BRAD DOKKEN: 'Harvest' is one of those tricky words

A reader took me to task recently for using the word "harvest" in a blog post about the Minnesota wolf season that wrapped up in late December. I suspect she mostly was upset about its use in reference to wolves, without question the most emotion...

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A reader took me to task recently for using the word "harvest" in a blog post about the Minnesota wolf season that wrapped up in late December.

I suspect she mostly was upset about its use in reference to wolves, without question the most emotionally charged animal to roam the wilds of Minnesota. Agencies such as the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources routinely use the word "harvest" to describe the number of fish, deer, pheasants, ducks, geese, bears, elk, moose -- you get the idea -- taken by hunters and anglers in a given season.

Yet, this reader never once complained about the use of "harvest" in those contexts, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions:

"Please stop calling the wolf season a harvest," she wrote. "You harvest grain and vegetables. Wolves are killed. They are warm blooded, family animals who nurture and raise their young like all mammals. When they are murdered, the family is broken up, and they grieve like other families. This is not a harvest."

As an outdoor writer and copy editor, I generally try to limit the use of "harvest" in reference to hunting and fishing seasons, but there are times when it's the best word. Looking back on the blog post the reader faulted, I changed the words "harvest" or "harvested" in the DNR news release at least four times, replacing them with "shot," "taken" or "killed."


Whether that was necessary is a matter of opinion, and while harvest does indeed refer to grain or vegetables -- as the reader pointed out -- Webster's New World College Dictionary also includes "to catch, shoot, trap (fish or game), often for commercial purposes" and "to get (something) as the result of an action or effort" among its definitions.

Both of those definitions can be justified in the context of hunting and fishing.

Craig Bihrle, conservation and communications chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said they commonly use "harvest," as well as other words, but there's no standard formula.

Randy Kreil, the department's wildlife chief, further defended the word.

"We actually prefer the word harvest instead of 'kill' because -- like grains and vegetables -- most wildlife game species are a renewable resource that provides food and in some cases fur for clothing," Kreil wrote in an email. "It is a renewable harvest. It is important to make sure people know that killing or harvesting a rooster pheasant is OK and not 'murder' or 'killing' for the sake of the kill or purely for sport."

And here, perhaps, was Kreil's best point in his email:

"Taking or harvesting game species is not a factor that drives the population's future," he wrote. "That is habitat. I wish more people would focus on the habitat that sustains the populations of wildlife rather than focus on the killing or harvesting of individuals."

Chris Niskanen, communications director for the DNR in St. Paul, didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the agency's perspective on "harvest," a word it uses regularly.


Sam Cook, a longtime outdoors writer and columnist at one of our sister papers, the Duluth News Tribune, and one of the most articulate wordsmiths I know, said he's wrestled with the word his entire career but uses it frequently.

Like me, Cook said he'll substitute words such as "take" or "killed" in some cases to avoid using harvest too many times and to let readers know he understands how the fish or animals are dying. That's more difficult when the word is used as a noun, Cook said, in which case "harvest" seems to be the best choice.

"All of that said, I've received the same kind of comments from readers, and I understand their point," Cook writes in an email. "But if you use the word 'kill' throughout a story, it begins to seem a little forced, almost as if you're trying to emphasize something violent."

Cook said he even had an anti-hunting reader send clips of his stories with the words "kill" and "take" underlined in red.

"She accused me of being a bloodthirsty hunter who glorified the killing of animals by using those words," Cook said in his email.

As Cook said, it's a no-win situation, and I agree.

In the big picture, though, I'd hope everyone could agree that threats to habitat are more crucial to the future of fish and wildlife populations than whether "harvest" or similar words are used to describe a particular season.

Focus on what's important, and I think all of us, pro-hunting and fishing or anti-hunting and fishing, will be better off in the long run.


So will the fish and wildlife.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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