Friday, March 31, 2017

Grizzlies: A Renewable Resource?

I just read an article in Petersen's Hunting called "Should We Hunt Grizzly Bears?" by David Hart. He quotes Mac Minard, Executive Director of the Montana Outfitter and Guide Association: "They should be hunted because they are a renewable resource."

A "renewable resource"?

Grizzly bears? Rugs? Claws?

A commodity?

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -- Aldo Leopold

Grizzly bears . . . a "renewable resource"?

There's no love and respect in that.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

We Don't Need to Hunt Grizzlies (Nor Should We)

Photo from a hunting-guide service called the "Grizzinator."
"Nothing good will ever come from killing a grizzly bear. Much good can come from respecting its right to continue to roam the land.” – Phil Timpany

Many hunters and wildlife professionals say we need to hunt grizzlies to “manage” them, and that grizzly hunting-tag revenue is needed to pay for the management. I don’t buy it. 

We should manage bears like bears, not deer and elk. Deer and elk evolved as prey; they produce high numbers of fawns and calves because they feed a lot of animals above them on the food chain, including many of us humans who hunt. Grizzlies evolved as predators; they don’t produce a lot of cubs. Their populations are tenuously self-regulating (something we should learn from them). We should manage them accordingly.

We should manage grizzlies in a manner best for the bears; we should manage them based on science, ethics and social desires; we should manage them to allow for the space they need and deserve; we should manage them by improving people's knowledge of grizzlies and how to best prevent conflicts; we should manage them by allowing them the benefit of the doubt and erring on the side of caution; we should manage them by giving "troubled" bears every chance we can, and we should manage them by occasionally (as a last resort), killing certain individual bears if they become a socially unacceptable danger.

Who will pay for this? The American people should, all of us, because a huge majority of Americans want, support and appreciate that we still have wild grizzlies and the wild places to sustain them. Most Americans are fascinated with grizzlies, a fascination that has existed since humans drew pictures of them on rocks. Grizzlies are different. Myth, fear, awe, reality, science . . . all of it and more always has and always will influence the powerful mystique and perception of grizzlies.

For a long time we killed them. We killed them to near extinction. (Some subspecies are extinct, existing now only in our imaginations or places like the California flag.) I assume most Americans agreed with such a policy, until leaders like Theodore Roosevelt came along. We’ve winnowed them down to a tiny fraction of the once-immense territory they historically roamed. I suspect all people with empathy and compassion in their hearts are saddened by this. They should be. I am.

Most Americans respect grizzlies. Most Americans will not accept or tolerate the killing of grizzlies for trophies, amusement and ego. Most Americans feel disgusted to see hunters proudly standing over dead bodies of a once-powerful living presence they killed for no legitimate, no acceptable justification. I’m one of those Americans, and I’m a hunter. 

When I kill an elk or deer, I feel grateful, humbled and saddened but happy to be part of the wilds -- to kill my own meat in a respectful, ethical, sustainable way. Nonhunters I know understand and support that. They accept hunters killing deer and elk to fill freezers; they don’t accept hunters killing grizzlies to fill egos.

We should not manage grizzlies to boost numbers of prey species so we have more to kill. (I’ve heard fellow hunters say that we need to kill elk and deer to keep populations in check, but we need to kill predators to boost the number of animals we need to kill to keep their numbers down.) We should not kill grizzlies to raise money to protect them.

That is not wildlife management based on good, sound science or social acceptability.

Predators are rarely managed based on sound science or for the benefit of predators and healthy, functioning ecosystems. They’re rarely managed in accordance of what a majority of 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. As a result, wildlife management often leans more towards animal husbandry – producing more to catch and shoot sometimes to the detriment of other wildlife. Predators usually get a bad deal.

We’re stuck in a wildlife-management paradigm that attempts to justify indefensible death; it’s time for change.

All Americans should help pay for and influence how wildlife is managed. We don’t need to sell grizzly-tags to fund the management of grizzlies. Let’s get an excise tax on all outdoor gear – not just hunting and fishing equipment. Let’s create a license for nonhunters who want to buy one. Let’s create a grizzly stamp to sell and raise money much like we do with duck stamps. Let’s try something different. Let’s take some power and influence from those who wrongly insist we need to hunt grizzlies. 

Grizzlies face enough uncertainty with impacts from human encroachment, habitat loss and degradation, and climate change. Warmer temperatures, less snow, earlier snowmelt and more drought has already caused a decline in white-bark pine nuts, berries and other bear food. To err on the side of caution we should not even be considering delisting grizzlies from federal endangered species status and turning management over states eager to kill them. Not yet. But if we do, we don’t need to hunt them.

There is no biologically or social justification to hunt grizzlies. We should manage them with the respect and reverence they deserve. 

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.