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Shane Mahoney Exclusive Interview, Part I: The Wild Harvest Initiative

Shane Mahoney
Shane Mahoney publicist

Famed conservationist Shane Mahoney sits down and talks with WOS about his Wild Harvest Initiative and the goal of quantifying the meat harvested by hunters and anglers.

Celebrated wildlife conservationist Shane Mahoney is a man of many talents but also of one particularly passionate vision: saving wildlife.

He wears the varied hats of scientist, filmmaker, writer, wildlife manager, policy innovator, strategic advisor, narrator, TV and radio personality, and lecturer with equal vigor as a tireless advocate for the "wild others" of this world.

Recently, Mahoney took some time out from his hectic schedule to speak with us about a number of things, including his worldwide Wild Harvest Initiative, his effort to build a coalition between hunters and non-hunters, an ever-changing modern world that is at times hostile to hunting and angling, the admittedly controversial prospect of selling wild game meat to the public, and a few other topics.

A Newfoundland native, Mahoney holds both an Honors and a Masters of Science degree in Zoology from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is also the President and CEO of Conservation Visions Inc., a highly influential conservation organization that has a worldwide reach.

It is a fascinating interview, and one with a very timely and important message for the hunting community at large. We hunters and anglers are on the cusp of something new and exciting in the arena of wildlife conservation, if we choose to make the most of the opportunity.

As Mahoney explains, we can be leaders of this new paradigm, and it is incumbent upon us to grab hold of the reins and lead the rest of the world, for our sake as outdoorsmen and women, and more importantly, for the sake of the wildlife we all love so dearly.

With more than 30 years of experience living with and working on behalf of wildlife, when Mahoney speaks it is with no small measure of authority. This is Part I of my conversation with Shane. There is much more to follow in succeeding articles, and every bit of what he had to say is incredible.

Shane Mahoney

After we exchanged pleasantries, we dove full bore into the meat of the conversation (forgive the pun):

DAVID SMITH: So, how's your Wild Harvest Initiative project coming along? I know that you were attempting to quantify the amount of meat harvested by hunters and anglers, so as to give an actual amount--tonnage and cost--of food these activities produce and contribute to society.

SHANE MAHONEY: It's going really well. Well, first of all, to come back to the description of the wild harvest by recreational hunters and anglers in Canada and the United States, and give that a little bit of context: I do believe that it's one of the largest environmentally friendly food production systems in the world.

Obviously, we have some enormous food production systems - industrialized agriculture, high seas fishing and so on - that certainly far outstrip this harvest in terms of total scale and quantity.

But I think the difference is that the harvest of wild protein by the approximately 40 million Canadians and Americans who hunt and fish every year recreationally is enormous. It is an enormous amount of food. It's organic food. It's food that's taken from landscapes that are maintained, and are most beneficial to us when they are maintained naturally and as functioning ecosystems.

And of course the environmental impact of that harvest is very, very low, because there is no attempt to manipulate the land, to take land out of production, to input large amounts of fertilizers or to invest in hormonal treatments or antibiotics, all those things that are absolutely necessary when you move to large scale crop or domestic animal production.

DAVID SMITH: This is, to my mind, a vitally important consideration in favor of hunting and angling as food harvest systems. The fact that the land from which these animals are taken remains in a natural, unpolluted or un-manipulated state of being, is incredibly important to virtually all caring, nature loving people.

Compare this state to that of the corporate, factory farm, where practically all vestiges of nature, flora and fauna have been removed or destroyed. The health of this sort of eco-system is paramount to producing a sustainable and healthy harvest of protein. Everyone should be in favor of that kind of ecosystem.

MAHONEY: And responding to the harvest of wild fish and birds and mammals, and some reptiles, in this way, I think helps to remind everyone - not just hunters and anglers but the general public - that we do have an activity that has been traditional, and that most of us view as kind of a personal undertaking.

And yet it does have a measurable, a quantifiable impact on the food procurement and food production systems of two of the wealthiest and most advanced democracies and industrialized nations in the world.

Shane Mahoney
Shane Mahoney publicist

MAHONEY: My whole purpose is to try to, first of all, give greater value to wildlife. I'm in this game to keep these wild creatures with us, at any cost. I will embrace any model that is successful in doing that.

And that is why, in addition to the fact that I'm a hunter and angler myself, that is why I've embraced the hunting and angling model so much. Because I know that it has demonstrated conservation benefits.

But I think what we have failed to recognize, because we take it for granted, is that it's not just me going and getting my moose, or you going and getting your deer, or a friend of ours getting some redfish or bass or whatever it is. It's this 50-million people who are out there doing this every year.

So, if you just consider a single species, like whitetail deer, of which there are obvious multitudes with a harvest between five and seven million a year. Let's just take a round number for very coarse estimation, let's say there is 100 pounds of meat from an animal. That means that you're looking at 500 to 700 million pounds of that meat alone.

So I think it will be shown to be one of the largest environmentally friendly food production systems in the world, and I believe that it is critically important that we change the narrative around hunting and angling, to reach a modern public. Instead of what we have been doing for the last 20 years or so when we started to get concerned about hunter retention and recruitment, etc., which is trying to seek the public that we already have, and creating images of hunting that refer to our childhoods, our past, our experiences, and not something that's relevant to younger men and women in society today who have a very different personalized experience.

Shane Mahoney

MAHONEY: So, this Wild Harvest Initiative, which I launched about two years ago, started talking about it, trying to find partners and so on, is for the first time going to assemble all of the data that exists in our state and provincial agencies and territories in Canada and the United States on the harvest of wildlife and fish - a massive project as you might imagine - and come up with the total numbers of animals that are harvested.

But then also to estimate the actual meat, you know, the amount of meat that comes from each of those animals, and to work with economists to give it all fair market value. How much is a pound of pheasant worth, how much is a pound of caribou worth, how much is a pound of elk worth, that kind of thing. And come up with a numeric value for that food, and then to look at the sharing index.

Amazingly, whether people hunt or fish themselves, the gifting of some wild animal to their affair, to their table, is always viewed as something really special. And if you think about it, 50-million people... All of us share our harvest with at least four or five people, Now that's just our families, our children, maybe our grandchildren, aunts, uncles, mom, dad, whatever. I think that's a very conservative estimate.

But even that brings us up to a number of people that are engaged in some way, touched in some way, by our traditions. It brings it up to maybe 200 million people, maybe 250 million people, out of approximately 360 million who live in Canada and the United States.

And so, in addition to pointing out the relevance to this in other ways, I'm trying to demonstrate to people that just because only less than five percent of the people hunt, and maybe less than twelve percent of people hunt or fish, that doesn't mean that it's contained within that percentage of the public. It's actually reaching an enormous percentage of the North American public in one way or another.

Shane Mahoney
The Blade

MAHONEY: I want to come back to the issue of sharing just very briefly, because I was back very early this morning, 2:30 this morning. I got back from a pheasant hunt in Kansas. The Governor's Ringneck Classic, as it's called. I was there with people, and was watching this unfold.

They started that event with an amazing game dinner, really just an amazing variety of game dishes, and they were all absolutely wonderful. But it struck upon me again the fact that you would never, David, go and buy a roast of meat in a supermarket and then go up to your uncle or your father or your brother or a good wouldn't knock on their door and when they open say, "Hey, I just bought you this lovely prime rib."

I mean, you know, they would think that's pretty odd behavior. Yet you can catch a bass or trout, you could get a grouse or a deer, or a pheasant or a quail, or anything wild. In fact it even extends to berries and mushrooms, and fruits. You take anything from the wild. You are driven to give it.

And the people who receive it are just absolutely overjoyed to get it.

Now this says something very deep and profound about this exchange between the hunter and the angler and the rest of people in society. And in part that's what I think needs to be the new narrative that we're bringing to this debate at a time when there's great controversy over the issues of hunting in some sectors.

That's a long preamble, I realize, but just so your readers have some idea of this Wild Harvest Initiative, which is now growing. It is working very well.

Shane Mahoney
Reading Eagle

MAHONEY: I'm a big believer in building coalitions. I'm not an us-and-them kind of individual. I don't follow that line of thinking. I work very hard, as this study does, to try to demonstrate that we can all be linked in a way - hunter and non-hunter - to the bounty that the natural world provides us.

That's one of the things I want to demonstrate with this Wild Harvest Initiative, because it's about something that all human beings are concerned with: food. Good food. Organic food. Healthy food.

Then it is possible for us to perhaps build a coalition that's different. You know, state agencies, industry partners, NGOs, private citizens from the public, people concerned from the healthcare sector, fitness sector, all those places where people who have a concern for and a deep interest in where their food comes from.

The quality of the food, how the animal was treated before it died, how it was cared for, how it was raised, all of those kinds of things. I think it's possible to build a real movement around this idea of hunting as a true locavore movement.

It benefits the environment, and benefits the wildlife, and forms a constituency that well know - and I'm sure we'll get to that - of hunters and anglers who work double time to try to keep these wild places wild. To keep healthy landscapes, to protect our waters and lands, and at the same time to advocate for wildlife.

To help fund agencies, programs, to establish non-governmental organizations. There's so many tremendous things for the environment, generally. This coalition that we're building, this project, is going to be in other words, David, a product of the project in and of itself.

Shane Mahoney
Shane Mahoney publicist

MAHONEY: We have a great database company that has already built a fantastic database for this information, so we're able to translate it, and project it outwards.

We have people working on the project. We have contractors hired. We are a long way from what we would call full implementation, full stature. You know, we need other partners and resources. But it is going extremely well. We provide quarterly updates on this project so it's not a conceptual thing, David. It's a real project now that's out there and it's running.

And as always the state agencies and the provincial agencies are glad to help share the data. Hunters are excited about this.

I think it has the capacity to become one of the largest wildlife studies in probably the last half-century, and I also think it's going to be one of the most significant because we're going to be talking about something that (pause)...whether or not one's a hunter will not be the issue. It will be whether one is concerned about good quality food. Whether one is concerned about how that food comes to your table.

Did that food production system unnecessarily damage the environment? And, in the case of animals, what were the circumstances of those animals before they died?

Of course, the animals we harvest, they live a full natural life, in a full environment, experiencing everything. And as wild creatures they should and must, both the good and the bad. They die very quickly. They die very humanely, in most cases.

They are harvested by people who respect them in the vast, vast majority of cases. They care for the animal, the meat that's harvested from the animal. You know, sometimes taking the pelt, the horns and everything else that they can possibly use.

So I just think it's a story that needs to be told. And it's a story that's true.

I think that you can tell that Shane Mahoney is very passionate about this project, the Wild Harvest Initiative, and what it can do for outdoorsmen and women, and for wildlife conservation. It's very exciting, and should prove extremely useful in both battling the anti-hunting movement and in taking hunter supported conservation to the next level.

Shane talked about a good deal more in our conversation, so please stay tuned for a continuation of our interview with Shane Mahoney.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.

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NEXT: Separating Humans from Nature is the Wrong Approach

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Shane Mahoney Exclusive Interview, Part I: The Wild Harvest Initiative