Monday, March 4, 2013

State Agency does not use Science to manage predators

Gov. Steve Bullock was recently quoted as supporting legislation that would increase the killing of wolves because the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks supports the legislation.
Bullock was quoted as saying: “... at the end of the day we need to base these decisions on science, not on politics …” Unfortunately, indiscriminate killing of wolves is largely about politics and ignores the best science.
Predator killing creates a self-fulfilling feedback mechanism, whereby more wolves (cougar, bears, coyotes) are indiscriminately killed, the greater social disruptions, resulting in additional conflicts, and more demand for additional killing.
We’ve seen this cycle for decades in our failed attempts to reduce coyote depredations. As Albert Einstein has said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
There are good scientific reasons why indiscriminate killing (which hunting and trapping are) fails to get the expected results.
The loss of experienced, older animals and their “cultural” knowledge of their territory may mean the remaining wolves will starve or seek out easy prey like livestock.
With wolves, the loss of pack members may result in an inability to hold on to territory, forcing the remaining pack members into new territory where they may not know wildlife use patterns – such as where elk calve or migration corridors. Again this may cause them to seek out livestock for food.
When there is heavy mortality and fragmented packs, populations are skewed toward younger animals. This ultimately leads to a greater number of breeding pairs, and even higher number of young pups.
The end result is a higher percentage of young inexperienced animals, which like human teenagers, are more inclined towards risky behavior and lack the skills to survive. This naturally predisposes them to seeking easy prey like livestock.
Another problem with indiscriminate predator killing is that it often removes the very animals that are the least likely to be involved in livestock depredations. The majority of hunting occurs on the larger blocks of public land. The wolf pack that is attacking cattle on private ranchlands are unlikely to be the animals removed by hunters and/or trappers.
Worse, current state policies ignore or devalue the multiple ecological benefits of predators – from reduction of disease transmission among other species such as elk and deer, to restoration of riparian areas and increases in both songbirds and trout.
Striving to keep predator numbers well below the number that actually influences ungulate populations seriously undermines the ecological function of predation, and contributes to ecological impoverishment.
Finally there is the ethical question. One continuously hears about fair chase and ethical behavior regarding hunting. What is ethical about killing animals you don’t eat? Is gratuitous killing ethical behavior? Most U.S. citizens no longer hunt. They only accept hunting if they believe hunters are involved in ethical hunting practices. Montana FWP’s backward and archaic policies are undermining ultimately public support for hunting in general.
There may be an occasional need to surgically remove a particularly troublesome animal, however that is entirely different from the indiscriminate slaughter Montana FWP gratuitously calls “hunting.”
The bottom line is Montana FWP does not use science to manage predators. Its predator policies are archaic, unethical and often self-defeating relics from the past. It’s time for Montana to enter the 21st century and manage predators with a scientific understanding of their social ecology and treating predators with the respect they deserve.

State Agency Game Farming Is Not Compatible with Ecosystem Integrity

By George Wuerthner On January 14, 2013 · 39 Comments · In Politics, Predator Control, Wildlife, Wolves

State Agency Game Farming Is Not Compatible with Ecosystem Integrity

With the delisting of wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act, management of wolves has been turned back to the individual states where wolves occur. In most of these states, we see state agencies adopting policies that treat wolves as persona no grata, rather than a valued member of their wildlife heritage. Nowhere do I see any attempt by these state agencies to educate hunters and the general public about the ecological benefits of predators. Nor is there any attempt to consider the social ecology of wolves and/or other predators in management policies. Wolves, like all predators, are seen as a “problem” rather than as a valuable asset to these states.

In recent years state agencies have increasingly adopted policies that are skewed towards preserving opportunities for recreational killing rather than preserving ecological integrity. State agencies charged with wildlife management are solidifying their perceived role as game farmers. Note the use of “harvest” as a euphemism for killing. Their primary management philosophy and policies are geared towards treating wildlife as a “resource” to kill. They tend to see their roles as facilitators that legalize the destruction of ecological integrity, rather than agencies dedicated to promoting a land ethic and a responsible wildlife ethic.

Want proof? Just look at the abusive and regressive policies states have adopted to “manage” (persecute) wolves and other predators.

Idaho Fish and Game, which already had an aggressive wolf killing program, has just announced that it will transfer money from coyote killing to pay trappers to kill more wolves in the state so it can presumably increase elk and deer numbers.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP) which many had hoped might be a bit more progressive in its predator attitudes, supports new regulations that will expand the wolf killing season, number of tags (killing permits), and reduces the license fee (killing fee) charged to out of state hunters who want to shoot wolves.

Wyoming is even more regressive. Wolves are considered “predators” with no closed season in many parts of the state.

Alaska, perhaps displaying the ultimate in 19th Century attitudes that seem to guide state Game and Fish predator policies, already has extremely malicious policies towards wolves, and is now attempting to expand wolf killing even in national parks and wildlife refuges (it is already legal to hunt and trap in many national parks and refuges). For instance the Alaska Fish and Game is proposing [aerial?]-gunning of wolves in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and wants to extend the hunting/trapping season on wolves in Lake Clark National Park, Katmai National Park, and Aniakchak National Preserve until June, long after pups have been born. Similar persecution of wolves to one degree or another is occurring in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, which have been given management authority for wolves in those states.

Although some states like Montana changed their name from “game” to wildlife, their attitudes and policies have not changed to reflect any greater enlightenment towards predators.

Montana recently increased the number of mountain lions that can be killed in some parts of the state to reduce predation on elk.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is on a vendetta against a newly established mountain lion population in that state, and greatly increased mountain lion kill in a small and recently established population of these animals.

The Wyoming Game and Fish is almost salivating at the prospect of grizzly delisting so hunters can kill “trophy” grizzly bears.

I could give more examples of state game agencies that have declared war on predators in one fashion or another.

The point is that these agencies are still thinking about predators with a 19th Century mindset when the basic attitude was the “only good predator is a dead predator” and the goal of “wildlife management” was to increase hunter opportunities to shoot elk, deer, moose and caribou. These ungulates are seen as desirable “wildlife” and predators are generally viewed as a “problem.”

Many state game farming agencies suggest that they have to kill these carnivores to garner “social acceptance” of predators. Killing wolves, bears, coyotes and mountain lions is suggested as a way to relieve the anger that some members of the ranching/hunting/trapping community have towards predators. Is giving people who need counseling a license to kill so they can relieve their frustrations a good idea? Maybe we should allow frustrated men who are wife beaters to legally pound their spouses as well?

Despite the fact that many of these same agencies like to quote Aldo Leopold, author of Sand County Almanac, and venerate him as the “father” of wildlife management, they fail to adopt Leopold’s concept of a land ethic based upon the ecological health of the land.

Aldo Leopold understood that ALL wildlife have an important role to play in ecosystem integrity. Decades ago back in the 1940s he wrote: “The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

To keep every cog and wheel means keeping not only species from going extinct, but maintaining the ecological processes that maintain ecosystem function. What makes state game farming policies so unacceptable is that there is no excuse for not understanding the ecological role of predators in ecosystem integrity. Recent research has demonstrated the critical importance of predators for shaping ecosystems, influencing the evolution of prey species, and maintaining ecosystem integrity. We also know that predators have intricate social relationships or social ecology that is disrupted or destroyed by indiscriminate hunting.

Yet state game farming agencies continuously ignore these ecological findings. At best the policies of game farming agencies demonstrates a lack professionalism, or worse, maybe they are just as ignorant of recent scientific findings as the hunters/trappers they serve.

Ironically these same state game farming agencies see that the numbers of hunters and anglers are declining, along with their budgets. Agencies depend upon the killing fees (licenses and tags) charged to hunters and anglers for the privilege of killing and privatizing public wildlife to run their operations. Yet instead of broadening their base of support from other wildlife watchers to those interested in maintaining ecological integrity, these agencies are circling the wagons, and adopting policies that reflect the worse behaviors and attitudes of the most ignorant and regressive hunting/trapping constituency. In the process, they are alienating more moderate hunters and anglers, as well as the general public.

The problem is that state game farming agencies have a conflict of interest. Their budgets depend on selling killing permits which depends upon the availability of elk, deer, moose and caribou to kill, not more predators. Any decline in the population of these “game” animals is seen as a potential financial loss to the agency. Therefore, these agencies tend to adopt policies that maintain low predator numbers. Yet these same agencies are never up front about their conflict of interest. They pretend they are using the “best available science” and “managing” predators to achieve a “balance” between game and predators.

Because of this conflict, game farming agencies turn a blind eye to ethical considerations as well. Most of the public supports hunting if one avoids unnecessary suffering of the animals—in other words, makes a clean kill. They also want to know the animal did not die in vain and the animals is captured and/or killed by generally recognized codes of ethical behavior. In other words, the animal is consumed rather than killed merely for “recreation” or worse as a vendetta and the wildlife has a reasonable chance of evading the hunter/trapper. But when the goal is persecution, ideas about ethics and “fair chase” are abandoned.

Personally I would rather see state agencies reform themselves and adopt more inclusive, informed and progressive attitudes towards all wildlife, especially predators. But judging from what I have seen, it appears these state game farming agencies are headed in the opposite direction.

If they continue down this path, it’s clear that they will lose legitimacy with the public at large. Efforts to take away management authority will only strengthen. For instance, voters in a number of states have already banned the recreational trapping of wildlife, always over the objections of state game farming agencies. Efforts are now afoot to ban trapping in Oregon and I suspect other states will soon follow suit.

The next step will be to take away any discretion for hunting of predators and perhaps ultimately hunting of all wildlife. The trend towards greater restrictions is seen as the only way to rein in the abusive policies of state game farming agencies. In California, the state’s voters banned hunting of mountain lions in 1991. Oregon banned hunting of mountain lion with dogs. In other states, there are increasing conflicts between those who love and appreciate the role of predators in healthy ecosystems, and state game farming agencies.

Bans on all hunting has even occurred in some countries. Costa Rica just banned hunting and Chile has so limited hunting that it is effectively banned.

I suggest that the negative and maltreatment of predators displayed by game farming agencies in the US, will ultimately hasten the same fate in the U.S.
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