Some folks wonder how a human could take pleasure in the killing of game or fish, and others are opposed vehemently to hunting or fishing. Cruel is a word that comes up in conversation when some people talk about the taking of game or catching fish.

Being an avid outdoorsman, there are many things I enjoy about nature. One big part of this equation is just being out in it and enjoying the awesome beauty of God’s creation. Another big part is the concern that I share with many others for the things we enjoy getting passed on for other generations to enjoy. The concern is not only for hunting and fishing, but for non-game species and the environment as well.

One part of the outdoors that can sometimes be a controversy in the minds of some people is the consumptive end of the equation. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, but I don’t hunt just for the sport of it. I enjoy putting that game on the dinner table.

A fish pulling on the end of my rod brings an adrenalin rush that can’t fully be described with words. It’s one of my favorite parts of the outdoors. Our family consisted of eight kids along with mom and dad. The enjoyment of the catch was great but it also provided food for our 10-person table.

On the other side of the coin, not everyone enjoys the outdoor scene. Some folks might care to take part in the taking of wild game or fish but do partake in consuming the end product. Some folks wonder how a human could take pleasure in the killing of game or fish, and others are opposed vehemently to hunting or fishing. Cruel is a word that comes up in conversation when some people talk about the taking of game or catching fish.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea that I shoot up the woods at any thing that moves and try to catch all the fish in the sea, that’s not quite my story. I think squirrels and rabbits are cute, and I enjoy just watching them play in the trees and running around in my yard.

Deer are magnificent animals and nothing is prettier than a flock of ducks or geese in flight. I release plenty of the fish I catch to live for another time or for someone else to catch again. So just what is the role of a hunter or fisherman in the scope of nature? Can we possibly serve a useful purpose in true conservation and it not be deemed cruel?

Let’s go way back in time to the first book ever written: "Then God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.'" We were given the responsibility to govern the earth and take care of it along with the animals and fish.

Things have changed quite a bit since then as hunting and fishing was part of sustaining life. We probably wouldn’t have a rough time surviving today if we didn’t eat wild game or fish, but would that really be fair to the animals? How would it affect them? Let’s take a look at what role a consumptive conservationist might play in the balance or circle of life in the outdoors.

A portion of land or a body of water can only sustain a healthy ratio of life determined by the types of trees and vegetation along with the size of the land area or volume of water and food sources. Based on calculations, biologists can tell us how many deer, squirrels, bass, etc. can be taken from the “pool” and still sustain healthy populations.

Let’s use these numbers for an example: a 500-acre tract of land with food sources can sustain 100 deer. The population is estimated to be 125. So this hunting season 50 deer can be harvested, and the population will replenish itself to remain at healthy levels.

It’s a very simple example, and a lot more work goes into the equation. But that’s how it works in a nutshell. If there is no harvest of deer on this tract, the population goes uncontrolled. They will eventually eat themselves out of house and home. The herd becomes unhealthy, disease sets in, and most of them would die a horrible death. The cycle would repeat itself. Now the herd is small and the food supply increases until it can sustain more, but soon they would overpopulate and repeat the scenario once again.

One of the worst scenarios is that the animals will leave the wild in search of food and begin to populate urban areas. They begin to die in a really cruel way. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year that result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, about 150 human fatalities, and over 10,000 personal injuries.

The actual numbers are probably higher because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's figures for deer accidents rely on inconsistent state reporting. There is no standard reporting of deer accidents in the country yet, and a "reportable deer accident" varies significantly between states.

Overpopulation or lack of harvest in a body of water has detrimental effects on fish populations as well. For instance, 21 of the top 25 largest black bass on record were caught in California. San Diego has city lakes that produced some of the states largest bass and was at one time a big contributor to the local economy.

Here’s a statement from a San Diego website: "The latest reports on catch-and-release fishing indicate San Diego bass fishermen have released too many bass and have caused bass fisheries here to stunt and get unhealthy. The 15-inch minimum size limit for bass at Hodges and El Capitan are hurting the fisheries," former president of the San Diego Council of Bass Clubs, Kelly Salmans said.

So you see, harvesting wildlife in moderation helps to balance things out in nature. Our wildlife professionals calculate the numbers of removable populations, whether animals, birds, or fish and allow us to harvest them and keep their numbers in check.

Now this is where the game wardens come into play. If someone chooses to take more than allowed by law, their job is to tend to the violator with a fair but equitable scope of responsibility.

I hope this helps explain the role hunting and fishing plays in wildlife conservation. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Until next time, have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!!

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net.

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman’s League meeting held at Chef KD’s on Hwy 74 starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

CCA Ascension Banquet: Sept 20 at Lamar Dixon Expo Center starting at 5:30 p.m. for social gathering. Dinner and auction to follow. Contact Nolan Rynerson at 225-952-9200 or www.ccalouisiana.com.

National Hunting & Fishing Day: Sept 22—8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Waddill Outdoor Education Center, 4212 N Flannery Road in Baton Rouge. Try your skills at the shooting ranges, fishing ponds, and boating activities, as well as learn about wildlife with live animals. Call 225-765-2927.

Delta Waterfowl Banquet: November 2 at Lamar Dixon Expo Center starting at 6 p.m. with dinner starting at 7:30. Contact Kristen Latiolais at 225 315-3023, or email kristen.latiolais@la.gov