One of the issues being tossed around in wildlife agencies and outdoor groups today is the matter of ethics.
No one is quite sure how to define outdoor ethics, or how to teach them (my college philosophy professor did not think ethics could be taught anyway), but most everyone agrees that we need more of it.
Webster defines ethics as “a system of moral principles.”
My grandfather A.J. Blankenship would have called it “doing right,” and he spent the better part of his 84 years doing just that.
He loved to plant things and watching them grow.
I never saw him take anything from the environment if he did not need it, or if he could not use it.
During my formative years, I learned many values from him, especially in the way of conservation.
The old-timer had a gentle way of appreciating trees, birds, wildlife, and fish—essentially all created matter.
I envied that.
And I wanted to share his love for the visible world, a love that was reflected in his appreciation for the simplest things—a rock, a tree, a cloud.
A sandy-bottom cornfield or a forest’s fern-laden floor represented the universe in microcosm.
Now, in the 21st century, these same qualities of reverence for the natural world are just as apparent in the way hunters, their children and grandchildren carry on the traditions of their tribe.
In matters dealing with the outdoors, they never knowingly violate hunting or fishing regulations, and they always seem to go to a good bit of extra trouble to know what those regulations are.
The trouble is that I cannot tell you why.
Why does one person leave a bird in the field when he is two under his limit?
Is it because he knows he shot two other birds even if he could not find them?
Why does another person consider it a challenge to shoot as many birds or deer as possible, and leave all of them lying in the field to rot?
Why does one person take aim with his compound bow and kill a pet that he encountered almost within view of the owner’s house, while another will stop at a public parking lot to help find the owner of a stray dog or cat?
More to the point, how do you teach ethics—ethics of any kind?
Experts in human behavior tell us that such considerations or habits are formed exceedingly early, perhaps before we are five years old.
It seems to be true, and if it is, what can we do about all the adults who are long in the tooth and short on ethics?
It is not going to be easy. No column or editorial is likely to have a major impact on someone who is basically unethical.
Nor is it a simple matter of increased law enforcement.
Sure, a game violator is likely to be more careful if he knows a wildlife officer is watching him, but a handful of officers are spread thin in a state such as ours, a state with mountainous terrain and rugged demeanor.
And the same is true throughout the nation.
Many hunters and fishermen already obey laws and regulations, but others do not, and they are spoiling it for the rest of us.
More important, outdoor ethics involve everyone—not just those who hunt and fish—and that message must be spread.
All of us—even those who consider themselves non consumers—influence the environment because food, clothing and shelter all are drawn from the natural world around us.
Even seemingly minor decisions involve outdoor ethics.
For example, the choice of garden and fruit sprays can affect the environment. Will the choice kill songbirds and wildlife?
Such examples are legion and largely overlooked.
Meantime, the biggest problem is getting every citizen to recognize that outdoor ethics is a matter of daily concern to them in countless ways.
School programs already are underway in some states.
But any efforts involving young people—while perhaps ultimately the most effective—are long-term at best.
That brings us back to adults.
What do we do about them?
Peer pressure may be the best bet. A man or woman who habitually keeps more fish or game than the law allows will do so only when alone or in the company of others who do the same or tolerate it.
Those of us who practice sound outdoor ethics must set a good example for our friends.
Sooner or later, all these efforts will begin to have an impact, and that impact is likely to snowball.
Ethics is essentially the joy of unforced honor—the pleasure of “doing right,” even if you don’t stand a chance of getting caught “doing wrong.”
Top o’ the morning!