In honor of the arrival of peaking hunting season in Michigan, we're launching a two-part series on true - yet controversial - considerations for all of Michigan's recreational community. Part One dials in on the vast economic and environmental factors that validate the necessity of hunting within the Detroit region. #HuntingHardKnocks
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Then-senate hopeful Abraham Lincoln famously stated those words on June 16, 1858, standing before the Illinois House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate candidate may have lost that particular race, but his immortal speech in opposition of the prolonged existence of slavery within the United States would propel the future president into the political limelight.
President Lincoln understood that the longterm viability of the United States depended on unity. The restored political union of the United States of America. The unity of war-torn families. And, most importantly, the unity of core beliefs for all Americans: that all men are created equal, with unalienable rights to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In 21st century America, the "house divided" construct continues to rear its consequential head across the full spectrum of our society. Especially within Michigan's outdoor industry, the greatest rift that threatens the longevity of ecological conservation, economic expansion, and community connection can be summed up in one word: hunting.
More specifically, the fundamental misunderstanding of the vital necessity of hunting for preserving Michigan's outdoors.
The Divided State of the Outdoor Community
We at Expedition Detroit have experienced the collateral damage associated with this misunderstanding. Roughly one year ago, we started connecting with industry-leading partners for affiliate marketing opportunities. One particular retailer - which will not be named in this article - was our ideal partner. Aside from being arguably the most influential and recognized outdoor retail brand throughout North America, this brand constitutes a key leader in the outdoor recreation advocacy space. Partnering with this brand in our earliest months could have been a catalyst for growth.
Alas, after a lengthy application process, the Expedition Detroit team experienced our first operational heartbreak. A denied application, along with a short explanation as to why:
"Web content prominently features gun violence and/or hunting."
My jaw dropped when I read those words. For starters, and to the chagrin of Expedition Detroit's hunting faithful, our hunting-related content is the least-publicized across our platform. Aside from the indisputable sensitivity surrounding the topic, that statistic also results from the relatively narrow and insulated scope that hunting has compared to other mixed-trail recreational genres. Additionally, we have always sought to produce our hunting content in a manner that promotes responsible, ethical, and environmentally-conscious practices.
Second, and more significantly, painting "gun violence" and "hunting" with the same broad brush is irresponsibly misleading, offensive, and destructive for the growth and sustainability of the greater outdoor economy and community. Gun violence in the United States is undoubtedly one of our country's most horrendous issues. A multifaceted societal stain that has robbed us of the sanctuaries of our schools, festivals, theaters, and places of worship. The leading cause of premature death in the U.S.
Something that no rational person - or company - could ever support.
Allow us to be abundantly clear: hunting is NOT gun violence. "Gun violence" is defined as "homicide, violent crime, attempted suicide, suicide, and unintentional death and injury" resulting from a firearm. While hunting does involve taking life, and often via the use of a firearm, no aspect of hunting inherently aligns with the definition of gun violence. This particular retailer's uneducated and plainly stupid association of these two disparate concepts only serves to associate ethical and conservation-minded hunters with the most horrific acts of our country's last two decades.
To the contrary, leading environmental advocacy organizations like Leave No Trace and household-name brands like Patagonia and Black Diamond actively support hunting. Leave No Trace has affirmed that hunting is a "great American pastime and helped shape many of our first public lands, as well as "a legitimate, traditional and acceptable outdoor recreational pursuit." In Mark Kenyon's phenomenal book That Wild Country, Kenyon recalls the following words from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, once a stark anti-hunting advocate, at a wildlife conservation conference:
"They say that hunters and tree huggers can't get together. That's bullshit. The only way we're going to get anything done is to work together."
Now, this article is not intended to convert any vegans into ardent hunters. At all. Instead, we at Expedition Detroit believe that educating our growing community on the necessity of hunting is of dire importance. To our knowledge, Mr. Chouinard has never hunted in his 85 years exploring this beautiful place we call Earth - yet now recognizes the immense value of hunting for conservation, even without his direct participation in it.
Value that Michigan cannot afford to lose.
The Irreplaceable Value of Hunting
"Warmer winters, fewer hunters have Michigan deer numbers soaring — and it's becoming a problem." Detroit Free Press, October 2022.
"Drop in hunting, fishing licenses could harm Michigan economy, reports show." Bridge Michigan, January 2019.
"Fewer hunters but more deer as Michigan's firearms season begins." Crain's Detroit Business, November 2018.
Just by taking a quick glance at the hunting-related headlines over the last few years, you can easily tell which direction Michigan hunting is headed towards. Likewise, you can also sense the negative undertone of these headlines - that hunter numbers are diminishing, deer herds especially are booming, and that those facts are newsworthy problems.
From a purely economic perspective, the sale of hunting and fishing licenses remains a core fiscal component of several interwoven business models. From supercharging the Michigan Department of Natural Resources's financial capacity to supporting thousands of small businesses, the long-term viability of hunting remains a vital economic interest. Here's a helpful infographic produced by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs on this point:
Especially for small businesses - over 171,000 to be exact - the economic necessity of hunting provides essential support for hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, and over 4,000 gas stations across Michigan. In fact, these disparate groups have joined the advocacy group Hunting Works for Michigan as an effort to further support this narrow, yet vital, facet of Michigan's larger outdoor recreation industry.
That degree of reliance is troubling when compared to recent trends in annual hunter participation. Firearm deer-hunting licenses sold to Michiganders has dropped more than 20% in two decades, down to 621,000 in 2017 from a peak of 785,000 in 1998. The estimated number of hunters that have left the field is over 200,000 and growing since 2000. This problem is further compounded by the fact that Michigan's largest demographic of hunter - white men over the age of 60 - has constituted the leading consumer demographic for over 20 years. Stated differently, the exact same hunting participants, in their individual capacities, have largely carried the conservation torch since the early 2000s.
Those consumers are almost 70 now. Not to be morbid, but their days in the woods - and the corresponding economic impact - are dwindling. Rapidly.
Urbanization Demands Active Wildlife Management
At this point in the article, certain readers may actually be celebrating the sunset of the Boomer generation's hunting participation. We can't fault you for that - as we noted earlier, hunting certainly isn't for every outdoor enthusiast.
But please - don't pop the champagne yet. In fact, we implore you to utilize that energy towards brainstorming alternative conservation solutions to hunting. Why? Because a massive exodus of hunters would prove to be an ecological disaster for Michigan's outdoors, and especially the wildlife that are carefully managed, studied, and preserved through hunting programs.
Especially with regard to whitetail deer, Michigan's herds are dangerously flourishing. The statewide deer population is estimated at 2 million deer, up 300,000 from a decade ago. Spurred on by warmer climates and hunter participation decreases, this ballooning population has caused a 6.6% increase in deer-related car accidents and a 59.6% increase in crop damage. This oversized herds are also wreaking havoc on forest floors, eliminating young trees, wildflowers, and plants that are essential for warding off invasive species.
The Michigan DNR is also strongly concerned regarding the extent of disease emission that accompanies out-of-control and dense deer populations. The Michigan deer herd has two diseases persisting in it: bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. Bovine tuberculosis, a bacterial disease, causes concern because infected deer can give it to nearby livestock like cattle, and vice versa. Chronic wasting disease - a contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose - causes a degeneration of the brain resulting in emaciated "zombie deer" that behave erratically, lose bodily functions and ultimately die.
Here's the kicker to all of these problems: they are entirely our fault. And by "our," I mean modern American society and our relentless urbanization. In short, "urbanization" involves converting rural land into suburbs - including the eradication of undesirable predators, animal and human alike. Urbanization inherently consists of habitat destruction, which for most species means displacement and necessary migration.
Not so for the whitetail deer. To the contrary, deer populations thrive in urbanized, suburban environments. More specifically, the Detroit region's deer herds swell within fragmented "edge" habitats that often occurs with modern suburban developments (think tracts of trees between houses). Throw in an ample foraging supply from landscaping and hardly any natural predators, you have the perfect equation for disastrous population growth in the name of urbanization.
Effectuating the Necessity of Hunting
Now that we've inundated you with more hunting and deer management statistics than you could have ever hoped to learn, we're coming full circle to affirm the hard knock truth about hunting in Michigan - especially hunting near urbanized areas like Detroit:
It's a multifaceted necessity for the sustainability of our outdoors. Arguably the most important recreational pursuit due to the ecological problems that we, collectively as a society, have carelessly created.
In light of all of the rationales listed above, the Michigan DNR has for several years all but begged Michiganders to educate themselves on and participate in hunting. Especially as the older generation steadily exits the field, the DNR is actively trying to attract new hunters to regions like Metro Detroit through several unprecedented policy changes. These include lowering the minimum participation age, outreach and education programs, expanding Southeast Michigan's bow hunting season to January 31st, creating new hunting opportunities for Michiganders with disabilities, antler point restriction relaxation, and the virtual elimination of antlerless permits in the lower peninsula.
For us at Expedition Detroit, we strongly encourage our community to support hunting either actively or passively by simply buying a license. While our sincere hope is that this article educates and influences every reader towards a more wholistic view on hunting, we recognize that getting every outdoor enthusiast on board with the recreational pursuit represents wishful thinking at best.
No, our much more rational goal is simply to re-engage the narrative on hunting in the Detroit region by examining well-researched facts. Taking a deep dive into the rationales the support - no, demand - the necessity of hunting on a large scale for the ecological sustainability of our wild life and remaining wild places. We will never fault someone for not wanting to take an animal's life. But in light of the society that we've created, we need a significant percentage of our population to recognize immensity of benefits in doing so.
Who knows - in the process you may even fall in love with this timeless recreational passion, just like the millions of Americans that seek solitude and adventure in the woods this time of year.
This article briefly touches on the sensitive topic of gun violence in the United States - a public health epidemic that has exacted an immense emotional, economic, and societal toll within communities across our country. Gun violence is preventable: Expedition Detroit strongly encourages our community to educate themselves on the issue and advocate for common sense solutions that address the underlying causes, warning signs, and proliferation of gun violence in America.