Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stop Persecuting our Fellow Predators


Everything we hunters love about elk – their speed, wariness, agility, intelligence – was shaped and honed through thousands of years of coevolution with wolves, bears, mountain lions and coyotes. Predators helped make elk what they are, and predators help keep elk what they are.  In the wilds, everything is intimately connected; the health of the whole depends on every part. When I merge into the wilds to hunt, I feel part of the whole -- not merely a visitor to the wilds, but a participant; a predator.

I love wild elk meat, but also see myself as a vegetarian of sorts -- living off the wild grasses, sedges and forbs that grow near my home in western Montana. Most of these plants are not palatable to humans, so I let elk convert them to protein for me. Perhaps someday I will 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 connected.

Unfortunately, many hunters don’t see it this way. They show disdain and disrespect for our fellow predators. They see them as “competitors” killing and eating what they arrogantly and selfishly think is “theirs” instead of trying to understand the vital, ecological role they play in shaping and maintaining what they claim to love. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ongoing war on wolves.
 

Idaho Fish and Game recently hired a paid bounty hunter to eliminate two wolf packs in a wilderness. Idaho hunters have organized wolf-killing competitions and co-ops to pay trappers to kill wolves. The state legislature and governor declared wolves a "disaster emergency" and allocated $2 million to killing wolves. More recently Idaho Fish and Game conducted secretive aerial shootings of wolves from helicopters without public knowledge or input; they spent $30,000 to kill 23 wolves. Idaho Fish and Game is doing this and more in an ongoing effort to appease hunters to protect livestock and maintain artificially high and unhealthy numbers of elk for hunters to shoot.


Elk populations are increasing in most of the West. State wildlife departments are 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; a natural reduction in numbers where, prior to the return of wolves,  populations were artificially high; 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 influencing 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.

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 put 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 know how critically important predators are to the health of the land. To remain silent about the nonscientific, politically-based killing of wolves in the wildest of places is to be complacent towards the degradation of what we claim to cherish.

One of the cornerstones of our North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is that wildlife be managed based on good science.  That good science shows the return of wolves to much of the western United States has resulted in significant, long-term benefits to wildlife and the habitat that sustains them -- including the species we love to hunt.


Predators are rarely managed based on science or for the benefit of predators and healthy ecosystems. They’re rarely managed in accordance of what most Americans accept. Hunters and anglers pay the bills through licenses and excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and (along with governor-appointed commissioners) have lopsided power and influence over how wildlife is managed. Thus, wildlife management often leans more towards animal husbandry – producing more to catch and shoot sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife. Predators get a bad deal.

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."


More than half a century ago Leopold wrote: "I personally believed, at least in 1914 when predator control began, that there could not be too much horned game, and that the extirpation of predators was a reasonable price to pay for better big game hunting. Some of us have learned since the tragic error of such a view, and acknowledged our mistake."

We still haven't caught up to Leopold.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fired (Farewell MWF)

The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) has had a huge influence on my life. I strongly believed in their values, mission and goals. It has shaped my thoughts, beliefs and actions ever since I left the Marine Corps and moved to Montana in 1985. I used to volunteer for the organization. I helped lead the organization. I served two terms as the organization's president. I helped lead the organization's efforts to ban game farms in Montana. I received the organization's Les Pengelly Professional Conservationist Award. Many of the good folks involved in the organization are like family to me. (See Preserving a Tradition.) More recently, I worked for the organization as their western Montana field representative.

I was fired.

I did the best I could. I strengthened relations with affiliate clubs; I revived an affiliate club; I was in the process of getting a new affiliate up and running; I helped advance protection of the Badger-Two Medicine area; I helped create awareness and support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act; I rallied hunters and anglers to comment on the draft revisions of the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Plan; I generated OpEds and letters-to-the editors advancing our mission and goals; I developed and strengthened relationships with partners and members; I wrote numerous articles and essays for MWF's newsletter and blog; I represented MWF at fairs, brewery events, film festivals and sportsmen shows, and I helped advance the mission, goals and objectives of an organization I have long been part of, and been passionate about, in an honest, credible, professional manner. I put in long hours and I worked hard. Affiliate leaders, partners and members seemed happy with my work. 

When I received my 6-month evaluation and workplan review, my boss, the executive director, made valuable suggestions on how I could improve, but said I was doing a good job. I followed through on his suggestions. By all indications, he was pleased with me and my work.

I first sensed a change when I posted an article regarding ballot initiatives on my own time and on my own personal blog. This was while the Montana “trapping” initiative I-177 was up for a vote, which would have banned recreational trapping on public lands. I was careful not to take a stance on the issue in that personal essay, but rather discussed how – through poor behavior, denial of science, and ignoring and even often ridiculing other citizens who should have a say in how public lands and wildlife are managed – we can sometimes bring these initiatives upon ourselves. It resonated with a lot of people, including fellow hunters. It did not contradict MWF policy, but I could understand how it could be perceived that way. We almost lost an affiliate because one of their leaders was upset. Understandably, my boss was not happy. He told me to immediately remove the blog and sign a note stating I would not write or post such things again. I understood, admitted to a lack of judgement, signed the note and thought all was good.  I even patched things up with the disgruntled affiliate and its leaders.

A month or so later, the boss became upset about a photograph I posted on my own, personal Facebook Page of me with a blackeye. He claimed that a “funder” had complained about the photo and said it portrayed a “negative” image of MWF and could hurt MWF’s ability to accomplish its mission and goals. I told him I would be more careful in what I post on my personal page and blog, and I was.

At this point, I believe it became personal for the boss; he simply did not like me. It no longer had anything to do with my performance. His entire attitude towards, and treatment of me became akward and uncomfortable.

Then I missed some conference calls for legitimate reasons (on the road and out of cell range; in the hospital with my son) with our partner organizations in regards to the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and the Upper Blackfoot Campaign. One of the partners was upset with me, so I met with him and worked things out. I agreed to a list of tasks he wanted me to accomplish. It was a good, honest, airing of grievances of which I was not previously fully aware of, and served to clarify my role and what I needed to do.  Our partners seemed fine with our resolution; the boss was not. He had me sign another note outlining specific goals and expectations. One of those was to not miss any more conference calls.  I took it very seriously. I posted it over my desk and read it every morning. I did my best to meet all goals and expectations – although I felt like the boss was setting the stage to fire me and waiting for me to fail.

A few weeks ago, I asked the boss if I could take some time off to go on a spring-break road trip with my son. I assured him I would be on all scheduled conference calls. He gave me the go-ahead. We were in East Glacier on the day of one of the conference calls. Cell coverage in East Glacier is iffy, so my plan was to drive atop a hill between East Glacier and Browning where coverage is usually strong and where I have parked and participated in conference calls before, while working on the Badger-Two.  Cory and I drove to the spot. Unfortunately, a storm had blown in and I kept getting cut off the call, and missed the conference call. I drove to Browning and sent an apology to our partners and explained what happened. They seemed fine. In fact, one partner wrote back: “No worries, enjoy your break.”

I explained the situation to my boss. His response: “If you really wanted to be on the call you would have been on the call.” (Apparently, he’s never been between East Glacier and Browning during a storm.)

He fired me.

That’s my story. I have talked to a lawyer about a possible “wrongful discharge” suit. We’ll see. I have mixed emotions; it’s a tough thing to prove, and I still strongly support the mission, goals and objective of MWF.  However, I doubt I will be actively involved anymore unless the current executive director leaves.  He's an arrogant, bureaucratic number-cruncher who cares more about perception, image and money than wildlife and wild places. His every move is dictated by the foundations he's good at soliciting money from.

It may be a good thing. I’m a stubborn, passionate, opinionated guy and my views on a few things – such as wolves, grizzlies and trapping – are not always in-line with MWF (and therein lies the likely roots of it all). I am already enjoying my freedom to once-again write about those issues. I’m going to make a go of writing and photography and see what happens; it’s more suited to me and my wild ways.