“To what degree should the principle of ‘respect for life” be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God’s non-human creations? Does having “dominion” over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a “stewardship” relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them “fulfill the full measure of their creation?” If the scriptures teach, “woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need,” and “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands,” what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?”
I recently learned about the two Church-owned and sanctioned hunting preserves mentioned above and was stunned by what amounts to be the killing of animals for profit by the LDS Church.
Perhaps unlike other Church business enterprises, however, is the fact that missionaries were sent to “serve God in a most unusual way,” according to this July, 2000 article on Deseret News about the LDS Church’s hunting preserves.
According to the information packet from Deseret Land and Livestock obtained by the Sunstone speaker on this podcast, a guided archery hunt to bag an elk can fetch $11,500 plus tax and license, as of the year 2001. (A more detailed price list can be accessed at around the 28 minute mark of the podcast.) When asked in a letter by concerned members of the Church how the hunting preserves could be ethically justified, the Presiding Bishopric (who oversees the hunting preserves) offered no response or explanation.
Now, many Mormons own a gun and many go hunting. Millions of Americans go hunting every year and it’s a big industry. So what’s the problem with the Church getting in on the profits? Well, when we consider LDS scripture and statements by General Authorities such as the following, it’s clear that we’re not “just another hunting enterprise:”
“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (Genesis 9:11, JST)
“I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ’sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter … I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong.” (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Vol. 1, pp. 371-372)
“Now, I would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life … And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals … because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, “Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live,” The Ensign, November 1978, p. 45)
“Killing for sport is wrong…One day, to while away the slowly passing hours, I took my gun with the intention of indulging in a little amusement in hunting turkeys… From boyhood I had been particularly, and I may say strangely, attached to a gun. Hunting in the forests of Ohio was a pastime that to me possessed the most fascinating attractions. It never occurred to my mind that it was wrong-that indulging in “what was sport to me was death to them;” that in shooting turkeys, squirrels, etc., I was taking life that I could not give; therefore I indulged in the murderous sport without the least compunction of conscience.” (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.188-189)
Something happened between the days that those statements were made and the present day where sport hunting for profit within the Church was suddenly considered to be a good idea — so much so that missionaries were initially sent to tend to the grounds. How did we get from the days where the Church fostered such a high regard for animal life that Joseph Smith prevented the unnecessary killing of rattlesnakes; when the pioneers would lay their hands upon their oxen to bless them; when their animals were valued as they were the key to their survival, and hunting was done only because it was necessary to sustain their lives — to the days when they’re hunted down for recreation and profit? What does that say about our culture and our religion?
Did I miss a change in LDS teaching concerning reverence for the Lord’s animal creations? Or is the only change that we’ve put a price on their heads?
George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young and editor of the Juvenile Instructor, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any member of the Church. In 1868 he began writing editorials advocating kindness to animals and in 1897 he founded a Sunday School-sponsored “Humane Day,” which became an annual event. Most members of the Church know nothing about it, but this program continued in the Church for the next twenty years.
It is perhaps a bit ironic that leaders of the Church — in the days of when members were more dependent on animals for their food and clothing — were so frequently vocal about the humane treatment of animals, emphasizing that we should never take their lives unless it is to save our own, whereas today — when we are much less dependent on animals for our survival, and are supposedly much more enlightened on the subject of animal intelligence, emotion, and sensitivity to pain – the leaders of the Church are mostly silent on the issue of animal welfare and see fit to send missionaries to tend to sport hunting grounds.
In the Deseret News article, referring to Elder Huff, who tended to Westlake, it says:
“Instead of knocking on doors, he spends his time bush- whacking in the thick brush along the southwest shores of Utah Lake, looking for the perfect place to nurture his birds by planting numerous stands of corn, rye and other grains….
Large holding tanks that are no longer used for farming now provide high-profile watering holes throughout the game preserve, attracting not only birds but rabbits, coyotes, deer and even antelope.”
Interestingly enough, President Joseph F. Smith made a very specific statement referring directly to hunting elk, deer and antelope, among others:
“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong. I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? “Just the fun of it!” Not that they are hungry and need the flesh of their prey, but just because they love to shoot and to destroy life. I am a firm believer, with reference to these things, in the simple words of one of the poets:
“Take not way the life you cannot give,
For all things have an equal right to live.”
Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p.48
President Smith seems to predict with amazing accuracy what is going on at places like Westlake, where ”prominent men,” (perhaps the “doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden, including Park City,” that Elder Huff refers to in the Deseret News article) seem to be so “athirst for the shedding of animal blood” that they will literally spend tens of thousands of dollars to “go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? Just the fun of it!”
Indeed, a very elite, lucrative kind of “fun” that had (as of 2001) a six-year waiting list.
Information about these hunting preserves is very sparse, but according to Jim Catano, who contacted the Church’s public affairs department and was “told by the director that he would answer my questions, a second-tier media handler was assigned to inform me weeks later that they would not answer any of the questions I’d submitted in preparation for this article.” (The article he was referring to can be accessed here.) After deciding to drop into Westlake unannounced and being given a tour by manager Kevin Albrecht, he found out the following in 2001:
“Our efforts in bringing our opposition to the attention of the Church hierarchy have already had an impact. Not only do missionaries no longer staff the facility but “canned hunts” in which birds that have been raised in captivity are released just before the hunters go in are no longer sponsored. Kevin said he had had several meetings with upper management as a result of our activism, and canned hunts were one of the first things to be changed.
He told me that in a meeting he recently attended of commercial hunting facility managers, people from other parts of the country were surprised how low the daily bag limit is (2 per day as opposed to “as many as you can shoot for a price”) and that the facility no longer plants hatched birds but relies only on wild reproduction. He informed me how strict rule enforcement is and that members must report birds they think they’ve wounded but can’t find as part of their daily limit. He’s fairly confident that members do this although I have my doubts that all do.”
Since information about these preserves is limited, I decided to get in contact with Jim in order to ask him whether he had any new information since his update in 2001. He said that he had contacted Farm Management Corporation (wholly owned by the LDS Church to run its farm properties) sometime prior to 2003, but they “refused to talk to me and give me any more information on the subject at a certain point.”
So, while there have been positive changes as the result of protest about the initial practice of canned hunting, Jim says that it “didn’t change (his) mind about the merits of the existence of this facility.” The end result has remained unchanged: animals being hunted down for Church profit.
This isn’t about sustaining the lives of doctors and lawyers or meat going to waste. Who eats coyote? And $11,500 for a few elk steaks? This is about the number of animals being purposely multiplied by creating the perfect conditions and attracting them to the preseve for the purpose of being killed “just for fun” – not because they need the flesh to live on, as President Smith stated above.
Ironically, The Humane Society of the United States has a webpage dedicated to praising the LDS Church for its teachings about animal life. Do we deserve the praise? Or have we given nothing but lip service to our supposed respect for God’s creations and their right to life?
Despite past teachings and statements by General Authorities on the subject of hunting and the taking of animal life, many of you have no personal problem with sport hunting. Obviously, you have the legal right to hunt and I realize that I’m unlikely to change your personal views on the matter. I ask you, however, whether you would be troubled by any of the following purely hypothetical situations:
- The Church preaches against alcohol consumption, but purchases a vineyard in California and profits from the sale of the grapes being harvested to produce wine.
- The Church teaches that pornography is wrong, but has a stake in a popular fashion magazine featuring scantily-clothed women in sexual poses.
- The Church opposes abortion but owns property in Florida that an abortion clinic rents.
Would you be prepared to defend these hypothetical scenarios in the same way that you defend the Church’s hunting preserves?
Of all the good ways to make a buck, is this the best we can do? Are we or are we not, as a Church, sacrificing principle for profit?
Gerald E. Jones stated the following in in an Ensign article from August, 1972 called “The Gospel And Animals:”
“The prophets have been consistent in reminding men of their duty to the animal world. As the Lord told Noah, “… the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:11.) It is our sacred stewardship to care for the earth and all the creatures on it.”
The prophets have been consistent. What about the Church?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Joseph F. Smith from an editorial published in the Juvenile Instructor in April, 1927:
“… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor.”
– Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, Sunstone Magazine