park Commission, deciding on a limit of 30 deer, approved a one-time cull of the Fairmount Park deer.
  • 1999 – 2017: The official tally is 3,469 deer killed in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park.

It starts because the human “cultural carrying capacity” is so low (the number 30 as the limit on deer in the largest urban green space in the world). And then it becomes a vicious cycle of killing, deer repopulating at a frantic pace, and ever more killing.

Watch the same dynamic at the nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park, and throughout the townships surrounding Philadelphia. Residents complain. They don’t like their gardens nibbled. And eventually there’s a killing contract with the U.S. Agriculture Department—usually starting with a time limit, but carrying on indefinitely, with lot of money and personnel hours diverted to the projects. (For the Fairmount Park shootings, Philadelphia’s police aviation unit has been pulled in.)

How much should public pressure influence managers to impair what nature produces?

And how do we have a dialogue with the communities that manage to exert such violent pressure?

A Deer’s Reproductive System Is None of Our Business

Many advocacy groups prefer to promote deer birth control instead of shooting. They claim obstructing deer reproduction is a humane way of reducing their numbers.

It’s not. Scientists have published harrowing post mortems of deer subjected to chemical birth control.

And in the bigger picture, the attitude that humans should manage nature puts coyotes out of a job. Predators need us to stop repressing them, and to empower them to regroup and return to their natural roles.

And in the even bigger (and vegan) picture: Why on Earth would we want a pharmaceutical plan to control the destinies of untamed animals?

We might believe the public isn’t ready for coyotes.But then it’s our work to create understanding. Coyotes aren’t trying to create additional risks for us. Mainly they’re avoiding run-ins with us, moving at night where they live near us. Humans need to take a page from their book and be better minders of our own business.

 

If Beanstalks Had Feelings

Vegan? Becoming a vegan? One day, someone is going to ask you that burning question: “Oh, so you think plants don’t have feelings?”

What About PlantsDepending on your mood, available time, and experience with this classic outburst, your answer might be (1) terse, (2) practical, or (3) biological:

(1) Whatever. You roll your eyes and return to what you were doing before this unoriginal remark was uttered.

(2) OK, but animal farming harms more plants. Obvious, is it not? Animal husbandry requires several times the volume of crops as would be grown if we just grew food for people to eat. Willy could spare untold leafy billions from torture by growing food, not feed.

(3) Plants can’t run. You could also remind Willy that nature gave animals nervous systems to prompt them to self-protectively move away from sources of pain. If beanstalks had feelings, evolution would have equipped them with moveable feet, fins, or wings.

My preference is 1.

Plant Sensitivities, Revisited

So now that we’ve got the retorts laid out, let’s think seriously about plants. They are indeed responsive to their surroundings. And in this time of climate change, plants’ sensitivity to stress is coming to the attention of environmental science. Plants naturally breathe in carbon dioxide. But they can only take so much.

Excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere results from several human activities—including the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and animal agribusiness.[1]

We also tend to drive predators out of any biological community we enter. That leads to an abundance of herbivores, standing around the foliage, chomping away without a care. Their bliss is illusory; the absence of wolves and other predator animals is unhealthy. And the put-upon plants can’t absorb the greenhouse gases they could handle in a balanced environment.

A study at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies showed plants around spiders (predators) took in carbon 1.4 times faster than when with only grasshoppers (herbivores). Grasshoppers coping with predators ate less grass, and grasses stored more carbon in their roots when dealing with these herbivores and carnivores together. Where only herbivores were present, plants tended to breathe out, rather than store, carbon.[2]

Compare the way sea otter scarcity correlates with rising emissions. The missing otters’ prey, sea urchins, are free to feed heavily on the kelp forests which would otherwise hold in carbon. With predators gone, CO2 emissions have, in some cases, risen tenfold!

What Are the Implications for Vegan Activism?

We need to get out there and challenge the persecution of predator animals. I’ll gladly help in the writing of educational materials with any vegan group interested in forming, say, a coyote co-existence initiative. coexistence initiative

By being vegan, we’ve already built a solid platform for this advocacy. Predators are so often wiped out because they impede human hunting and animal farming (which a vegan humanity would stop).

And of course, trees and foliage can’t take in carbon dioxide if they’re gone because the forest was cleared of indigenous flora and fauna so corporations could usurp the land to farm domesticated animals.

All told, plants and their sensitivities have diverse and interesting ramifications, and we need to pay attention. In the mystical yet grounded words of my friend Jack McMillan:  “Plants—and, yes, rocks, and water, and all . . . are part of the exceedingly complex web of life and the sacred constellation of consciousness.”


NOTES

[1] United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production” (2010) examines fossil fuel consumption, land use, and the impacts of population growth, and states: “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

[2] The scientific experts who study climate change for the United Nations haven’t been taking these multiplier effects into account in their models. 

Thanks goes out to Jack McMillan for inspiring this post. Coyote coexistence art by Lee Thompson.