Why Fish and Game Agencies Can’t Manage Predators
Hunting; The Missing Link
(Hunting and Child Abuse are Correlated)
|“In 21 of 22 similar New York counties, those with the most hunters also had the most prosecutions for sexual abuse of children.”|
Study submitted Jun 10, 2008 (Original item from 2007) by Animal People
This article summarizes an Animal People study that examines the cultural relationship between rates of hunting participation and crimes against children in New York, Ohio, and Michigan, finding that “hunting and child abuse reflect the degree to which dominionism prevails in a particular community.”
In 21 of 22 similar New York counties, those with the most hunters also had the most prosecutions for sexual abuse of children. In Ohio counties with more than the median rate of hunting licenses, there were 51% more reports of child abuse. Similarly, in Michigan, children were three times more likely to be neglected and twice as likely to be physically abused or sexually assaulted if they lived in a county with above average hunting participation.
In a prior 1980 study by Stephen Kellert for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “dominionism” was defined as an attitude where “primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery or control over animals.” This study showed that the degree of dominionism in the American public was 2.0 on a scale of 18; humane group members rated 0.9, recreational hunters rated from 3.8 to 4.1 and trappers rated 8.5.
Researcher/Author: Animal People
Animal Type: Wildlife
Geographic Region: United States Regional
Year Conducted: 2007
A Dying Sport
These video clips show hunters in a canned hunt situation. The lioness has been lured into a fenced paddock, by holding her cubs on one side of the fence. As she frantically tries to get to them in clip one, the hunters guide is trying to coax her away from the fence so that the hunters will have the feeling that they shot her in the wild. The second clip is very graphic and disturbing. The hunters shoot her to death, right in front of her crying cubs and then all gather around the dying lioness, with milk dripping from her teats, to have the pictures made. These take a while to load, but the animals need you to be patient and to see what is happening to them all across America. In many cases they are shot in transport cages and don’t even have this much of a chance.
Lioness with cubs
Lioness being shot
This clip below is from the HSUS Animal Channel HERE.
You can stop canned hunts. There is a bill before congress now. Ask your representatives to support this important new bill. Support Legislation.
Why Fish and Game Agencies Can’t Manage Predators
The War on Predators
By GEORGE WUERTHNER
In the past month or so, helicopters with gunners skimmed over the Alaskan tundra and forests shooting wolves to “protect” caribou herds. In Nevada, the state Fish and Game agency wants to kill more mountain lions to increase mule deer numbers. In Idaho, the Idaho Game and Fish wants to kill more than a hundred wolves in the Lolo Pass area to benefit elk. In Maine, the state agency encourages hunters to shoot coyotes to reduce predation on deer.
Without exception, state game and fish agencies do not treat predators like other wildlife. Even though state agencies are no longer engaged in outright extermination of predators, persecution and limited acceptance of the ecological role of predators is still the dominant attitude. State wildlife agencies only tolerate predators as long as they are not permitted to play a meaningful ecological role.
In general, they seek to hold predator populations at low numbers by providing hunters and trappers with generous “bag” limits and long hunting/trapping seasons. For some predators, like coyotes, there are often no limits on the number of animals that can be killed or trapped. The attitude of many hunters towards predators is not appreciably different than what one heard a hundred years ago, despite a huge leap in our ecological understanding of the role top predators play in the ecosystem.
Beyond the general hostility towards predators that many hunters hold, state wildlife agencies are not the objective, scientific, wildlife managers that they claim to be. Wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other predators are a direct threat to state wildlife budgets because top predators eat the very animals that hunters want to kill. Because state wildlife agencies rely upon license sales to fund their operations, maintaining huntable numbers of elk, deer, moose, and caribou is in the agencies’ self interest.
Before anyone accuses me of being anti hunter, I want to make it clear that I hunt, and most of my close friends hunt. We value the wildlife success stories created by past and present wildlife agencies actions. And to give credit where credit is due, hunters and anglers have been responsible for many successful wildlife recovery efforts, and through their lobbying efforts, sweat, and money, they have protected a considerable amount of wildlife habitat across the Nation for many wildlife species, not just the ones hunted. Well known early conservationists and wilderness advocates like Theodore Roosevelt, George Bird Grinnell, Charles Sheldon and Olaus Murie were all hunters. But that doesn’t mean hunters are beyond criticism when it comes to wildlife management policies, particularly when it comes to predator policy.
TOP PREDATORS ARE NOT JUST LIKE OTHER WILDLIFE
With the delisting of wolves by the Secretary of the Interior Salazar, several states are poised to begin managing wolves. Proponents of wolf control suggest that Americans should let state wildlife agencies manage predators “just like other wildlife.”
The problem is that top predators are not “just like other wildlife.” Indeed, they play a crucial ecological role in maintaining ecosystem stability and integrity. In addition, predators, more than most other species, have well developed social structures that demand a much more nuanced approach to human/wildlife relationships than most wildlife agencies are prepared to deal with, much less even acknowledge.
ECOLOGICAL VALUE OF PREDATORS
Much recent research has demonstrated many ecological values to predators. As top-down regulators of ecosystems, predators like wolves, mountain lion, and bears help to reduce herbivore numbers to slow or reduce over-browsing or overgrazing of plant communities.
Perhaps more importantly, predator shift how prey animals use their habitat. For instance, it is well documented that the presence of wolves in Yellowstone has changed how elk use the landscape, with less browsing on riparian vegetation as one consequence.
But wolf-induced habitat shifts by elk has had other benefits as well. Since the road system in Yellowstone tends to follow the river valleys, movement of elk away from streams to adjacent uplands increases the likelihood that a certain percentage of the animals will die further from a road. This has important consequences for grizzly bears that have been shown to avoid feeding on carcasses located close to roads. Finding even one more elk carcass in the spring in a place that is “safe” for feeding is like winning the lottery for, say, a mother grizzly with several cubs to feed.
Some scientists have even postulated that wolves may ameliorate the effects of climate change on scavenger species by providing carrion throughout the year.
Predators can also limit the effects of disease, like chronic wasting disease found in elk, deer, and moose since infected animals are more vulnerable to predators.
The presence of a large predator has a cascading effect on all other predators as well. For instance, the present of wolves results in fewer coyotes. Since coyotes are among the major predators on pronghorn fawns, presence of wolves, has led to higher pronghorn fawn survival.
And because of the single-minded bias of state wildlife agencies for maintaining large numbers of huntable species, they fail to even ask whether predation might have a positive influence on ecosystem sustainability.
For instance, in certain circumstances, top predators like wolves, bears, and mountain lions will hold prey populations low for an extended period of time, especially if habitat quality is marginal for the herbivores. These “predator sinks” provide the long term “rest” from herbivory pressure that plant communities may require on occasion to reestablish or recover from past herbivory pressure. Almost universally when predators begin to “hold down” prey populations, state agencies want to kill them so the targeted populations of moose, caribou, elk, deer, or whatever it might be can “recover.” That is the justification, for instance, for the proposed slaughter of approximately 100 wolves near Lolo Pass by the Idaho Fish and Game.
Unfortunately for predators if their numbers are sufficiently high for them to have these ecological effects on other wildlife as well as the plant communities, state wildlife agencies tend to view them as too high for their “management objectives.”
I won’t dwell on it here, but top predators have sophisticated social interactions that state wildlife agencies completely ignore in their management. For the most part, state agencies’ management of predators is based on numbers. If there are enough wolves or mountain lions to maintain a population, and they are not in any danger of extinction, than management is considered to be adequate.
The problem is that top predators have many social interactions that complicate such crude management by the numbers.
Many social animals pass on “cultural” knowledge to their young about where to forage or hunt. Researcher Gordon Haber has found that some wolf packs in Denali National Park have been passing on their prime hunting territory from generation to generation for decades. Loss of this knowledge and/or territory because too many animals are killed can stress the remaining animals, making them more likely to travel further where they are vulnerable to conflicts with humans.
For instance, predator control can shift the age structure of predator populations to younger animals. Since younger animals are less experienced hunters, they are more likely to attack livestock than older, mature predators. (Young animals are more likely in rare instances, to even attack people. Nearly all mountain lion attacks are by immature animals.)
Furthermore, predator populations that are held at less than capacity by management (i.e. killing them) also tend to breed earlier, and produce more young, increasing the demand for biomass (i.e. food). Both of these factors can indirectly increase conflicts between livestock producers and predators.
Wolves, mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and other predators all possess such intricate social relationships. Yet I have never seen a single state wildlife agency even acknowledged these social interactions; much less alter their management in light of this knowledge.
WHY HUNTERS ARE NOT A SUBSITUTE FOR WILD PREDATORS
Despite the self serving propaganda coming hunting groups that hunters are an adequate “tool” to control herbivore populations, research has demonstrated sufficient differences in the animals selected by predators compared to human hunters. In general, hunters take animals in the prime of life, while predators disproportionally take out the older, younger or less fit individuals. As poet Robinson Jeffers has noted, it is the fang that has created the fleet foot of the antelope.
Human hunting has other long term genetic consequences as well. As was recently reported in PNAS, sustained human hunting has led to universally smaller animals, as well as other suspected genetic impacts that may affect their long-term viability.
REASONS FOR STATE WILDLIFE AGENCIES’ FAILURE
Despite the long history of hunter conservationists, when it comes to predators there are two major reasons for the failure of state wildlife agencies to adopt objective and biologically sound predator policies. The first is that most hunters are ecologically illiterate. Though there are some sub-groups within the hunting community who put ecological health of the land first and foremost, the average hunter cares more about “putting a trophy on the wall or meat in the freezer” than whether the land’s ecological integrity is maintained. The focus is on sustaining hunting success, not ultimately on the quality of the hunting experience, much less sustaining ecosystems as the prime objective. Such hunters are the ones using ORVs for hunting, use radio collared dogs to “track” predators, object to road closures that limit hunter access by other than foot, employ more and more sophisticated technology to replace human skill, and not coincidently they tend to be the hunters most likely to be demanding predator control.
On the whole, I have found most state wildlife biologists to be far more ecologically literate than the hunters and anglers they serve. In other words, if left to the biologists, I suspect we would find that agencies would manage wildlife with a greater attention to ecological integrity.
However, curbing such impulses by wildlife professionals are the politically appointed wildlife commissions. While criteria for appointments vary from state to state, in general, commissioners are selected to represent primarily rural residents, timber companies and agricultural interests—all of whom are generally hostile to predators and/or see it as almost a God-given requirement that humans manage the Earth to “improve” it and fix the lousy job that God did by creating wolves and mountain lions.
The other reason state agencies tend to be less enthusiastic supporters of predators has to do with funding. State wildlife agencies “dance with the one that brung ya.” Most non-hunters do not realize that state wildlife agencies are largely funded by hunter license fees as well as taxes on hunting equipment, rather than general taxpayer support. This creates a direct conflict of interest for state wildlife agencies when it comes to managing for species that eat the animals hunters want to kill. Agency personnel know that the more deer, elk, and other huntable species that exist, the more tags and licenses they can sell. So what bureaucracy is going to voluntarily give up its funding opportunities for “ecological integrity?”
Adding to this entire funding nightmare for agencies is the decline in hunter participation. There are fewer and fewer hunters these days. Many reasons have been proposed for this—a decrease in access to private lands for hunting, decrease in outdoor activities among young people, and fewer young hunters being recruited into the hunting population, a shift in population from rural to urban areas, and a general shift in social values where hunters are held in less esteem by the general public. Whatever the factors, state wildlife agencies are facing a financial crisis. Their chief funding source—hunter license tags sales are declining, while their costs of operations are increasing.
This creates a huge incentive for state wildlife agencies to limit predators. Most agencies are beyond wanting to exterminate predators, and some even grudgingly admit there is some ecological and aesthetic value in maintaining some populations of predators, but few are willing to promote predators or consider the important ecological value of predators in the ecosystem.
Yet these inherent conflicts of interest are never openly conceded by the agencies themselves or for that matter few others. It is the elephant in the room.
DO WE NEED TO “MANAGE’ PREDATORS?
With the exception of killing predators in the few instances where human safety is jeopardized as with human habituated animals, or to protect a small population of some endangered species, I find little good scientific support for any predator management. Predator populations will not grow indefinitely. They are ultimately limited by their prey. Leaving predators to self-regulate seems to be the best management option available.
In general, predators will have minimum effects on hunting. Even now in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, most elk populations are at or above “management objectives.” Climatic conditions and habitat quality typically have a far greater impact on long-term viability of huntable species than predators.
Arguments that people will “starve” if they can’t hunt are bogus. Alternative foods are usually far less expensive and more easily acquired than a moose or elk. Furthermore, in our society where food stamps and other social security nets are available, no one will starve for want of an elk dinner or caribou steak.
In my view, we need to restore not only token populations of wolves to a few wilderness and park sanctuaries, we ought to be striving to restore the ecological role of top predators to as much as of the landscape as reasonably possible. While we may never tolerate or want mountain lions in Boise city limits, grizzly bears strolling downtown Bozeman or wolves roaming the streets of Denver, there is no reason we can’t have far larger and more widely distributed predator populations across the entire West, as well as the rest of the nation. But this will never happen as long as state wildlife agencies see their primary role to satisfy hunter expectations for maximized hunting opportunities for ungulates like deer and elk rather than managing wildlife for the benefit of all citizens and ecosystem integrity.
George Wuerthner is editor of Wildfire: a Century of Failed Forest Policy.
Why so many cougar attacks and cougar sightings?
Every day there is a story in a paper somewhere in the U.S. about cougar or mountain lion sightings in areas where the cats have not existed in the wild in over 100 years. Why is that? Could it possibly be that despite the fact that extinction rates are more than 1000 times greater than they should be due to the uncontrolled population growth of man and our extermination of everything in our path, the cougar is making a come back? That is what the fish and game departments across the country are claiming, but that is because they make their money from the issuance of permits to kill big cats. Hunters have wiped out the Jaguar for the most part and the cougar only exists in a few areas. Fish and game “experts” would have us believe that despite the fact that the big cats have been driven to extinction in most of their ranges around the world, that miraculously, the much-prized-trophy-cougar is alive and well and a public menace to boot.
Consider a much more likely scenario: The cougars who are being spotted in areas where they haven’t lived in up to 200 years, who are brazen enough to walk through subdivisions, and nap in trees above the family mini van, and who are living off eating dogs and cats and other domestic animals are the pets and captive born breeders turned loose due to the new law that makes it illegal to sell cougars across state lines. The Captive Wild Animal Safety Act was signed into law in Dec. 2003 by President Bush and immediately there was a flurry of cougar sightings. In every case the stories paint a portrait of a cougar nonchalantly strolling through a neighborhood. This is the behaviour of an animal born and raised around people, not a wild animal.
|They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car turned out to be declawed.|
Delighted with the prospect of being able to sell permits to shoot the majestic cats the department of natural resources keeps assuring the public that these are wild cougars and that blasting them out of the trees is done in the name of public safety. They had a hard time explaining why one of them who was hit by a car turned out to be declawed.
Big Cat Rescue tracked the calls we received from people trying to get rid of unwanted big cats over the past eight years:
Every year that number was growing dramatically, but in the year following the new law prohibiting the sale of big cats across state lines as pets, the number dropped by 1/3. The only other marginal drop was right after 9/11 and that coincided with a huge drop in discretionary spending.
|…these cats are being turned loose to fend for themselves.|
It is a shame that these cats are being turned loose to fend for themselves. They don’t have the skills and some cases don’t even have the claws, to catch their own food. Those who are not shot will probably starve to death and in time we will start to see a drop in the number of sightings reported. The only good news is that this new federal law has been effective at curbing the number of cougars and lions that are being born for a life of misery and captivity.
People are still getting around the prohibition on big cats as pets by calling themselves educators or sanctuaries. Big Cat Rescue is working hard to close the loopholes in the laws that allow people to exploit big cats for profit. Please bookmark our page on Laws to keep up on the latest efforts to make the world a safer place for people and the exotic cats.
How do the wildlife agencies make it worse?
Nature has become purposely imbalanced by our wildlife agencies in order to insure that there are plenty of animals to be killed for fun and profit. Cougars prefer deer and rabbits to people, but our wildlife departments make money from selling permits to the 5% of our population that enjoying killing the cougar’s natural prey. This is often done in excess so that the cougars appear to be a public menace so that the state’s fish and game departments can then gain public support to sell the permits to kill the highly prized cougars.
Fact: Only 5% (12.5 million) of our population are hunters, yet they kill over 115 million animals each year for fun.
These are just the animals that licensed hunters report killing and do not include all the animals who are poached each year by those who believe that they are above the law. Even more despicable are the canned hunts where far too many exotic cats end up when they are discarded from zoos, circus acts and pet owners. Although it is illegal to kill most endangered species, the practice is common and for the right price and a guarantee of secrecy trophy hunters can kill a tiger or leopard while it sits in a cage. If this isn’t bad enough consider the fact that they don’t want to ruin the trophy and will therefore aim for areas that cause a slow and painful death.
Wild cats do not purchase hunting licenses and most state wildlife managers draw their pay from revenue derived from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. That, in brief, is what is wrong with wildlife management in America. In the US the decisions to protect or destroy, conserve or control, restore populations or reduce them are made by the interest of hunters. The 93% of Americans who do not hunt have been effectively excluded from the decision making process. Now that more caring people are trying to get involved, the state’s are fighting as never before to keep them out. Understanding the hunter’s hold on wildlife is the critical first step to loosening that grip.
Hunting and fishing licenses are not simply issued by the state, but sold for a fee. Normally, these fees would be deposited in a state’s general treasury, and from there appropriated to whatever state programs the public, acting through their elected legislators, consider important. Instead, however, the conservation lobby persuaded state legislatures to dedicate hunting and fishing license fees to conservation programs. This means that license fees go directly to the state’s wildlife management agency, effectively insulating it from the legislature’s – and thereby the public’s – most effective means of oversight, the power of the purse. In a very real sense, state wildlife agency staff are not public servants, they are employees of the hunters and fishers whose license fees fund their programs and pay their salaries.
>In 2006 12.5 million hunters spent $23 billion on their sport of which $642,069,054 went to wildlife agencies. 71 million wildlife watchers spent $45 billion in 2001, nearly twice as much as hunters, a fact generally ignored by state wildlife agencies when they tout the economic benefits of hunting. Since wildlife watchers do not have to purchase licenses or tags and they do not pay a tax on their equipment, the percentage of their $45 billion that went to wildlife agencies was exactly zero. Who do you think the wildlife agencies are working for?
In 2006 Thirty-one percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older fed, observed, or photographed wildlife. These wildlife watchers increased in number by 8% from 2001 to 2006. Their expenditures for wildlife-watching equipment (binoculars, cameras, etc.) increased by 20% and for wildlife-watching trips by 40%.
The mass murder and manipulation of wild animals is just another business. Hunters are a tiny minority, and it’s crucial to them that the millions of people who don’t hunt not be awakened from their long sleep and become anti hunting. (Williams 1990) In 1995 the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS attempted to compile information about the structure of the wildlife commissions across the nation. Seventeen states refused to respond, indicating their disdain for animal lover’s involvement in THEIR business. The remaining states admitted that their boards are dominated by consumptive wildlife users. Several of these are people who own canned hunting operations. Most important is to note, that by their own admission, none of their commission members are opposed to hunting. Consider now the fact that another poll of the public, taken the same year, showed that 93% do not hunt and that most Americans are opposed to the brutal practice. Clearly these governing boards are not representing the majority of the people in their wildlife management policies.
The myth that we have been expected to buy into says; “We have to kill animals so that they don’t over populate and starve to death.” The fact is that habitat is managed for maximum deer and duck numbers; wildlife is trapped and transplanted to the killing fields; fires are set; trees are planted or mown down; fields are flooded and fields are drained all to maximize the numbers of animals available to hunters for the joy of killing. Natural predators, such as Cougars, Bobcats, Lynx, Wolves and Coyotes are killed by the thousands so that they don’t compete with the hunters.
The predominance of Aldo Leopold’s philosophy in wildlife management assures that our incredible war on wildlife can continue indefinitely. It is, in fact, the only war in history conducted by rules that were deliberately designed to keep it from ending. The conservation philosophy was created to guarantee that animals will continue to suffer and die at the hands of hunters forever. It is a philosophy of animal abuse in perpetuity.
Florida spends more on wildlife law enforcement than it does on wildlife and fisheries management combined. This is typical of most states. We expect to pay our officers to protect the unbridled exploitation of our state’s wildlife, but the bulk of the budget is spent to ensure that the licensed hunters and anglers are obeying the law regarding size, weight and number of kills. These expenditures would be virtually un necessary if there were no hunting. This fact undermines the assertion made by the hunting industry that it pays for wildlife and parks. At the very best, hunters pay to produce lots of animals that they want to kill and pay to enforce regulations to keep each other from killing too many of them or in an illegal manner.
The numbers killed are staggering. These figures all came from reported kills, in just one recent year, by licensed hunters and do not include animals that were killed illegally:
As people become more enlightened fewer and fewer people each year are taking up hunting as a sport. To change this trend, the hunters and the state’s wildlife agencies are promoting hunting to children. Faced with declining numbers of hunters and an increasing population of non consumptive wildlife users, the states are circling the wagons to protect hunting. Instead of seriously seeking alternative sources of funding, ways to include the non hunting public, and management that emphasizes non hunted species, they are trying to increase hunter numbers so that they don’t have to change the status quo. Your tax dollars are paying for promotional campaigns to urge children as young as 6 to get involved in trapping and killing animals because it has been discovered that if a child is not exposed to this sort of violence during their formative years, they will be very unlikely to be able to stomach the thought of killing for pleasure as an adult. Animal abuse is directly linked to human abuse and murder.
Five percent of the U.S. population 16 years old and older, 12.5 million people, hunted in 2006. The number of all hunters declined by 4% from 2001 to 2006. Wildlife agencies are now targeting children as young as 10 and women as the hunters of the future by portraying the killing of animals as a way to feel empowered in their world. See USFWS 2006 report.
What can we do to stop the violence?
The answer lies in becoming active and speaking out. Most of us feel the same way, but we aren’t being heard, because we are standing idly by waiting for someone else to do the right thing. Most wildlife commissioners are appointed by the governor. Use your state’s freedom of information act to find out how members are appointed to your board and what their position really is on wildlife protection. Make sure that plenty of non hunters attend each meeting of your wildlife commission. Make sure that they attend to important issues like hound hunting, baiting, long trap check intervals, hunting contests, children recruitment policies and how animals are identified as being so unworthy of protection that there is unlimited, open season on their killing.
Speak out calmly and professionally. To act irrational and thus label all people who care as being unstable won’t help the animals. Ask the commission to schedule votes on these issues and to go on the record about their support of them. Get the press involved to cover the meetings and the failure of the commission to act in favour of reasonable wildlife protection measures. The media wants to print articles that will be favourable to the masses and the masses have said that they are not in favour of hunting.
Work to change the composition of the commission to include members who are not hunters. Lobby the governor’s office to appoint qualified candidates who represent the majority of the people in your state. If these candidates are continually passed over in favour of less qualified hunters, then let the media know about it. Work with your state legislator so see if perhaps a ballot initiative might be implemented to restructure the commission.
Lobby members of the appropriate committees in your state legislature to earmark general funds for the support of the wildlife department. With enough funding we can demand that our concerns be seriously addressed by the commission and the department.
If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find them on line by clicking on the lion at the left.
115 million animals are counting on YOU to speak out for them this year.
Why Sport Hunting Is Cruel and Unnecessary
Today, hunting, which was a crucial part of survival 100,000 years ago, is nothing more than a violent form of recreation that is unnecessary for the subsistence of the vast majority of hunters.1 Hunting has contributed to the extinction of animal species all over the world, including the Tasmanian tiger2 and the great auk.3
Although less than 5 percent of the U.S. population hunts,4 it is permitted in many wildlife refuges, national forests and state parks, and other public lands. Forty percent of hunters kill animals on public land,5 which means that every year, on the half-billion acres of public land in the U.S., millions of animals who “belong” to the more than 95 percent of Americans who do not hunt are slaughtered and maimed by hunters,6 and by some estimates, poachers kill just as many illegally.7
Conservation and Management Programs Fail
To attract more hunters (and their money), federal and state agencies implement programs—often termed “wildlife management” or “conservation” programs—to boost the number of “game” species so that there are plenty of animals for hunters to kill and, consequently, plenty of revenue from the sale of hunting licenses.
Duck hunters in Louisiana persuaded the state wildlife agency to direct $100,000 a year toward “reduced predator impact,” which involved trapping foxes and raccoons so that more duck eggs would hatch, giving hunters more birds to kill.8 The Ohio Division of Wildlife teamed up with a hunter-organized society to push for clear-cutting (decimating large tracts of trees) in Wayne National Forest to “produce habitat needed by ruffed grouse.”9
In Alaska, the Department of Fish and Game is trying to increase the number of moose for hunters by “controlling” the wolf and bear populations. Grizzlies and black bears have been moved hundreds of miles from their homes—two were shot by hunters within two weeks of their relocation, and others have simply returned to their homes10—and wolves have been slaughtered in order to “let the moose population rebound and provide a higher harvest for local hunters.”11 In the early 1990s, a program designed to reduce the wolf population backfired when snares failed to kill victims quickly, and photos of suffering wolves were seen by an outraged public.12
Colorado is dealing with an overpopulation of elks, but programs aimed at controlling their numbers have led to “mistaken identity” killings of protected moose.13 Although more hunting permits are being issued and tens of thousands of elks are killed every year by hunters, there has been no reduction in the population.14
Nature Takes Care of Its Own
If left unaltered, the delicate balance of nature’s ecosystems ensures the survival of most species. Natural predators help maintain this balance by killing only the sickest and weakest individuals. Hunters, however, kill any animal they would like to hang over the fireplace—including large, healthy animals who are needed to keep the population strong.
Even when unusual occurrences cause temporary animal-overpopulation problems, natural processes quickly stabilize the group. Starvation and disease are unfortunate, but they are nature’s way of ensuring that healthy, strong animals survive and maintain the strength of the entire herd or group. Shooting an animal because he or she might starve or become sick is arbitrary and destructive.
Sport hunting not only jeopardizes nature’s balance, but also exacerbates other problems. For example, the transfer of captive-bred deer and elk between states for the purpose of hunting is believed to have contributed to the epidemic spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given state wildlife agencies millions of dollars to “manage” deer and elk populations.15 The fatal, neurological illness that affects these animals has been likened to mad cow disease, and while the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that CWD has no relationship to any similar diseases that affect humans or domesticated livestock, the slaughter of deer and elk is slated to continue.16,17
Another problem with hunting involves the introduction of exotic “game” animals who, if able to escape and thrive, pose a threat to native wildlife and established ecosystems. A group of non-native wild boars escaped from a private ranch and moved into the forests of Cambria County, Pa., prompting that state to draft a bill prohibiting the importation of any exotic species.18
Most hunting occurs on private land, where laws that protect wildlife are often inapplicable or difficult to enforce. On private lands that are set up as for-profit hunting reserves or game ranches, hunters can pay to kill native and exotic species in “canned hunts.” These animals may be native to the area, raised elsewhere and brought in, or purchased from individuals who are trafficking unwanted or surplus animals from zoos and circuses. They are hunted and killed for the sole purpose of providing hunters with an exotic “trophy.”
Canned hunts are becoming big business—there are an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 game preserves in the U.S.19 Ted Turner, who owns more land than any other landowner in the nation, operates 20 ranches where hunters pay thousands of dollars to kill bison, deer, African antelopes, and turkeys.20
Animals on canned-hunting ranches are often accustomed to humans and are usually unable to escape from the enclosures, which range in size from just a few yards to thousands of acres across. Most of these ranches operate on a “no kill, no pay” policy, so it is in the owners’ best interests to ensure that clients get what they came for. Owners do this by offering guides who know the location and habits of the animals, permitting the use of dogs, and supplying “feeding stations” that lure unsuspecting animals to food while hunters lie in wait.
Only a handful of states prohibit canned hunting,21 and there are no federal laws regulating the practice at this time, although Congress is considering an amendment to the Captive Exotic Animal Protection Act that would prohibit the transfer, transportation, or possession of exotic animals “for entertainment or the collection of a trophy.”22
Hunting “accidents” destroy property and injure or kill horses, cows, dogs, cats, hikers, and other hunters. In 2001, according to the International Hunter Education Association, there were dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries attributed to hunting in the United States—and that only includes incidents involving humans.23 It is an ongoing problem, and one warden explained that “hunters seem unfamiliar with their firearms and do not have enough respect for the damage they can do.”24
A Humane Alternative
There are 20 million deer in the U.S., and because hunting has been an ineffective method to “control” populations (one Pennsylvania hunter “manages” the population by clearing his 600-acre plot of wooded land and planting corn to attract deer), some wildlife agencies are considering other management techniques.25 Several recent studies suggest that sterilization is an effective, long-term solution to overpopulation. A method called TNR (trap, neuter, and return) has been tried on deer in Ithaca, N.Y.,26 and an experimental birth-control vaccine is being used on female deer in Princeton, N.J.27 One Georgia study suggested for 1,500 white-tailed deer on Cumberland Island concluded that “herd size in closed populations can be regulated in the field relatively quickly if fertile and sterile animals can be identified … and an appropriate sterilization schedule is generated.”28
What You Can Do
Before you support a “wildlife” or “conservation” group, ask about its position on hunting. Groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League, the Wilderness Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and many others are pro-sport-hunting or, at the very least, they do not oppose it.
To combat hunting in your area, post “no hunting” signs on your land, join or form an anti-hunting organization, protest organized hunts, and spread deer repellent or human hair (from barber shops) near hunting areas. Call 1-800-448-NPCA to report poachers in national parks to the National Parks and Conservation Association. Educate others about hunting. Encourage your legislators to enact or enforce wildlife protection laws, and insist that nonhunters be equally represented on wildlife agency staffs.
1)National Research Council, “Science and the Endangered Species Act,” Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995: 21.
2)Grant Holloway, “Cloning to Revive Extinct Species,” CNN, 28 May 2002.
3)“Great Auk,” Canadian Museum of Nature, 2003.
4)United States Fish and Wildlife Service, “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife—Associated Recreation,” Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2001: 5.
5)U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 80.
6)United States Department of the Interior, “Public Land Statistics,” Table 1-3, Mar. 2000.
7)“Poaching Is a Serious Crime,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources, May 2003.
8)Bob Marshall, “Is Predator Program Enough?” Times-Picayune, 2 Mar. 2003.
9)Dave Golowenski, “Grouse Numbers Go Up If Trees Come Down,” The Columbus Dispatch, 20 Feb. 2003.
10)“Hunters Shoot Two Relocated Bears,” Associated Press, 9 Jun. 2003.
11)Joel Gay, “McGrath Wolf Kills Fall Short,” Anchorage Daily News, 25 Apr. 2003.
12)Gay, “Governor Takes Heat From Hunters Expecting Aerial Wolf Control,” Anchorage Daily News, 8 Apr. 2003.
13)Charlie Meyers, “Professor’s Prime Advice: Trim the Elk Herds, Now,” The Denver Post, 20 May 2003.
15)United States Department of Agriculture, “USDA Makes $4 Million Available to State Wildlife Agencies for Strengthening Chronic Wasting Disease Management,” 15 Apr. 2003.
16)Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, “What is Chronic Wasting Disease?” United States Department of Agriculture, Nov. 2002.
17)CDC Media Relations, “Fatal Degenerative Neurologic Illnesses in Men Who Participated in Wild Game Feasts—Wisconsin, 2002,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb. 2003.
18)Judy Lin, “Pennsylvania Worried About Wild Boar Escape,” Associated Press, 17 Mar. 2002.
19)Jeffery Kluger, “Hunting Made Easy,” Time, 11 Mar. 2002.
20)Audrey Hudson, “Greens Cut Turner a Break; Critics Question His Stewardship of Western Land,” The Washington Times, 20 Jan. 2002.
21)National Conference of State Legislatures, “Canned Hunting,” Environment, Energy and Transportation Program, Apr. 2003.
22)H.R. 3464 Captive Exotic Animal Protection Act, Session 107, introduced 11 Nov. 2001.
23)“Hunter Incident Clearinghouse,” International Hunter Education Association, 2001.
24)Tom Harelson, “1998 Deer Gun Season Report,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 8 Dec. 1998.
25)Andrew C. Revkin, “States Seek to Restore Deer Balance,” The New York Times, 29 Dec. 2002
26)Roger Segelken, “Surgical Sterilization Snips Away at Deer Population,” Cornell News, 19 Mar. 2003.
27)“Princeton’s Deer Hunt Coming to a Premature End,” Associated Press, 21 Mar. 2003.
28)James L. Boone and Richard G. Wiegert, “Modeling Deer Herd Management: Sterilization Is a Viable Option,” University of Georgia, 1994.