Monday, March 27, 2017

Ballot Box Biology?


Last year, Montanans for Trap-Free Public Lands launched a noble, but unfortunately failed, ballot initiative called I-177 that would have banned trapping on public lands. Trappers responded with the usual slew of lies that many Montanans always seem to swallow, claiming that the initiative was backed by “out-of-state animal rights extremists” who “are uninformed about wildlife and are trying to destroy our way of life.”  And the old slippery slope fallacy:  "Once they stop trapping, they will come after hunting, and fishing, and ranching, and logging and Tiddlywinks!" Many of my fellow hunters came to the defense of trappers, repeating the same tiresome, easily-refuted lies.

Such is the simple-minded, ignorant responses I often see from fellow hunters, particularly in regards to predators. It’s all black and white to them; you’re either “one of us, or one of them.” There is little, if any room for civil, rational, reasonable discussion and debate; if you don’t agree, they attack with Trump-like, childish fervor.

A lot of hunters and hunting organizations also dusted off the old “ballot box biology” defense – that such decisions should be made by wildlife professionals based on good, sound science, not by citizens based on emotions. We hunters love to claim wildlife management is based on good, sound science. One of the very tenants of our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (which is tossed around nowadays and interpreted by many hunters who don't actually understand it like the Bundy crowd talks about and interprets the Constitution) is that wildlife management be based on good, sound science. It should be, but it’s often not.

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 we know about wolf behavior, ecology and biology.

That’s not management based on good, sound science.

Throughout the West, we continue to carry out a war on coyotes and wolves despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that such actions disrupt the social and breeding behavior of these animals and can, ironically, result in even more coyotes and wolves. (
See "Killing Wolves: A Hunter-Led War on Science and Wildife")

That’s not management based on good, sound science.

I remember when Colorado proposed a ban on the baiting and killing of bears, based on scientific evidence that the baiting of bears was having negative impacts on bears by habituating them to human handouts and changing their natural habits and habitat use. The state’s chief bear biologist at the time, Tom Beck, penned a piece in support of the baiting ban for Outdoor Life. Before it was published (and before anyone even read it) hunters and hunting organizations rallied against Outdoor Life and successfully prevented the publication of the piece. Two editors left their jobs over the incidence. (See
"Hunters Close Ranks and Minds" by Ted Williams.)

That’s not management based on good, sound science.

In the Clearwater region of Idaho several years ago, black bears were killing an unusually high number of elk calves.  Research showed that the calves had become more susceptible to predation because a lack of mature bulls in the herd, from hunting, had changed elk breeding behavior and timing, causing calves to be born late, missing the flush spring forage, and not gaining enough strength quickly enough to evade predators. Researchers recommended changes in hunting regulations and motorized access to reduce bull elk vulnerability, increase habitat security and boost the number of mature bulls in the herd.  Idaho citizens didn’t buy it. They demanded more bears be shot and killed. Idaho Fish and Game appeased the hunters.

That’s not management based on good, sound science.

Wildlife management decisions are often and largely based on public needs and desires, and that should be part of it. But sometimes those needs and desires go against good, sound science. Trappers, hunters and the agricultural industry have a lot of power over our legislature and wildlife management.  Other citizens often, and justifiably, feel left out of the decision-making, and they are often ridiculed and attacked by ignorant, arrogant hunters and trappers. Many hunters and hunting organizations tend to either avoid these controversial issues or take the side of hunters to appease their base (or, as Aldo Leopold put it, to satisfy the “lowest common denominator.”)  Our system, with all its tremendous achievements, has some flaws, and those flaws can lead us closer to animal husbandry than good, sound, science-based wildlife management.

A recent report about the
flaws of the North American Model summed it up this way: "The scientists also express concern that the interests of recreational hunters sometimes conflict with conservation principles. For example, they say, wildlife management conducted in the interest of hunters can lead to an overabundance of animals that people like to hunt, such as deer, and the extermination of predators that also provide a vital balance to the ecosystem."

But hunters tend to circle the wagons and defend the indefensible out of paranoia and fear of anti-hunters and the slippery slope (“but if we let them stop bear-baiting, or game farms, or drones, or trapping, they will surely try to stop hunting, take our guns, and destroy America and the universe!”) But as my friend Jim Posewitz likes to say, “circling the wagons is not a good defense when there are far too many people already outside that circle.”

And some of those people outside the circle are good, knowledgeable, informed people who care about our wildlife and wild places. Some of them are fellow hunters. We alienate them by dismissing their concerns and attacking and insulting them. We turn people against us when we circle the wagons and defend the indefensible and insult intelligent people who disagree -- informed people who sometimes have more good, sound science on their side than we do.

I recently heard a guy who makes hunting videos -- and hunts for amusement, entertainment and profit -- criticize the “animal rights extremists” who file lawsuits to protect wolves, claiming such lawsuits went against “sound, scientific management” and our “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.”  And yet those citizens – many of them informed by good, sound science -- filed those lawsuits in response to states doing things such as gunning down wolves from helicopters and sending in bounty hunters to eliminate packs in wilderness areas. 

That’s not management based on good, sound science.

The executive director of a large, influential hunting organization has repeatedly called wolves “the worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison,” and claims wolves and grizzly bears are “annihilating” our elk herds. (See, "A Once Proud Conservation Organization Has Lost Its Way")

That’s not promoting or supporting management based on good, sound science.

Our behavior and actions can bring about lawsuits and ballot initiatives. Some of these ballot initiatives are, indeed, “ballot box biology” in the sense that they defend and demand good, sound science when state wildlife agencies won’t.

We’re our own worst enemies. We bring these ballot initiatives on ourselves. If we don't change our ways, we best get used to it.

The famed ecologist Aldo Leopold, widely considered the "father of wildlife management," changed his ways after killing a wolf when he was hired to hunt and trap mountain lions, bears and wolves for the Forest Service early in his career. In an essay called "Thinking Like A Mountain" he wrote:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”


From his experiences grew what he called a "land ethic," that acknowledges the importance of all living things in an ecosystem. In his 1949 classic, "A Sand County Almanac," he defined it as such: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”


Nearly 68 years later we still haven't caught up.

19 comments:

  1. Great Info Dave - I wasn't aware of that Colorado Bear Baiting/Outdoor Life article issue. Bear baiting and hounding were made illegal in Colorado at that time and it only took 2 years before bear harvests were back up to objective. I think that fact could be very valuable to the many states that still allow this horrid practice and at the same time try to tell non-consumptive users that feeding bears is dangerous...
    I totally agree with your statement "We’re our own worst enemies. We bring these ballot initiatives on ourselves. If we don't change our ways, we best get used to it." and have tried to be a voice for ethics in hunting. I have lost a friend on the wolf issue and have found that too many ethical hunters are doing what was mentioned in some of the articles you linked to - just staying quiet, trying to avoid controversy. However, if we don't start cleaning house soon, we continue to do hunting a disservice. The recent rulemaking (rule reversal?) in Alaska should not be celebrated by the hunting community, as it was by "anything goes" organizations like the "Sportsmen's Alliance", but rather it should be aggressively opposed.
    Another great quote often attributed to Leopold is “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal.”

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    1. Thanks for the good feedback and information, Dave -- I completely agree with you. There's a lot of us "Leopoldians" around, and we need to be more vocal.

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  2. How do we reform wildlife management because I'm sick of the abuse. I'm sick of the gun and ammo boys (and sadly some girls) thinking they "own" wildlife because a dumb tax on ammo pays for wildlife agencies. We non-consumptive users have tried to get a tax adopted on outdoor recreation clothing and gear before, but the tax failed. I want to take back "management," and build it around conservation biology. Period. There is no alternative if we want to conserve wildlife and wilderness.

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    1. I agree with you. It's time to reform wildlife and land management in this country so that all citizens have a say. Thank you for your feedback.

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  3. Dave,

    As a resident of Idaho I fully agree with your comments concerning about Idaho Fish and Game. Friends of the Clearwater have done excellent work in their attempt to educate Idahoans. Unfortunately Idaho Fish and Game does not use sound science to guide them. Thank you for being a voice of reason

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    1. Thank you. Good to know there are fellow hunters out there who feel the same.

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  4. As a life long resident of Montana and a hunter, fisherman, and also a trapper I find your comments supporting the Trap Free Organization not in line with myself or many other Montanans. When you talk of "ballot box biology", I guess you are not referring to trap frees ballot box initiative? Bob, you appear to be yet another outdoorsman with your own personal agenda and forget there are others out there who utilize and enjoy the outdoors in other ways. You rant is clearly not based on sound science or in the interests of other groups. I for one would be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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    1. How many bucks did you make trapping last year Harold?

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    2. Harold, I feel towards you as you do towards me. Let me hold up the mirror: As a long-time resident of Montana and a hunter and fisherman, I find your comments not in line with myself or many other Montanans. You appear to be yet another outdoorsman with your own personal agenda and forget there are others out there who utilize and enjoy the outdoors in other ways. Your rant is clearly not based on sound science or in the interests of other groups. I for one would be more than happy to discuss it with you.

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  5. David Stalling. WOW! I don't think I have read such disgusting propaganda since I studied NAZI'S in high school.
    Your emotional rant is just one big lie.
    You are not a fellow Hunter and never will be. You are a preservationist fool that happens to hunt but you feel so guilty about it you try sabotaging the Hunting tradition. A tradition that involves trapping and killing of predators. A tradition that has been able to stay alive because of that fact. A tradition that is just as relevant today as it has ever been.
    Even the picture you post is a lie as those traps that crush and draw blood have not been legal in the US for a long time.
    Why do you even bother hunting? You need to go live in the city and buy your meat from the grocery store and leave true Hunters do what they do best, which is manage wildlife in a conservationist mindset for future generations that includes having some predators.

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    1. I don't mind if you trap, as long as you are present (maybe in a blind nearby, or even a treestand) when the trap is set/live and the targeted critter is caught. Then make sure it is dispatched as quickly as it takes for you to run from the blind or whatever, to the trap. Then it might be fair chase, and you could spook any non-target critters - you know, your "bycatch" for this pot-luck activity. How about the ethical sportsmen and trappers agree to that condition?

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    2. Oh and then, you need to eat the animal you trap like any ethical hunter would do for hunted quarry, and not sell the pelt for any profit. (I am not allowed to, nor interested in selling game meat). Wildlife resources are not for commercialization and profit-taking but rather for the one-on-one enjoyment by the population at large.

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    3. Steve L.: "Such is the simple-minded, ignorant responses I often see from fellow hunters, particularly in regards to predators. It’s all black and white to them; you’re either 'one of us, or one of them.' There is little, if any room for civil, rational, reasonable discussion and debate; if you don’t agree, they attack with Trump-like, childish fervor. . hunters tend to circle the wagons and defend the indefensible out of paranoia and fear of anti-hunters and the slippery slope. . . We’re our own worst enemies."

      You are exactly the kind of person I'm talking about. You inadvertently illustrate my point. Thank you, I guess.

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  6. Dave Stalling is as much of a "hunter" as the Montana Wildlife Federation is for "sportsmen". They are both a disgrace to Montana's traditions.

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  7. "Such is the simple-minded, ignorant responses I often see from fellow hunters" Said Dave Stalling right before this "There is little, if any room for civil, rational, reasonable discussion and debate; if you don’t agree, they attack with Trump-like, childish fervor."

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    1. Yep, he said that right before the comments from Harold, Steve L, and Jason above.
      Seems he pegged it?

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  8. Nothing simple minded about it. Stalling is an area rep for MWF and former president. He opposes trapping and wants to see it end, yet the MWF who he reps for fights to maintain trapping in the state. There is some stupidity on either stallings behalf or MWF.

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    1. The dilemma with ignorant, simple-minded keyboard warriors like you, Maxmouth, is that you're too ignorant and simple-minded to know it. Instead, you fall back on personal attacks and lies, because you are incapable of addressing the issues I address in an honest, intelligent way; you can't defend the indefensible. As usual (with you and other members of the Montana Trappers Association) you are wrong. I am not a "rep" for the Montana Wildlife Federation(MWF). MWF does not "defend" trapping; but they don't oppose trapping. I do. But I no longer have anything to do with MWF. My views are my own. If you have issues with MWF, take it up with them. If you have issues with me, let's talk. If you are actually capable of intelligently addressing the issues with facts, science or logic, I'd love to hear it. But I think you're too ignorant and simple-minded to do so. Semper Fi buddy!

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  9. The sad and pitifully ironic thing about people like Harold Johnson, Steve Langdon and Jason Maxmouth, who commented above, is that they're too simple-minded to realize they're illustrating my point:

    "Such is the simple-minded, ignorant responses I often see from fellow hunters. There is little, if any room for civil, rational, reasonable discussion and debate; if you don’t agree, they attack with Trump-like, childish fervor."

    They can't intelligently and rationally justify their actions, and so they arrogantly dig in and defend the indefensible. They don't realize that, in doing so, they erode and harm the very hunting heritage they think they're defending and obviously don't understand.

    They call hunters like me "anti-hunters" while doing more harm to the image of, and support for hunting than any "antis" could ever hope to accomplish.

    Hunters (and, in this case, trappers) are their own worst enemies.

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