Letters — From the May 2016 issue
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Jay Kirk’s “Killer Bunny in the Sky” [Letter from Massachusetts, March] was amusing, but the impact that hunters have on wildlife isn’t. Hunters use high-powered weaponry, tree blinds, mating calls, infrared sights, and other devices to trick animals into facilitating their own murder. Their prey often die slowly of blood loss, starvation, or gangrene.
The idea of using drones to monitor illegal hunting first came to us after we witnessed intoxicated hunters sitting in their trucks, waiting for unsuspecting does to come along so they could shoot them without having to get up. However, when a University of Minnesota study found that the presence of drones caused bears (and presumably other animals) severe stress — in some cases, a fourfold increase in their heart rates — we withdrew our drones, a fact that was not included in Kirk’s article.
Only 6 percent of Americans hunt, yet hunting is permitted in wildlife refuges and in national and state parks. Because “game” laws generate revenue, spaces that belong to all Americans have become target ranges for people who enjoy blowing animals to smithereens. Those of us who enjoy the outdoors and don’t want to have to worry about being shot must speak up in defense of these wild places and their inhabitants.
In his article on the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, Christopher Ketcham [“The Rogue Agency,” Report, March] relied on grossly outdated and inaccurate accounts. He declined our offer to observe a depredation investigation, relying instead on one source’s description of work done two decades ago and on another’s thirty-five-year-old, uncorroborated account of an incident that would be prohibited today. Yet another of Ketcham’s sources retired sixteen years ago and spoke of a time when Wildlife Services spent 63 percent of its budget on agricultural protection, compared with only 27 percent today. The vast majority of our program’s budget is committed to protecting human health, property, and natural resources. This work is vital to protecting our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and it is supported by virtually every natural-resource and professional wildlife-management organization in the United States.
We will not apologize for putting people’s livelihoods and the interests of human safety on equal footing with the noble cause of animal conservation. Moreover, we are extremely selective, and remove only a minuscule portion of the wildlife we encounter. (We chase away eight out of every ten animals.) After a multiyear audit that was requested by the program’s critics, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General concluded last year that Wildlife Services continues to be an important program that carries out its work in full compliance with all laws and policies.
Administrator, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Christopher Ketcham responds:
That Wildlife Services objects to my telling of ugly facts, which its federally funded P.R. representatives have spent decades trying to keep concealed, comes as no surprise. During the course of my reporting, I experienced what a great many before me, including congressional oversight committees and public-interest watchdogs, have faced: an affirmative and bold effort by the agency to obstruct good-faith reporting of its conduct.
Hoping to obfuscate the truths I independently uncovered, Wildlife Services is finally responding. Its absurd suggestion that a subnarrative of the piece was dated, or that a former employee did not represent the standard conduct of the agency, do not rebut the underlying truth of my investigation. Perhaps the agency would have preferred that I describe its snaring, in August 2014, of an alpha-male wolf named B477 in Idaho. Documents I retrieved through a state information request illustrate the agency’s current methods: B477 broke his snare — a piece of wire that cinches tight when an animal runs through it — from its grounded anchor; he wore it around his neck for two weeks, until the taut grip of the device girdled his skin into an open wound that became infested with maggots. As the insects ate through his flesh, B477 died.
Using traps, poisons, aerial gunning, and other despicable means, Wildlife Services destroys wild, sentient beings at the behest of the livestock industry. The agency’s actions stand in direct opposition to a public that is growing increasingly compassionate toward wildlife.
The Kids Are All Right
I agree with Marilynne Robinson [“Save Our Public Universities,” Essay, March] that we need to preserve liberal education and appropriately support the public universities where it is taught. But shouldn’t our institutions of higher learning also get better at managing themselves? Universities should start paying adjuncts at a professional level, and they should recognize that there is value in students experiencing spartan conditions rather than living in luxurious dorms.
I’ve taught in liberal-arts programs at three universities, and I continue to find the students engaging, intellectually curious, and concerned with private and public ethics. The overemphasis on preparing our students to “compete in a global market” is irritating, but for some people job training may be the best use of their time. We should offer students mentorship while letting them figure out their future aspirations for themselves. It is admirable to say that everyone who desires a liberal education should have the opportunity for one. But not everyone wants one. It’s a hard fact that there are the aristoi and the polloi of academic ability and interests. Our system has found space for all, and will continue to do so.
Marilynne Robinson deftly captures the “fundamental shift in American consciousness” that makes teaching at an American public university a battle of the mind and spirit. Instead of characterizing this shift as one that has moved from the Citizen to the Taxpayer, however, it might be better to consider the Consumer as the protagonist of our century. (“Taxpayer” implies a relationship to the state — an entity that many of my students cannot even define.) As undergraduate students fumble myopically for marketable skills for their futures rather than grapple with the here and now of thinking and writing, humanities departments are left struggling to translate their offerings into categories that are legible to potential employers. All of us on college campuses — students, administrators, and professors — are swimming in the ethos of a hyperindividualized marketplace. Struggling against the tide is vital, lest we all drown.
Jan M. Padios
Assistant Professor of American Studies, University of Maryland
College Park, Md.
If Susan Jacoby strikes Gary Greenberg [“Beginning to See the Light,” Review, March] as a witless tourist in the realm of religious experience, that may be because Greenberg is no less adrift amid the tenets of secularism. Like countless theistic critics of the works of, for example, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, Greenberg simply cannot grasp why admiring the achievements of reason isn’t a faith, or why spiritual self-sufficiency isn’t an “absolute-truth claim.” To those moored in a theistic paradigm, secularism invariably looks like just another religion — and this much, coming from Greenberg, was wholly predictable.
His review manages to drop the critical bar with a boast that “science will never prove that God does not exist,” as though science should somehow be concerned to do so. Far more important is that science has proved that supernatural agency is superfluous, that is, unnecessary for any explanations of the planet, the cosmos, and their past or present inhabitants. It will not be scientifically useful to falsify conjectures of supernatural agency until the day when supernatural agency, like the Higgs boson, is plausibly hypothesized as an explanation of some phenomenon.
West Plains, Mo.
Due to an editorial error, a clause was dropped from the final sentence of Don DeLillo’s “Plexiglass” [Story, April]. The sentence, in its entirety, should have read: “We walked north and west and I found myself imagining that the man at the wheel of the taxi we hailed would have a Ukrainian name and accent and would be glad to speak the language with Stak, giving the boy another chance to turn a stranger’s scant life into lavish fiction.” We regret the error.