The proposals presented on 9 January 2023 to reduce hunting accidents were generally disappointing. Hunters must undergo first aid training, pass an alcohol test, and hunting sites must be announced so other wildlife users can learn about areas to avoid through a mobile app. The expected main event “day without hunting” was abandoned. Therefore, the debate is not closed, especially since the hunting activity only reveals deeper sociological changes.
Hunting, reduction experience
France is a country where we hunt a lot, but less and less. According to a senatorial report “Safety: the duty of hunters, the expectation of society” presented to the government in September 2022, there are just over one million practitioners in France (for four to five million license holders). ). It is the third sports activity licensed by the French, after football (about 2 million license holders) and fishing (1.5 million). In 1850 there were only 100,000 hunters, mainly because the activity at that time was too expensive for the vast majority of the population. “Democratization” dates back to the end of World War II and had up to 2.4 million followers in 1984. Hunters are 56 years old on average. Only 4% are farmers, 20% are workers, and therefore the bulk of the troops are executives, often urbanites. Therefore, hunting is no longer a reflection of the rural world.
If aging and non-regeneration trends continue, there will be only 700,000 hunters in 2030. Thus, France will return to the European average when compared to countries of similar size. There are 700,000 hunters in Germany, 400,000 in Italy, and 330,000 in Spain. In England, this practice remains the prerogative of the richest social classes.
Activity affected by agricultural changes
Between the end of the Second World War and the present day, hunting has completely changed its face, limited by the radical transformation of the rural environment. This was divided between intensive agricultural areas unsuitable for small fauna due to the destruction of hedgerows and forest strips, and conversely, the redevelopment and subsequent reforestation of large areas due to the abandonment of agriculture. According to the national forest inventory, the forest area in 1908 was less than 10 million hectares. In 1984, it reached 14 million hectares, and today it has reached 17 million hectares.
There were two results. The number of traditionally hunted small game animals such as hares or partridges has decreased due to the disappearance of hedgerows, spring mowing of fields, and the use of pesticides. Hunters have tried to respond to wild life by breeding these species, which cause a real ecological disaster by releasing pheasants, partridges and rabbits a few days before hunting. Conversely, populations of large ungulates, which were protected due to their low numbers, literally exploded in the mid-20th century. Not only has the expansion of their forest habitat been favorable for deer, roe deer, and wild boar, but hunter reintroduction programs have accelerated their demography. The expansion of the wolf range in France is a direct result of this, as the predator feeds mainly on ungulates.
Boar harvesting in France. Copyright OFB
Wild boar population growth has important consequences for agriculture and road safety. Crop damage has increased. Hunting associations undertake to cover the losses of farmers. The load is out of control. In 2020, the federations had to pay 76 million euros. The ONF (National Forestry Office) estimated that big game caused €73 million in tree damage in 2019, more than €45 million from hunting rights in state forests. According to the National Gendarmerie, every year 7-11 people die and 150-190 people are injured as a result of a collision between a car and a wild animal. These disastrous effects cannot be attributed only to hunters who are somehow victims of agricultural changes. A radical change in agriculture is really the only way to restore the balance of the natural environment, which is seriously affected by the intensification of agrotechnical measures.
Are hunters environmentalists?
In September 2018, a communication campaign by the National Federation of Hunters claimed that they did “France’s first ecologists”. The lawsuit was considered abusive by the courts, which demanded the removal of the posters. However, hunters may request conservation measures. Along with the reintroduction of wild species into areas once frequented by ungulates, waterfowl hunters have often been at the forefront of protecting wetlands threatened by the drying up of intensive agriculture. Increasing conservation regulations, and especially the European ‘birds’ directive of 1979, on the other hand, have condemned the abuse of birds whose populations are poorly protected. Thus, the 2000 hunting law introduced the concept of “sustainable” hunting, where hunters dispute any responsibility for the decline of certain hunted species, noting that European legislation prevails in this area. “The question of the dynamics of hunted species, their vitality, related species (in competition, prey and depredation, etc.) remains little in the minds of hunters. Especially since it is difficult to capture directly and often requires complex scientific analysis, especially when the species has a distribution area in Europe”, sociologist Ludovic Ginelli emphasizes in an article published by the Biodiversity Research Foundation.
It is to overcome this denial that the 2019 law that created the French Biodiversity Office defines the adaptive management of hunting. Previously, the number of birds killed was regulated by the length of their hunting season. After that, hunters and naturalists must agree on annual harvests of the size and species of hunted bird populations that are not endangered. Four birds currently benefit from this measure: the turtle dove, capercaillie, black-tailed godwit and Eurasian curlew. This is a start. The LPO (League for the Protection of Birds) condemns the fact that 20 of the 64 bird species that can be hunted in France are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list. France’s hunted species list includes 90 species of mammals and birds. It is the longest of all European countries. The LPO claims that at least 20 bird species considered endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN would benefit from adaptive management. Therefore, hunters are environmentalists when it suits them.
A day without hunting
It is the claim of nature protection and anti-poaching associations that was not accepted by the government. Hunters note that hunting is open from September to February/March, depending on the species, and therefore there are many days without hunting. But during the opening period, French hikers, estimated to be more than 27 million without a sports license, cannot take advantage of any day when they can avoid meeting armed men on the forest roads. To control the wild boar population, the hunting period can even be longer than ten months. These strikes, which mobilize many hunters, often occupy large areas of forest that are often dangerous. This is one of those situations where a mobile app can come in handy.
Day without hunting is practiced among European neighbors. In England, hunting on Sundays has been prohibited since 1851, but this rule was more intended to prevent hunting by workers, which was its only day off. In Germany, there is no ban except in some states where beating is prohibited on Sundays. In the Netherlands, hunting is prohibited on Sundays and holidays, and in Italy you can only hunt three days a week.
A constantly changing legal framework
The new regulations introduced by the government add to the veritable avalanche of legislative texts. In 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2019, Parliament passed laws on various aspects of hunting activities. From 2013 until now, there has not been a year without administrative and regulatory changes in comfortable conditions. If there is any evidence that the future of the hunting experience involves society as a whole.