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Signing Petitions Promotes Animal Exploitation – A Deer Case Study

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A petition has been doing its rounds on social media the last month concerning the deer population in Colorado. Wildlife managers for the state are maintaining that the statewide population of deer is 111,000 short of the 560,000 deemed “optimal.” To tackle this, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) are proposing a “predator control” scheme where – starting this winter – they would begin killing more mountain lions and black bears in order to protect the spring population of fawns.

The petition is against the proposed action of CPW and is aimed at stopping the increased cull on black bears and mountain lions. Katya Jolly (the founder of the petition) suggests that instead of CPW culling more animals, they should focus on the actual reasons for deer population decline such as “habitat loss, development, oil and gas drilling, hunting, and road construction.” In short, the petition maintains that predatory animals have nothing to do with the deer population decline and that a number of human factors are solely responsible. While this is true, the petition – as with all petitions – misses the point. It not only fails in practical terms; it actually promotes animal exploitation via assuming its legitimacy, as does every solitary signature added to the list of supporters. To explore the reasons for this, we need to take a look at the specifics for this particular case and assess the reasons for CPW’s actions, as well as the assumptions made by the petition itself. We also need to apply a broader theory that not only applies to this petition, but all petitions concerning single-issues relating to animals. We’ll start with the former.

To begin with, the petition is making the false assumption that the primary concern of CPW is the deer themselves. This is a delusion – the deer are the property of the state. The only reason that CPW are concerned for the deer is because the one billion dollar-a-year hunting industry relies heavily on a healthy deer population to maintain its annual turnover. Signing the petition is putting a stamp of approval on CPW’s underlying intentions to preserve the hunting industry. With hunting, there are laws put in place to ensure the continuation of the wildlife population of the US. With some hunting parks stating that only a particular weapon can be used for hunting. This is why some hunters are looking to change their firearms with the help of something similar this springfield xd conversion kit. It assumes the legitimacy of their commodification of animals and merely asks them to go about controlling state-owned wild animal property in different ways.

The petition also fails to recognise that CPW already sanctions the killing of both black bears and mountain lions in the thousands. Hunters in Colorado already kill up to 1,364 bears and 467 mountain lions a year. Those numbers dwarf the proposed additional kills of 15 more lions and 25 more bears, yet the petition once agains assumes the legitimacy of hunting as an institution and merely admonishes CPW for proposing the additional kills. This promotes the exploitation of bears and lions through the implication that all kills currently authorised by CPW are perfectly acceptable – it’s just the additional 15 lions and 25 bears that are the problem. In other words, the petition has nothing to do with recognising non-human inherent value or “protecting” wild animals.

If it wasn’t bad enough that the petition and its signatories promote the exploitation of bears, lions, and deer through implication, the petition explicitly supports hunting and the commodification of deer as well. It also explicitly promotes speciesism between the deer, lions and bears. Katya maintains that “managing deer hunting tags is important. Not killing lions and bears.” In other words, we shouldn’t be killing lions and bears but so long as we “manage” deer hunting tags, the hunting of deer is perfectly acceptable. She also goes on to say that in signing the petition, you will be telling CPW “not to allow the further killing of lions and bears,” and that they should instead “limit deer hunting tags until they recover.” Until they recover. This petition is not even attempting to portray itself as against the killing of wild animals. It accepts animal exploitation as a legitimate practice and assumes human supremacy in its explicit assertion that we have authority to hunt and manage wildlife. The suggestion that CPW should simply “limit deer hunting tags” translates to killing deer right now is morally acceptable, just don’t kill as many until their population rises.

So the petition fails on its own terms and signing something like this merely promotes the continued exploitation of those involved, but how is it relevant in the bigger picture? How do all petitions – and not just this one – promote animal exploitation? Well, like all single-issue campaigns, they require coalitions of vegans and non-vegans in order to gain popularity; they target an obscure form of animal exploitation that a sizeable portion of non-vegans will also oppose. As we’ve seen in the CPW example, these petitions necessarily fail and promote exploitation on their own terms. More crucially, however, the coalition of vegans and non-vegans supporting the petition tells all non-vegans that while there is something morally problematic with the targeted exploitation, the exploitation that they themselves engage in – which is not the target of the petition – is perfectly acceptable. It feeds the false perception that veganism is nothing but a personal choice for those who are dedicated enough and that to help animals, you simply need to oppose niche forms of exploitation that have no effect and require no change in behaviour from the non-vegans who oppose them.

Like all single-issue campaigns, petitions are comprised of thousands upon thousands of non-vegans who believe that in signing that petition, they are fulfilling their moral obligations to animals. When we as vegans sign these petitions, or ask others to share and sign them, all we are doing is accepting as legitimate the exploitation that every non-vegan engages in themselves. We actually promote speciesism in attracting non-vegans to oppose a certain form of exploitation while not asking them question their own exploitation. This is not something that can be fixed by sharing a petition alongside a vegan message; the petition itself, as a systemic matter, necessarily promotes speciesism and continued exploitation regardless of any superficial packaging in which one may attempt to present it.

A simple signature, as harmless as it may seem as your stare at your screen, is a death warrant. Not only that, it’s a death warrant dressed up as something good. Something desirable. Rejecting petitions is an important part of abolitionist advocacy. What you are essentially rejecting is speciesism, the promotion of continued exploitation, and the normative message sent out maintaining that in order to help animals, you don’t need to be vegan. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we are going to see justice for non-humans, petitions need to be left behind along with all other single-issue campaigns, welfare reforms, and whatever other devices the mainstream “animal movement” likes to use in order to promote confusion. The fact that many petitions – including the petition mentioned above – cite the words of welfarist groups such as HSUS who explicitly promote animal exploitation, should be enough to send you running for the hills.

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