The writing of this book has taught me many things. Beyond question, we are exterminating our finest species of mammals, birds and fishes according to law!
I am appalled by the mass of evidence proving that throughout the entire United States and Canada, in every state and province, the existing legal system for the preservation of wild life is fatally defective. There is not a single state in our country from which the killable game is not being rapidly and persistently shot to death, legally or illegally, very much more rapidly than it is breeding, with extermination for the most of it close in sight. This statement is not open to argument; for millions of men know that it is literally true. We are living in a fool's paradise.
The rage for wild-life slaughter is far more prevalent to-day throughout the world than it was in 1872, when the buffalo butchers paved the prairies of Texas and Colorado with festering carcasses. From one end of our continent to the other, there is a restless, resistless desire to "kill, kill!"
I have been shocked by the accumulation of evidence showing that all over our country and Canada fully nine-tenths of our protective laws have practically been dictated by the killers of the game, and that in all save a very few instances the hunters have been exceedingly careful to provide "open seasons" for slaughter, as long as any game remains to kill!
And yet, the game of North America does not belong wholly and exclusively to the men who kill! The other ninety-seven per cent of the People have vested rights in it, far exceeding those of the three per cent. Posterity has claims upon it that no honest man can ignore.
I am now going to ask both the true sportsman and the people who do not kill wild things to awake, and do their plain duty in protecting and preserving the game and other wild life which belongs partly to us, but chiefly to those who come after us. Can they be aroused, before it is too late?
The time to discuss tiresome academic theories regarding "bag limits" and different "open seasons" as being sufficient to preserve the game, has gone by! We have reached the point where the alternatives are long closed seasons or a gameless continent; and we must choose one or the other, speedily. A continent without wild life is like a forest with no leaves on the trees.
The great increase in the slaughter of song birds for food, by the negroes and poor whites of the South, has become an unbearable scourge to our migratory birds,—the very birds on which farmers north and south depend for protection from the insect hordes,—the very birds that are most near and dear to the people of the North. Song-bird slaughter is growing and spreading, with the decrease of the game birds! It is a matter that requires instant attention and stern repression. At the present moment it seems that the only remedy lies in federal protection for all migratory birds,—because so many states will not do their duty.
We are weary of witnessing the greed, selfishness and cruelty of "civilized" man toward the wild creatures of the earth. We are sick of tales of slaughter and pictures of carnage. It is time for a sweeping Reformation; and that is precisely what we now demand.
I have been a sportsman myself; but times have changed, and we must change also. When game was plentiful, I believed that it was right for men and boys to kill a limited amount of it for sport and for the table. But the old basis has been swept away by an Army of Destruction that now is almost beyond all control. We must awake, and arouse to the new situation, face it like men, and adjust our minds to the new conditions. The three million gunners of to-day must no longer expect or demand the same generous hunting privileges that were right for hunters fifty years ago, when game was fifty times as plentiful as it is now and there was only one killer for every fifty now in the field.
The fatalistic idea that bag-limit laws can save the game is to-day the curse of all our game birds, mammals and fishes! It is a fraud, a delusion and a snare. That miserable fetish has been worshipped much too long. Our game is being exterminated, everywhere, by blind insistence upon "open seasons," and solemn reliance upon "legal bag-limits." If a majority of the people of America feel that so long as there is any game alive there must be an annual two months or four months open season for its slaughter, then assuredly we soon will have a gameless continent.
The only thing that will save the game is by stopping the killing of it! In establishing and promulgating this principle, the cause of wild-life protection greatly needs three things: money, labor, and publicity. With the first, we can secure the second and third. But can we get it,—and get it in time to save?
This volume is in every sense a contribution to a Cause; and as such it ever will remain. I wish the public to receive it on that basis. So much important material has drifted straight to it from other hands that this unexpected aid seems to the author like a good omen.
The manuscript has received the benefit of a close and critical reading and correcting by my comrade on the firing-line and esteemed friend, Mr. Madison Grant, through which the text was greatly improved. But for the splendid encouragement and assistance that I have received from him and from Professor Henry Fairneld Osborn the work involved would have borne down rather heavily.
The four chapters embracing the "New Laws Needed; A Roll-Call of the States," were critically inspected, corrected and brought down to date by Dr. T.S. Palmer, our highest authority on the game laws of the Nation and the States. For this valuable service the author is deeply grateful. Of course the author is alone responsible for all the opinions and conclusions herein recorded, and for all errors that appear outside of quotations.
I trust that the Reader will kindly excuse and forget all the typographic and clerical errors that may have escaped me in the rush that had to be made against Time.
University Heights, New York,
December 1, 1912.
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