Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Awakening (A Letter to Bears)

March 23, 2019

Dear Bears,

Good morning. I hope you had a deep, satisfying, rejuvenating nap. I missed you.

I’m certainly not in a very credible position to give advice about staying out of trouble, but for what it’s worth: Please, PLEASE!, stay away from people; we are bad news for bears.

If you do by chance cross paths with homo sapiens — which is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly difficult to avoid — I hope they give you all the space, understanding and respect you deserve. Either way, turn and flee for your safe space (what little we’ve left for you).

May you have a long, healthy, safe, wonderful and wild year — and may the huckleberries be plump and bountiful. You’re lucky to be a bear!


Your friend and admirer,


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sacred Grizzlies? (Griz Bless America!)

One of several considerations recently before a federal judge: Native American tribes from seven states and Canada claim that lifting protections for grizzly bears, and allowing the hunting of grizzlies, violates their religious freedom because they consider the grizzly sacred.

This may not seem the strongest case in context of the modern world. But consider this: Many of the same people ridiculing it believe in talking snakes, immaculate conception and a resurrected guy who walked on water.  Some of them believe it’s a violation of their religious freedoms to bake a cake for certain individuals because of cherry-picked words from a contradictory, archaic book written thousands of years ago and translated numerous times into dozens of conflicting versions. 

Personally, I believe if there’s a god at all it’s tied to the energy that runs through all things; the sun and the rain and the air and the sedges and the elk and the trout and the huckleberries that run through me and back to Earth. (As Edward Abbey put it, i’m an “Earthiest,” I believe in what I can touch, smell, hear, taste and walk on.) And I believe one of the quickest routes to god is through the digestive system of a grizzly bear. 

I’m going with the original Americans on this one. Thank Griz for the First Amendment!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Assholes

No doubt I have strong, passionate opinions on certain topics, but I didn’t think they were boot-me-out-of-the-truck-and-leave-me-stranded-in-a-remote-part-of-Montana worthy. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

After being stopped and approached in the still-dark hours of early morning by cautious cops armed with AR-15s and told the main highway was closed while the search was on for a fugitive who had shot four people, including a state highway patrolman, I was embarked on a long detour west then north to go fishing with a guy named Jeff Gailus who I’d recently met. He’s a writer and adjunct professor at the University of Montana and seemed a decent enough kind of guy, if not a bit arrogant and dogmatic.

We got into what I thought was an engaging conversation about hunting during which I mentioned my concerns about the impacts of too many of us hunters chasing and harassing elk during the rut, combined with high wounding rates from us bowhunters. He became agitated and said I had no data to support my assertions. I said I did.

“I think you just like to run your mouth with nothing to back it up,” he said.

Ouch! Not nice.

The temperature of the conversation climbed precipitously from there, to the point where he said: “No wonder you don’t have any friends . . . you’re an asshole.”

I acknowledged that, yes — as my numerous friends can attest — I can indeed be an asshole. “But at least I am aware that I can be an asshole; you, on the other hand, seem incapable of acknowledging that you, too, are being an asshole.”

He told me to shut up or get out of his truck. But at that point I was agitated and stubbornly persisted as I tend to do when I’m stubbornly agitated. I should have shut up. But I didn’t.

The asshole pulled over and demanded I grab my gear and get out of his truck.

So there I was ten-miles from the nearest town on a cold March day in a spot with no cell coverage (which wouldn’t have done me much good even if there was, considering I left my cell phone in his truck) and no snowshoes to enjoy the vast snow-covered national forests surrounding me.

Four cars came along during the next hour or so. The first three didn’t even slow down. Perhaps I looked like a fugitive, standing like I was on the side of the road with an ice-fishing auger, fishing rod, tip-ups and a blue bucket of bait. But the fourth guy stopped.

A great guy, with a wonderful dog, who gave me a ride to the gas station in Plains where I was able to call Christine Stalling who left work to drive the hour-plus (with detour) long trip north and back to rescue me (yet again, I should add).

Which entails a bit of irony. As Christine put it: “If anyone ever had good reason to dump you off and leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere it’s me — yet even I never did that!”

True. I can be an asshole. But there’s a lot bigger assholes out there.

ADDENDUM (March 20, 2019): I’ve recieved several messages from Jeff Gailus questioning the accuracy of my blog post. He claims that he did “not kick me out” of his truck but (as I clearly stated) gave me a “choice” to either “shut up or get out,” because I was being “belligerent,” “disrespectful” and “condescending” in my disagreement with him. “It was your choice,” he reminds me. Apparently, in his mind, that justifies leaving me stranded on a winter day, without cell coverage, far from any town, in a remote part of Montana, in a precarious and potentially dangerous situation. 

He demanded that I remove my blog post and write an apology or he will seek legal action. My response: 

Dear Mr. Gailus,

I received your legal threat. I understand it refers to my blog post of March 16, 2019, called “A Tale of Two Assholes.” However, your threat does not specify what part of the post you believe to be false.

I wrote about the events of that day in the most honest and accurate manner I could while the incident was still very fresh on my mind. If you think some part of the post is inaccurate, please specify which part and your basis for saying so and I will review your claim and make changes if appropriate. 


David Stalling 

He replied: “Stop harassing me.”

Correction: I did find one inaccuracy in my post I feel obligated to correct. I stated that it was a “cold” day. It would be more accurate to describe it as a “chilly” day. My apologies if this caused any confusion or discomfort.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Vote Wild!

It was socked-in so thick on the west side of Glacier National Park today that I rarely and barely saw small, ghostly shadows of some mountains and almost forgot they were there, until I felt them, and then I remembered this: 

In the late 1980s, while working at the Sula Ranger District for the U.S. Forest Service, we had a German-exchange student named Stefen who went backpacking with me into a remote part of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. 

Lots of cold rain; all fogged in.

Stefen said something in German. I asked what it meant. He tells me it’s something he and his friends say when the mountains in Germany disappear. 

“But what does it mean?” 

“It means, ‘There go our mountains; some rich American stole them.’”

Seems a sadly appropriate thought today, considering that the lying, narcissistic self-described billionaire from New York City was just here again, for the fourth time — and his millionaire son and pence keep coming here, too — to push their agenda of eroding protections for, and maybe even selling, these irreplaceable, precious wild public lands that belong to us all and sustain lots of other special species, many of whom we’ve harmed and diminished enough. Like wild wolves. Like wild grizzlies. We owe it to them to leave them something. 

It’s their homes, and we get to respectfully visit. 

So fuck Trump. Fuck Republicans. Fuck their bizarrely-disturbing rallies and scary sense of nationalism poorly disguised as ‘patriotism.’ 

Real patriotism, true patriotism, is literally fighting for our land; protecting and defending these sacred wild places — places where wild wolves and wild grizzlies still roam wild and free! — places that belong to us all! 

Let’s remember that when we vote. I did. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Killing Wolves with Randy Newberg (for Fun, Entertainment and Profit)

Randy Newberg (left) and Matt Clyde
Randy Newberg -- a hunter who kills animals for entertainment and profit for his Outdoor Channel show, "On Your Own Adventures" -- is a staunch advocate for protecting our public lands. As a spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, he has spoken out against proposals to transfer ownership of our federal lands to state and private entities and he has supported noble efforts to "keep our public lands in public hands." However, Newberg seems to think that our federal lands were created by the people of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and that only they and hunters should have a say in how wildlife on our public lands are managed. In a two-part series for his show, called "Montana Wolf Hunting with Randy Newberg," he refers to those who oppose wolf hunting as "wingnuts" and "screwballs," "from wherever," and says they have no right "to tell us how to manage wildlife." 

"All wolves mean to them is money," says Newberg (who makes this statement while filming a wolf-hunting show for profit.) He claims that wolf advocates are "disconnected" from the land and disrupting the "lifestyle" and "culture" of locals, who are, so he claims, "connected to the land." 

It's a common "us vs them" mentality I often here — “out-of-staters” vs “locals,” “anti-hunters” vs “hunters,” but it's not true. There are many local folks, like me, who live here in Montana, who hunt elk and deer, who fish, who spend a lot of time roaming the wilds, who are deeply-connected to the land, and who oppose the killing of wolves for no legitimate reason (in Newberg's case, just for amusement, entertainment and profit).

"The people of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho protected these huge landscapes," Newberg says. "And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?" (Newberg moved to Montana in 1991 from Minnesota.) 

Actually, our federal public lands -- which include National Forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service; lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; National Parks managed by the U.S. Park Service, and National Wildlife Refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- belong to all Americans, from all over the United States. They were originally acquired through purchases, such as the Louisiana Purchase, or through conquest, such as the Mexican Cession. At first, the United States practiced a policy of disposing of these lands, through programs such as the Homestead Act. Eventually, through the leadership of numerous individuals and organizations such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, John Jay Audubon, the National Wildlife Federation, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and many others -- hunters and nonhunters, hunting groups and nonhunting groups -- the public lands we enjoy today were set aside for various reasons, to be protected and managed for various purposes, much of it, in Pinchot's words, for "the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time." 

For the greatest good to the greatest number of people. Not for the greatest number of hunted species for hunters. 

Our federal public lands were created and are maintained by all American taxpayers. We hunters love to claim that we pay for conservation. However, on a national-scale, when you look at the costs of protecting and maintaining the federal lands where many of us hike, camp, backpack, watch wildlife, take photos, and yes, hunt and fish, we hunters pay for about six-percent of the costs.

Six percent.

It's true that many state wildlife agencies, such as the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, are funded largely (up to 55 percent) through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and they receive federal funds raised through excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. But much of the state agency funding is also money allocated from state budgets, and raised by all of us who pay taxes in our states. Hunters and nonhunters. A lot of that money -- with help from hunter-based conservation organizations -- has been used to purchase and protect critical winter range, migratory corridors and other habitat for elk, deer and other hunted species. Much of that has also benefit nonhunted and threatened and endangered species, including wolves. 

The downfall to such a system: Hunters have a huge influence over state wildlife management decisions and management which mostly benefit hunted species, sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife, particularly predators. 

No doubt about it, we hunters have played and continue to play a huge role in restoring, enhancing, expanding and protecting many wildlife species, particularly hunted species such as elk, deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. Hence, a lot of hunters like Newberg get pretty emotional and say things such as, "We protected these huge landscapes. And then you people come here and tell us how to do it? You screwed up your backyard so bad you can't even get a rabbit to live there. And then you people come here and tell us what we're going to do?" 

Aside from there being plenty of rabbits and other wildlife throughout the United States, even in urban back yards, and the fact that most land was “screwed up” and developed long before anyone alive today was born, all Americans, and all state residents, help fund wildlife conservation and management programs, and the protection of wildlife and wild places. We should all have a say in how its managed. And some hunters, like me, don't do it just so we have a place to hunt and animals to kill. Some of us do it because we want to help protect, enhance and maintain healthy, functioning ecosystems and landscapes for all wildlife, including wolves, even if that may sometimes result in less hunting opportunity. This is why it's so offensive to some of us hunters when Newberg says, "If you hunt, you hunt everything. You hunt prey. You hunt predators. We have a responsibility to hunt wolves. We need to manage them the way we manage every species." 

In his wolf-hunting show, Newberg features David Allen, who was then the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Allen has called wolves "the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds," and had repeatedly claimed that wolves are "decimating" elk herds. "To keep wolf populations controlled, states will have to hold hunts, shoot wolves from the air and gas their dens,” Allen has said. Under his leadership, the Elk Foundation offered the state of Montana $50,000 to contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to “aggressively” kill more wolves. “And the next step is the grizzly bear,” he said. “We’ve got bear issues with elk calves in the spring -- both grizzly and black bear. We can’t have all these predators with little aggressive management and expect to have ample game herds, and sell hunting tags and generate revenue.” 

Allen agreed with Newberg. "We need to manage wolves like we manage all species," he said. "We need to hunt them like we hunt all wildlife." Of course, we don't hunt all wildlife. We don't, for example, hunt bald eagles, ravens or western tanagers. Animals that are managed and hunted are generally, at least ideally, managed and hunted in accordance with what we know about the biology, ecology, habits and behavior of those species. This is why management actions and hunting seasons for elk and deer are not the same as they are for, say, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Not all wildlife is, or should be, managed the same. 

One of the cornerstones of our North American Model of Conservation -- which hunters and hunting-based organizations love to tout and claim to support -- is that wildlife be managed based on good, sound science. That good, sound science shows that the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant overall, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them -- including the species we love to hunt. That good, sound science shows that wolves, being a predator species, have altogether different, and self-regulating, reproductive and survival behaviors and strategies than prey species. That good, sound science shows that wolves have highly-complex social structures and breeding behaviors. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant breeding female, for example -- it can throw the pack into disarray, lead to the expansion and creation of more packs, lead to other wolves breeding, and lead to more wolves. That good, sound science shows that if you inadvertently kill certain wolves -- such as the dominant male or female -- then younger wolves will fail to learn lessons from them, such as best ways and places to hunt, and this can change a pack's hunting behaviors and lead to incidences such as, say, killing more domestic cattle rather than wild deer and elk.

That's what the science tells us. But a lot of hunters don't like good, sound science when it contradicts what they want to believe. And a lot of state wildlife agencies don't follow good, sound science when it goes against what hunters want to believe. That's why, in Idaho, the fish and game department conducts aerial shooting of wolves and sends bounty hunters into wilderness areas to eliminate wolf packs despite the good, sound science and what know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology.  (See Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War Against Science and Wildlife.)

That good, sound science doesn't play well to the membership of hunting organization's like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or the viewers of programs like "On Your Own Adventures." It's more effective to boost membership, viewers, funding and profit by perpetuating lies, myths and misconceptions about wolves and simplify the issue as if it's "residents vs nonresidents," "hunters vs anti-hunters," "rational vs emotional," "informed vs uninformed," "connected vs disconnected." Ratings and profit are better when you tell hunters what they want to hear. Newberg knows his audience. 

Despite the emotional, uninformed claims of apparently disconnected people like Newberg and Allen, elk populations are increasing in most of the West. In Idaho, the fish and game department is expanding elk hunting to reduce elk populations while simultaneously killing wolves under the guise of protecting and boosting elk numbers. Where elk populations do appear on the decline there are plenty of factors to consider in addition to wolves: Changes in habitat; the previous existence of artificially high elk populations at levels beyond the viable carrying capacity of the land; lack of mature bulls and low bull-to-cow ratios in herds (often resulting from early season hunting and too much hunting pressure on bull elk) which influences the timing of the rut and breeding behavior, the timing of spring calving, and often results in increased vulnerability of elk calves to predation; influence of other predators including mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies; unanticipated impacts of various hunting regulations and hunting pressure, and changes in behavior and habitat use by elk in the presence of wolves. And so on. Good, sound science can be complex. 

Where I hunt, the growing presence of wolves has changed the behavior and habits of elk. Elk bunch up more for safety, and move around more to evade and avoid wolves. They are a lot more wary. I have adapted and adjusted to these changes and have no problem finding elk. This is part of the beauty and value of hunting within wilderness -- to adjust, adapt and be part of the landscape; to be, as my friend David Petersen puts it, part of the "bedrock workings of nature."  We render the wilds a diminished abstract when we alter it to suit our own needs and desires and, in the process, make it less healthy and whole. There are those who espouse the virtues of backcountry hunting and yet seem apathetic or supportive towards the destruction of backcountry integrity. Those who understand the wilds -- those of who are connected to the land -- know how critically important predators are to the health of the land.

This is, in large part, why I have no desire to kill my fellow predators (that, and I strongly believe in only killing what you plan to eat), despite Newberg’s ignorant insistence that it’s my “responsibility” to kill wolves.

"We as hunters, we need to be out there hunting these wolves," he says. "This is part of who we are . . . that's part of our job. If you’re going to manage wildlife, you can’t just manage the prey species. You have to manage the predator species, and anyone who thinks otherwise, they need a quick education.” 

At one point in his wolf-hunting show, Newberg worries that his rifle may no longer be accurately sighted in, because he “dinged” his scope. If the scope was knocked out of sync, it could result in missing or wounding a wolf. So to check it out he decides to test it, not on a target, but on a living coyote. “That coyote will be a good way to find out,” he says. Apparently, his rifle was still properly sighted; He killed the coyote in one shot. “I just saved a lot of deer and a lot of antelope,” he says, before ranting again about wolves. 

“I make zero apologies for hunting wolves,” he says. “I never will apologize for hunting wolves. You’re damn right I’m a wolf-hunter, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. We set the dinner table for these wolves, and we have every right to be hunting these wolves.” 

And hunt wolves they did, he and his hunting partner Matt Clyde, glassing the hills with high-powered spotting scopes, running and jumping in the truck to drive closer to where they spotted wolves, climbing the mountains and glassing some more, running and jumping in the truck and driving some more. They spotted some wolves back where they had been earlier and so ran and jumped in the truck and drove back there again. (Newberg was frustrated when cattle were in the road, slowing them down, increasing their driving time.) Then back up the mountain again. Finally, there was a black wolf coming towards them. Clyde steadied his rifle while Newberg measured the distance with a range-finder. 

“Seven-hundred and fifty yards,” Newberg says . . . “500 yards . . . 480 . . . “ Clyde shoots. The wolf appears hit and runs a short distance. Clyde shoots again. The wolf goes down and struggles. Clyde shoots a third time. The wolf is dead. “Congratulations. You made an amazing shot!” Newberg says. (I'm not sure which shot he's referring to.) “It was fun, it was exciting, and that’s why were out here,” he says, as Clyde pets what Newberg refers to as “the big black dog in white snow” where it lays in a large pool of blood. 

“I’m going to hunt wolves every day I can that’s legal,” Newberg says. “Every day that I have a tag. Every time I can protect these elk herds, I will be there. I will have my rifle, and I will have my tags, and the wolves will be in trouble.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Killing Skye: Some Call It ‘Hunting’

Photo courtesy of Africa Geographic
The photo on the left is of a popular lion known as Skye. Skye is missing. Skye is likely dead. Skye was likely baited in and killed by a guy named Jared Whitworth, a Safari Club member from Hardinsburg, Kentucky, who spends a lot of money to get permits and pay guides to lead him to and help him kill beautiful "trophy" animals for fun, status and ego-gratification. He (and others) call it "Hunting."  

Here's what we know for sure: Whitworth recently paid to kill a baited, mature male lion near Kruger National Park in South Africa, within the home range of Skye and his pride. The trophy-killing industry, guides, so-called hunters, and agency officials are refusing to release details. Some claim he didn't kill Skye, but killed another mature male lion. But as Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic, explains: 

“The trophy hunting team insist that the lion killed was not Skye the pride male, claiming that he was in fact an old male lion with worn teeth and a protruding spine. But they refuse point blank to supply a photo of the dead lion to prove their claim, citing legal and personal safety concerns. Lynam and others insist that Skye the pride male was killed. According to Lynam, Skye has not been seen since the day of the killing of that lion. Additionally, one of his cubs has since been killed and some of the pride lionesses have been beaten up as a new coalition of males has moved into the area. This is classic lion behaviour when a dominant male is removed and new male/s move into the vacuum – cubs are killed (infanticide) and lionesses are beaten up as they try to defend their cubs.”

When asked if he could see the lion, one reporter was told by an agency official: “The moment the client pulled the trigger, the lion became his property. Consent to view can only be given by the client.”

The “client,” Jared Whitworth, has not given consent. He seems to be in hiding. 

Whitworth paid a ton of money (lion tags can sell for as high as $35,000 -- the bigger and more rare, the more expensive) to have guides bait a lion for him, into close range, and tell him where and when to shoot, back him up in case he missed, and then take photos of him proudly standing over the carcass. 

According to Espley:  “Whitworth is a member of Safari Club International (SCI), which defines hunting success in terms of size and rarity. Apparently the larger the horns/tusks and rarer the animal, the more respect you are due for killing it. Whitworth’s 15-year-old daughter was awarded the title ‘2018 SCI Young Hunter of the Year,’ and the SCI website features her proudly posing with a massive buffalo she killed.”

Other hunters defend such actions and insultingly refer to killers like Whitworth as “hunters” and “conservationists.” They confuse paying guides to help you kill for ego and amusement with hunting, and they confuse conservation (the protecting of wildlife, wild places, and healthy, functioning ecosystems) with animal husbandry (protecting, and often raising and producing, certain types of animals as marketable commodities that some people will pay to kill -- often to the detriment of other wildlife, and healthy, functioning ecosystems). Many hunters -- always fearful of "anti-hunters" hiding behind every bush, trying to put an end to their "traditions" and "way of life" -- defensively dig in and rally around the flag to defend such actions with tiresome (some partially-true, but mostly questionable, easily-refuted bullshit) claims of these senseless vanity killings being “good for conservation,” “good for local economies,” “good for the species,” and “providing financial incentives to protect animals.”  

When I listen to them I sometimes imagine General George Custer and his 215-or-so detachment of soldiers facing 10,000 angry Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. As my friend Jim Posewitz (himself a hunter) puts it: “Circling the wagons is not a good defense when there are already far too many opponents surrounding the wagons.” 

People are fed up with it. I’m one of them, and I’m a hunter. 

There are good folks who criticize me for being a hunter. It does, indeed, seem contradictory to my love for wildlife and wild places. I welcome challenges that cause me to thoroughly examine and attempt to justify my actions and evolving beliefs. Here’s how I justify my actions: 

I spend all the time I can in elk country near my home in western Montana, year-round, hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, observing and admiring elk. And yet, each fall I head into elk country with the intent to kill one. Why? Partly because I can think of no more ecologically-sound way to live in my part of the world. I cherish wild elk meat; it's healthy, and it's derived from healthy, native grasses and forbs in the wilderness near my home.

I half-jokingly like to think I'm a vegetarian of sorts, living off the the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home. Most these plants are not directly palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I can travel through the digestive system of a grizzly and fertilize the vegetation that elk eat: Seems only fair considering all the elk I've killed and eaten.

We're all part of this land.

I hunt to experience and celebrate a fundamental connection with nature, because we must all kill to eat, and eating elk nourished on native grasses and forbs has as low an impact on the environment as any of the alternatives. Even eating soybeans and soy-based products supports an agricultural industry that displaces and destroys wildlife habitat to grow a non-native plant, requiring irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fossil fuels, trucks, roads and industry to be shipped around the country. Not to mention the thousands of deer and other wildlife killed to protect valuable agricultural crops. Most people are not aware of the impacts of their lifestyles and actions, or they choose to live in denial. Aldo Leopold wrote: "There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace."

We all kill to eat.

But should we kill for ego, amusement, entertainment and profit? Does paying a guide to lead you to, or bait in an animal and tell you when and where to shoot really pass as “hunting”? Can we justify killing big, rare animals to get our names into record books to boost our image, ego and status among certain segments of society when most of society understandably finds it abhorrent, immoral and unethical? 

No. We can't. There is no legitimate justification and defense. None! 

Is my position, in large part, an emotional one? Hell yes! You’re damn right it is! If you can’t get emotional about arrogant, narcissistic, wealthy people paying thousands of dollars for guides to lead them to beautiful animals, or bait those animals in, and tell them where and when to pull the trigger, so they can kill those animals to gratify their egos, then what in the hell can you ever get emotional about? It's a very emotional issue, as it should be. 

It’s wrong! There is no biological, social, ethical or moral justification for it. There is no legitimate defense. 

Let’s stop confusing killing with hunting, and wildlife conservation with animal husbandry. It’s time to put an end to the senseless, indefensible, unjustifiable trophy-killing of animals for vanity, ego-gratification and status. It's time to put an end to an industry that treats these animals as mere economic commodities to meet ego-driven demands.  

As Espley concludes: “I have great faith that in time trophy hunting in the Greater Kruger will be replaced by a more ethical, more relevant sustainable land-use strategy. This will take time, but it will happen.” 

Let's hope that happens everywhere -- the sooner the better.


* A 2015 study reported by National Geographic concludes that government corruption, especially in Zimbabwe, prevents most trophy-hunting fees from going towards any conservation efforts, with authorities keeping the fees for themselves.

* Some governments are taking over more wildlife areas so as to profit from poaching and trophy hunting (a consequence of creating commercial markets for parts of wildlife).

* A 2017 report by the Australian-based Economists at Large says that trophy hunting amounted to less than one percent of tourism revenue in eight African countries.

* According to an International Union for Conservation of Nature report from 2009, surrounding communities in West Africa receive little benefit from the hunting-safari business.

* There are a lot of wildlife studies pertaining to how the genetic health and social behaviors of species is adversely affected because trophy hunters often kill the largest or most significant male of a species. The removal of the most significant animals (because of the size of their horns or mane for example) can severely affect the health of a species population. As Dr. Rob Knell states "Because these high-quality males with large secondary sexual traits tend to father a high proportion of the offspring, their 'good genes' can spread rapidly, so populations of strongly sexually selected animals can adapt quickly to new environments. Removing these males reverses this effect and could have serious and unintended consequences. If the population is having to adapt to a new environment and you remove even a small proportion of these high quality males, you could drive it to extinction."

* A 2004 study by the University of Port Elizabeth estimated that eco-tourism on private game reserves generated more than 15 times the income of livestock or game rearing or trophy hunting.

* Researchers also noted that more money was raised and more jobs were created (and staff received "extensive skills training") from eco-tourism than trophy hunting.

* The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in 2016 concluded that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of certain animals.

* Conservationist groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare assert that trophy hunting is a key factor in the "silent extinction" of giraffes.

* The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant conservation organization, believe that elephants bring in significantly more revenue from tourists who want to see them alive. Their 2013 report stated "alive, they benefit local communities and economies; dead they benefit an elite few as well as criminal and even terrorist groups."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In the Hunting World, There is no Room for Dissent (You Can't Go Home)

A few days ago I read a good essay written by an outdoor writer I have long admired and respected. It was about how we hunters, through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment, pay most the bill for state wildlife management and habitat protection. Which is true. But then it delved into the tiresome, arrogant, widely-touted, propaganda-sort-of bullshit about how we hunters care about and do more for wildlife and wild places than non-hunters.

I complimented the writer, but offered a respectful dissenting view regarding some of the flaws to our North American Model of Wildlife Management — the type of flaws Aldo Leopold himself recognized when he helped shape and influence the system more than 60 years ago — in which we hunters have the most power and influence, and therefore management sometimes emphasizes hunted species such as deer and elk to the detriment of non-hunted species, particularly fellow predators such as wolves and grizzlies.

My remarks were met with flippant arrogance and disdain. Like other aspects of our society, there is very little room in the hunting world for dissent or intelligent discord. You’re either with them or against them. You’re fully on the bandwagon or you get booted and run over. You get in line, share and praise the propaganda, or you’re voted off the island. Shut up or be shunned.

I deleted my comments. I ‘unfriended’ the writer. I abandoned my attempt at discussion. It’s no longer worth it. I’m tired.

I’ve been hunting most my life, and spent more than 25 years writing about hunting and working for hunter conservation groups. I spent ten years working as a writer and conservation editor for a popular hunting magazine produced by a large hunter-conservation organization. I helped found Hellgate Hunters and Anglers in Missoula. I served two terms as president of Montana’s largest and oldest hunting conservation organization (a group that, in more recent times, fired me). Back in 2000, they selected me as Montana’s Professional Conservationist of the Year. I served on the board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and won several awards from the group. I’ve killed and consumed a pile of wild elk and deer.

But I just no longer fit in. I’m not sure I ever did. I still try at times. Sometimes I miss it.

Sure, I brought much of it on myself as a result of personal struggles (including some addiction issues) and by burning (demolishing?) a few bridges. I think, to some degree, coming out of the closet had something to do with it. But I’ve apparently lost all credibility and respect in the world where I once served as a leader. An employee of one of the better hunter conservation groups (“the sportsmen’s voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife”) recently, publicly ridiculed “green weenie tree-huggers,” insulted me, and told me “we have nothing in common and nothing to talk about” when I attempted to discuss it with him. (I quit.)

I’m on the Island of Misfit Toys. I’m an anti-hunter who hunts.

So now I stock fruits and vegetables at a grocery store for slightly-above minimum wage, and I’m always broke.

Sometimes I wish I could jump aboard and remain on the bandwagon; be a good, well-behaved, agreeable member of the good-old-boy (and gal) hunting clubs that even the best of groups have become. But there’s no turning back. You really can’t go home.