Saluting John Muir's Anti-Hunting Philosophy

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Happy Birthday John Muir

Today, April 21st is John Muir's 168th birthday.

This week I resigned from the Sierra Club's National Board of Directors because I believe the Sierra Club under the leadership of Executive Director Carl Pope has betrayed the legacy of John Muir.

My fear now is that the Sierra Club has been corrupted to the point of evolving into another crass hunting society where the men with the guns enjoy more respect than the victims they slaughter.

This is now the 20th Century and the Sierra Club is encouraging behavior that John Muir condemned in the 19th Century by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on hunter outreach programs, and by hosting contests for hunters with hunting packages to Alaska as prizes.

Since my resignation, I have received a majority of responses that support my position on hunting and a few that were hostile to it. This reflects the fact that the majority of Sierra Club members are not hunters and only a small minority are. Yet, Carl Pope has decided that the Club needs to recruit more hunters and to flagrantly emphasize his position, the club has posted a website page that features Sierra Club leaders and staff posing with their freshly slaughtered "trophies."

Dave Carlson, the Producer of Northland Adventure, accused me of being closed-minded for not respecting the "rights" of hunters. Yet, who is more respectful of John Muir, I who respect John Muir's love of nature or Carlson who has no business insulting John Muir with his sport hunting perversion?

At least the Sierra Club of Canada retains the respect that Muir held for wildlife and they have no hunter outreach program nor do they condone hunting as a "right" of humanity.

Throughout his life, John Muir supported equal rights of wildlife. You can read this philosophy in the pages of A Thousand Mile Walk, Mountains of California, or The Cruise of the Corwin. His other writings also include passages that defend wildlife and condemn the overlordship of men over beast.

It was this philosophy that brought me to the Sierra Club in 1968 and it was why I became a member. I joined an organization with a legacy and a tradition of respect for wildlife and nature, an organization that appealed to hikers, bird-watchers, naturalists and climbers, not bullet-brained nimrods who profess to love nature with a gun.

I joined the Sierra Club of John Muir, David Brower and Ansel Adams, not the modern day aberration of Pope and Carlson.

In 1867, two years after the close of the Civil War, John Muir walked from Indiana to Florida in order to observe both flora and fauna. Arriving in Florida, he was shocked by the totally callous regard of people for alligators. He wrote about it in A Thousand Mile Walk:

"Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread."

Muir suggested that all creatures are brothers and equal in the eyes of their creator.
Several pages later, Muir expresses his views on man's domination over the animal world even more strongly:

"Let a Christian hunter go to the Lord's woods and kill his well-kept beasts, or wild Indians, and it is well; but let an enterprising specimen of these proper, predestined victims go to houses and fields and kill the most worthless person of the vertical godlike killers, - oh! that is horribly unorthodox, and on the part of the Indians, atrocious murder! Well, I have precious little sympathy for the selfish propriety of civilized man, and if a war of races should occur between the wild beasts and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears."

Writing a half a century before Aldo Leopold wrote Sand County Almanac, Muir wrote:

"Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature's object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit - the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge."

Hunters slaughter wildlife without any thought of the interdependence of all life.  On board the Corwin, white hunters approached three polar bears valiantly trying to make an escape over the ice-floes Muir wrote:

"The first one overtaken was killed instantly at the second shot, which passed through the brain. The other two were fired at by five fun, fur, and fame-seekers, with heavy breech-loading rifles, about forty times ere they were killed. From four to six bullets passed through their necks and shoulders before the last through the brain put an end to their agony... It was prolonged, bloody agony, as clumsily and heartlessly inflicted as it could well be, except in the case of the first, which never knew what hurt him."

Shortly afterwards the bodies were hoisted aboard the ship and skinned to be taken home "to show angelic sweethearts the evidence of pluck and daring."

Similar procedures were carried out with walruses by the great white hunters from San Francisco: "These magnificent animals," Muir writes in the Cruise of the Corwin, "are killed often times for their tusks alone, like buffaloes for their tongues, ostriches for their feathers, or for mere sport and exercise. In nothing does man, with his grand notions of heaven and charity, show forth his innate, low-bred, wild animalism more clearly than in his treatment of his brother beasts. From the shepherd with his lambs to the red-handed hunter, it is the same; no recognition of rights - only murder in one form or another."

This voyage to the Arctic in 1881 taught Muir much about his fellow man.

Muir lived at a time when Native people still practiced respect for the animals and wrote about their ritualistic hunting practices which demonstrated that the kill was of necessity and not done for sport or pleasure.

He wrote that when white men introduced Arctic natives to repeating rifles, much of this ritualistic approach to life and the killing of what was only necessary for the time was destroyed. He noted that once the balance of nature was upset, the natives became all the more "civilized" and dependent upon white man's goods from the South. The sacred one to one relationship blurred under the influence of a system of material reward and dependency. Eskimoan peoples became both the cause of and victim of overkill despite their innate wisdom of an earlier period. Very rarely did animals overkill others and very rarely did Eskimoan peoples overkill animals until the advent of the repeating rifle and other supplies from the South.

With the rifle, the Inuit became like the white man, a destroyer of nature.

John Muir advocated a compassionate relationship of man to the animals. He was teaching the lessons that people like Aldo Leopold and Farley Mowat would continue years later in Sand County Almanac and in Never Cry Wolf. Animal wisdom, language, and poetry of movement were, according to Muir, untapped riches for the human race.

Of all Muir's books, The Mountains of California directly concerns itself with observation and appreciation of wildlife. Two of Muir's favorite creatures were the Douglas squirrel and the water-ouzel. No other animal is better fed than the Douglas squirrel, because of his intricate system of food caches. Their curiosity is greater than most men's. One time while Muir was deep in the forests of the Sierra, he whistled some catchy Scottish tunes, and a Douglas squirrel perched himself on a branch and listened with sparkling eyes, "...and he turned his head quickly from side to side." When Muir changed his tunes to solemn ones, the squirrel "screamed his Indian name, Phillillooeet, turned tail, and darted with ludicrous haste up the tree out of sight, his voice and actions in the case of leaving a somewhat profane impression, as if he had said, ‘I'll be hanged if you get me to hear anything so solemn and unpiny.'"

The water-ouzel was something special to Muir as he writes in The Mountains of California,: "He is the mountain streams' own darling, the hummingbird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings - non so unfailingly. For both in winter and summer he sings, sweetly, cheerily, independent alike of sunshine and of love, requiring no other inspiration than the stream on which he dwells. While water sings, so must he, in heat or cold, calm or storm, ever attuning his voice in sure accord; low in the drought of summer and the drought of winter, but never silent." The inner harmony of the water-ouzel serves as a simple but poignant lesson for man who endures different kinds of droughts abstract and real."

John Muir defended equal right for animals. He believed that not only did wildlife have equal rights with humans on this planet but that it had a great deal to teach us if we would only attempt to open up channels of communication.

What is amazing is that Muir lived at a time when there were far fewer people and many more animals and much more wilderness yet he had the vision to see the consequences of human arrogance. He was advocating rights for animals and for wilderness a century before these ideas evolved into a movement.

Muir was not closed-minded; he did accompany hunting parties in some of his outings and did attempt to understand the psychology of the hunter. On his hike up Shasta he encountered some sheep hunters and accompanied them and observed a kill.

He wrote:
"We went up to the ewe, which was ‘all that was left of them - left of the fifty.' She was still breathing, but helpless. Her eye was remarkably mild and gentle, and called out sympathy as if she were human. Poor woman-sheep! She was shot through the head and never knew what hurt her. Bremer drew a big knife and coolly shed her blood, which formed a crimson pool in a hollow of the lava."

Muir's friendship with Theodore Roosevelt led to the creation of the National Parks in the United States but this did not prevent Muir from engaging in lively debates with Roosevelt over the ethics of hunting. 

Muir referred to hunting as the "murder business."

Yet, the Sierra Club founded by John Muir, features pictures of death deviants posing with smiles with their recently-slaughtered trophy animals.

I think it is incredibly disrespectful for Carl Pope and the staff of the Sierra Club to use the web pages of the Club as a gloat and boast statement for their conquests over wildlife. Are these people so sexually and emotionally inadequate or immature that they need to flaunt their perversion to the entire Sierra Club membership? Do we really need to see them posing with big smiles with freshly slaughtered animals? What purpose does this page serve other than as a perverse vanity page? Is the object to recruit hunters and turn off animal lovers?

And to actually host a contest to promote hunting with an all expense lethal masturbatory kill thrill in Alaska as a prize, this is akin to pissing on John Muir's grave.

What are these people thinking?

The Sierra Club was founded by John Muir to respect wilderness and to honor nature. It is amazingly hypocritical for the Sierra Club to be posting this pro-slaughter garbage on the same website where the words of John Muir proclaim that hunting is the "murder business."

Because of John Muir, Carl Pope has a high paying and prestigious job and the staff enjoy union wages and privileges to work for the environment. John Muir made this possible. He made the Sierra Club possible. I would think that the least these people can do, especially Carl Pope, is to honor his memory by respecting Muir's philosophy on hunting.

There are plenty of pro-hunting organizations like the Wilderness Society, Ducks Unlimited, Audubon, and the World Wildlife Fund. In fact, John James Audubon was a prolific killer of birds. Why must the Sierra Club follow this trend when unlike Audubon, Muir despised hunting?

All Sierra Club members who truly love wildlife must make their concerns known to Carl Pope and to the Board of Directors of the Sierra Club that the perversion of hunting must not, should not, and will not be tolerated as a Club endorsed activity.