Posts Tagged ‘Hunting’

I just received the latest Time Magazine and was interested to read the cover article by David Von Drehle entitled “America’s Pest Problem: Why the rules of hunting are about to change.”  The article discusses how the populations of several species of North American wildlife have expanded in recent history to the point where they are now doing ecological damage and entering human dominated landscapes leading to damage and difficulties there.  Overall, the message of the article was that humans have caused these population increases, and so now need to play a more involved role in wildlife management to correct them, and that hunting should be a prominent part of that role.

I agree with this overall message, and it is one of the  major reasons I started hunting a few years ago.   The other possibilities for controlling wildlife populations generally fall into one of two categories: contraceptives or aversion training.  The idea behind treating animals with contraceptives is to reduce the birth rates of these species and so slowly reduce the population level.  However, this involves the sometimes quite difficult task of injecting the animals with the hormones by either capturing them and injecting them directly, or shooting them with drug loaded darts.  Either method of delivery is time consuming, usually results in a relatively small number of animals being treated, and is expensive.  Furthermore, the drugs usually do not work well, if at all.  Aversion training is when animals are disturbed by flashing lights, sirens, fireworks, lasers, rubber bullets, or other non-lethal devices frequently enough that the animals decide that they need to leave a particular area and go elsewhere.  This does not work for several reasons.  One is that in many cases the animals quickly learn that the lasers and loud noises don’t actually do anything, and so the animals simply ignore them.  Another reason is that human environments are so attractive to some species that they are worth suffering through some pretty serious annoyances to get to.  A third reason why aversion training does not work is that it assumes that there is empty habitat for these animals to move into.  In many cases, this is a very bad assumption, and the animals have no choice but to come back to the human dominated landscapes.  So, removing animals, permanently, from the population is one of few effective methods: a.k.a. hunting.

But, while I agree with the article overall, I was troubled by some points, and also the way in which some of those points were made.  First off, the subtitle “Why the rules of hunting are about to change” implies…well, that the rules of hunting are about to change.  Now, it is true that some cities scattered across the nation have changed ordinances that relate to hunting, but that does not mean that we are on the precipice of some major change in hunting laws at the state level or above.  Another, major, issue I take with the article is how the author mixes what should be viewed as good wildlife interactions in with troublesome wildlife interactions.  For example, in one paragraph, the author sympathizes for the plight of retail employees in Florida having to deal with alligators at their doorsteps (which could be quite dangerous) and office workers in New York who have a hawk nesting on the side of a skyscraper (which is a wonderful thing that has no detrimental effects on humans).  These are not the same category of wildlife encounter, and it seems misguided to lump them together.  Another worrying aspect of the article is that it plays into the commonly held fears about top predators.  Part of the article discusses how the increasing populations of prey species is allowing the populations of predators such as Grey Wolves, Grizzly Bears and Mountain Lions to increase as well.  The author states that hunting to reduce the prey populations will help to reduce the amount of human-predator interactions and so avoid “an invasion of fangs and claws.”  This kind of fear mongering is simply not appropriate.  The numbers of humans injured or killed by wild predators is ridiculously low.  Here are some rough estimates of deaths from large predators in all of North America since 1900: Black Bears = about 70, Grizzly Bears = about 70, Mountain Lions = about 20 people (which is fewer than the number of people killed by lightening strikes), Gray Wolves =  just 3.  A final issue that I take with the article is that is lumps native species and invasive species, and basically treats them the same.  One of the figures depicts the increases in population size of 10 species since the mid-1900s.  The caption for the figure says that these are 10 species that have come back from the brink of extinction; however, two species are Wild Pigs and Wild Turkey.  Wild Pigs are a non-native and highly invasive species that really should not be on this continent at all and have never been close to extinction, and Wild Turkeys are increasing in number partly because they were introduced to the western U.S. and are flourishing in this new habitat.  The management goals for these species are very different from, say, Beaver or White-tailed Deer or any of the other native species in the figure.

So, while I liked the message that hunting is a responsible and useful tool in wildlife management, I felt that the article was subtly misleading and definitely oversimplified, and such a portrayal is not in the best interest of hunting or wildlife management.

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