Date of Award
Master of Arts
An effective incentivized hunting program was initiated in the United States in 2002 to reduce the population of nutria (Myocastor coypus), an invasive species of rodent contributing to wetland erosion. In this thesis, I analyze the ethics of intervening through the nutria hunting program by applying four different non-anthropocentric theories of animal and environmental ethics to the case: Peter Singer’s utilitarianism, Tom Regan’s animal rights, Paul Taylor’s respect for nature, and Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. I explain why the theories of Singer and Leopold would support intervention, while Regan’s and Taylor’s would not. Additionally, due to its unique features, the situation with the nutria is a perfect test case for evaluating the merits of these four competing theories. After taking issue with Singer’s, Regan’s, and Taylor’s theories as they pertain to the nutria case, I conclude that Leopold’s land ethic is best able to account for our considered moral belief that killing the invasive nutria in order to protect the wetlands is morally appropriate. Because Leopold’s land ethic is holistic and inegalitarian, it can explain both why the nutria are a problem and why they are less morally valuable than the native wetland species they are destroying. Of the four theories, only Leopold’s includes the entire biotic community in the sphere of moral consideration, and in so doing, recognizes that what is at stake in this case is the wetland itself, and that we have a duty to preserve its integrity, even at the cost of nutria life.
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