YOU FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS, SPECIES RIGHTS, OR HABITAT RIGHTS?
March 10, 2002
Many roads lead to wildlife conservation and protection of natural
biodiversity, and those roads have many travelers. The motives
and agendas of different individuals and groups involved in
conservation efforts can, indeed do, vary, and confusion can
arise about the real purposes of the actions that different
Misunderstandings may occur because people do not distinguish
between animal rights activists and environmentalists. The distinction
between the two lines of thought is significant. An animal rights
person focuses on individual animals, whereas environmentalists
direct their efforts toward protecting populations of a particular
species, a group of species, or their habitats.
The term "animal rights activists" has entered our
cultural lexicon. It's time to expand our understanding of that
designation to include people who are "species rights"
or "habitat rights activists." For example, someone
who concentrates on or cares intensely about protecting black
bears, Venus flytrap plants, or Asian turtles is a species rights
person. A habitat rights person focuses on protection of a particular
type of threatened habitat, such as old-growth forests, salt
marshes, or wild rivers. Some may target a specific habitat
for protection, such as Florida's Everglades or Alabama's Hurricane
Creek. Interest in protecting particular groups of organisms
or habitats is increasing throughout the country, and for each
of the categories just mentioned, I know someone who qualifies
as a species or habitat rights person.
As with any human endeavor, the more people who become involved
in it, the more complex the situation becomes--and the more
the lines delineating one group from another begin to blur.
In some circumstances, determining whether the interests of
a person or group are directed toward individual animal rights,
species rights, or habitat rights can be downright troublesome.
During the spotted owl furor a few years ago, conservationists
wanted to protect the magnificent forests of the Pacific Northwest.
The timber companies wanted to continue logging. (You may recall
that tempers were hot on both sides of the issue.) The endangered
spotted owl became the critical piece in that endgame. When
situations like that develop, some of the people involved want
to spend time and resources fixing the broken wing of an injured
spotted owl; others are intent on trying to protect the whole
population of spotted owls in the forest. Meanwhile, those focused
on protecting individual owls and those committed to preserving
the whole species may forget that the real goal is to save the
forests. The irony is endless.
Some hunting rights advocates can also be at odds with species
rights and habitat rights activists, as when forests are manipulated
to promote a single game species, such as quail, without regard
for other wildlife that is part of the natural system. And targeting
the destruction of native wildlife because they naturally compete
with or prey on a selected game species can become a contentious
issue and is not conducive to wildlife conservation.
with any cause, individuals or organizations with extremist
views will eventually surface and may even carry out acts of
violence. Such actions are not reasoned ones, and they dilute
the efforts of others working for the cause by polarizing the
public against it. Thus when the Environmental Liberation Front
(ELF) destroys property in protest of research on crop genetics
or certain development projects, people who might otherwise
be supportive of the same environmental causes as ELF are actually
repelled. Likewise, people who throw red paint or pig's blood
on a fur coat seldom emerge as heroes or champions of justice.
Violent people like these are not environmentalists. They are,
in their own way, terrorists.
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