Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting Blog

More than 53,000 tails collected from South Dakota nest predators program in 2021

https://www.mitchellrepublic.com/northland-outdoors/7120679-More-than-53000-tails-collected-from-South-Dakota-nest-predators-program-in-2021

NORTHLAND OUTDOORS

2021 marked the third year of the Gov. Noem-led programWritten By: Marcus Traxler | 4:58 pm, Jul. 20, 2021

South Dakota State Parks.

South Dakota State Parks.

PIERRE – Gov. Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks announced the results of the 2021 Nest Predator Bounty Program on Tuesday, July 20.

A total of 53,642 nest predator tails were turned in by 2,773 participants when the program was open from April 1 to July 1.

The goal of the program is to reduce local nest predator populations as a way to enhance pheasant and duck nest success. The program, created as a outdoors-focused priority by Noem, is targeted at removing predators, such as raccoons, striped skunks, opossums, red fox and badgers.

“South Dakota is one of the only states that hunts our state bird. The nest predator bounty program began in 2019 as a key component of my Second Century Initiative,” said Noem in a statement. “It’s a great way to encourage youth and families to get outside and ensure trapping remains a part of South Dakota’s long-standing outdoor heritage. And it’s leading to higher nest success, which means more beautiful ringnecks for our hunters.”

The 2021 results returned South Dakota’s program closer to where it was in 2019, when 3,151 participants collected 54,470 tails from April 1 to mid-August. In both years, South Dakota paid $10 per tail submitted.

In 2020, with the price for each tail reduced to $5, about 26,000 tails were collected from about 1,100 people. Over three years, the total tail count is now more than 134,000 from about 7,000 participants.

In 2021, 29% of the program participants were under the age of 18, up from 16% in 2020. These 812 South Dakota youth handed in 12,108 tails. Of all tails taken in, 91% were turned in East River.

In 2021, a focus was made on getting youth trappers involved. Each week, a drawing was held for youth participating in the program. Winners of the drawing received three live traps, a trapping booklet, and a knife.

The program has already been renewed for 2022 at the rate of $10 per tail, with a statewide maximum of payments at $500,000, capped at $590 per household.

Game, Fish and Parks 3rd annual Nest Predator Bounty Program begins today

Pierre, SD, USA / DRGNewsJody HeemstraApr 1, 2021 2:16 PM

The third year of the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Nest Predator Bounty program begins today (April 1, 2021).

As part of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Second Century Initiative, tails from raccoon, striped skunk, badger, red fox and opossum will be eligible for $10 per-tail payments with a maximum total payout of $500,000. The per-tail payment $5 more that was paid last year.

Tails eligible for submission can be harvested via trapping or hunting. Participants need a hunting, furbearer or fishing license to be eligible to participate in the bounty program. Landowners harvesting nest predators for the program on their own land and youth under 18 are exempt from this license requirement.

“New to 2021 is the Youth Participation Trap Giveaway,” said GFP Department Secretary Kevin Robling. “On a weekly basis, our team will host a drawing from all tails submitted by youth trappers under the age of 18 and giveaway a prize package of three live traps, a knife and a trapping booklet to participating youth under the age of 18. Hunting, trapping and land management play a big part in our outstanding quality of life here in South Dakota and we hope this is one more way to make this an exciting opportunity for families to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”

Dates, times and locations for tail submissions can be found on the GFP website at: https://gfp.sd.gov/userdocs/docs/2021_bountyprogramcollectiontimes.pdf.

For bounty submissions outside of these office locations and times, please contact your local wildlife conservation officer or wildlife damage specialist.

“In the last two years we removed nearly 80,000 nest predators predominantly from the eastern part of the state ” said Robling. “When trapping is done at high intensities, during the primary nesting season at a localized level, predator removal has positively influenced nest success of ducks and pheasants. With favorable weather conditions during the winter months, enhanced efforts on habitat management and the continuation of the nest predator bounty program we should expect to see fantastic bird numbers for the 2021 pheasant season.”

Montana may expand wolf hunting

22 hours ago

One of the proposals may change wolves to being classified as predators

By Michael Hollan | Fox News

https://www.foxnews.com/great-outdoors/montana-may-expand-wolf-hunting

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Wolf hunting in Montana may see some significant changes.

According to reports, multiple bills are being considered in the state right now that implement serious changes for wolf management. According to one of the lawmakers behind these bills, the state has seen a significant increase in the number of wolves.

The bills include proposals such as expanding trapping seasons, including wolf licenses with big game combination licenses and even reclassifying the animals as predators.

The bills include proposals such as expanding trapping seasons, including wolf licenses with big game combination licenses and even reclassifying the animals as predators. (iStock)

The bills include proposals such as expanding trapping seasons, including wolf licenses with big game combination licenses and even reclassifying the animals as predators, KTVB reports. Sen. Bob Brown and Rep. Paul Fielder worked on drafting the various pieces of legislation.

OKLAHOMA REP. FACES BACKLASH FOR BIGFOOT ‘HUNTING SEASON,’ SAYS HE’S BEEN CALLED AN IDIOT

Brown explained, “Basically every drainage you go into you find wolves and the packs just keep expanding. With elk and deer numbers, you’re not seeing them up in the hills. You might still see quite a few but they’re pushed down out of the hills and onto private land.”

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Wolves are currently listed as a species “in need of management” in Montana. This limits how hunters may interact with the animals, such as prohibiting any hunting during non-daylight hours. Hunters are also currently required to have a license to hunt wolves.

By classifying wolves as predators, hunters would be allowed to hunt them year-round without a license.

Montana is not the only state considering changes to its wolf hunting policies.

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Fox News previously reported that Wisconsin will be holding its first wolf hunting season in over a half-decade. The season is scheduled to begin in November.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced that it is planning a wolf harvest season for the fall of 2021. According to the announcement, the decision was made after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal endangered species list on Jan. 4.

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Why Hunting Isn’t Conservation, and Why It Matters

laura c carlson, Canid Collapse, graphite, watercolor, and mulberry ink, 2020

By Kevin Bixby
Featured Image (c) laura c carlsonCanid Collapse, graphite, watercolor, and mulberry ink, 2020

Why Hunting Isn’t Conservation, and Why It Matters

In late December 2014, I received a call from a friend. He and his wife had made a gruesome discovery while exploring the desert outside of Las Cruces. They had stumbled upon the bodies of 39 dead coyotes.

I knew what had happened.

Wildlife killing contests are just what the name suggests. Participants compete for prizes to see who can kill the most coyotes, bobcats, foxes or whatever the target species happens to be. The animals are not eaten, nor are their pelts generally taken. They are simply killed for fun and profit. After the prizes are awarded, the victims are unceremoniously dumped, often by the side of the road.

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote (Canis latrans) (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

The coyotes my friend found had been shot in a killing contest held the previous week by a local predator hunting club. I had been tracking the group on Facebook. “Smoke a pack a day” emblazoned over a photo of a dead coyote was one of their favorite memes.

Normal people find these events abhorrent. The hunters I know do not participate in them and tell me privately that they find them distasteful. But few hunting organizations have taken a public position against them[i], and many, like the Sportsmen’s Alliance and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, oppose efforts to ban them. The fact that the public face of the hunting community condones wildlife killing contests, and that these competitions remain legal in all but six states, is emblematic of the deep divide over wildlife management in the U.S. today.

A System in Need of Reform

It is sometimes said that hunting is conservation. The idea is expressed in various ways—hunters pay for conservation, hunters are the true conservationists, hunting is needed to manage wildlife—but they all suggest that hunters, and hunting, are indispensable to the continued survival of wildlife in America.[ii]

As an occasional hunter who has spent my entire career in wildlife conservation, I disagree. Hunting can be many things—family tradition, outdoor recreation, a source of healthy meat—but the claim that hunting is the same as conservation just isn’t supported by the facts.

But there’s more to the statement than harmless hyperbole. The assertion that hunting is conservation has unmistakable meaning in the culture wars. It has become a rallying cry in the battle over America’s wildlife, part of a narrative employed to defend a system of wildlife management built around values of domination and exploitation of wild “other” lives, controlled by hunters and their allies, that seems increasingly out of step with modern ecological understanding, changing public attitudes and a global extinction crisis.

In August 2018, more than 100 advocates and academics from around the country gathered in Albuquerque to talk about how to transform state wildlife management.  It was the first national conference held on the topic.

Some speakers decried the fundamentally undemocratic nature of state wildlife decision making. Others recited the litany of state wildlife management failures, such as sanctioning controversial practices opposed by most people, e.g. trophy hunting and leghold trapping. Underlying all this animus was a shared sense that states are not doing nearly enough to protect wildlife, and that the root problem is the stranglehold hunters, as an interest group, have on state wildlife management.

The issue is hugely significant in conservation circles. States play a critical role in wildlife management, sharing legal jurisdiction over wildlife with the federal government. The conventional wisdom is that the feds are responsible for a subset of organisms—threatened and endangered species listed under the Endangered Species Act, migratory birds protected by international treaties—while the states have authority over everything else (except on Native American lands, where tribes have jurisdiction). Although not everyone agrees with this assessment,[iii] the reality in America today is that, for most wild animals, states dictate how they are used, by whom, and if they are protected at all.

So who are the proponents of the hunting as conservation idea? Not surprisingly, they include organizations that promote hunting, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation whose “Twenty-five Reasons Why Hunting is Conservation” is probably the most elaborate articulation of the concept. The hunting as conservation view is also popular with gun groups like the National Rifle Association that like to conflate their second amendment advocacy with a “defense” of the hunting tradition. But it might be unexpected, and disconcerting, to learn that this view is also widely shared by the state and federal agencies charged with protecting America’s wildlife.

What these entities all have in common is a vested interest in preserving the status quo in wildlife management in the U.S.—a system that was developed to a large extent by hunters, is supported financially by hunters, and continues to be operated primarily for the benefit of hunters.

Elk (Cervus elaphus) – bull and young bull (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

This is especially true at the state level where hunters are disproportionately represented on appointed wildlife commissions, where wildlife agencies overseen or advised by those commissions are staffed largely by people who are either hunters themselves or share their values, and where the opinions of the 82 percent of the public that do not hunt or fish are routinely discounted or ignored.

I want to be clear. Hunters deserve a great deal of credit for their historic role in saving some of America’s “game” species (i.e. species pursued by hunters, such as white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, elk and pronghorn). Without their organizing and lobbying for game protection laws and their willingness to purchase licenses that generated revenue for the enforcement of those laws, these species might have disappeared. However, the institution of wildlife management that hunters helped to create, and that today exists primarily to serve hunters, is simply not focused nor equipped to meet the extraordinary challenge of preserving species and ecosystems in the face of a mass extinction crisis that is unraveling the fabric of life everywhere.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Rise of the “Sport” Hunter

To understand how the current system came to exist, we need to look at the history of wildlife in America over the past century and a half, a time span that encompasses the most efficient destruction of wildlife in human history. The steady retreat of wildlife in the face of European settlement greatly accelerated after the Civil War, when a convergence of technological, social and economic factors ignited a massive expansion of market hunting to satisfy the demand for wild meat, hides, furs and feathers. In the absence of any effective regulations to control this free-for-all, staggering numbers of animals were killed in the course of just a few decades. An estimated 10-12 million bison in 1865[iv] were reduced to approximately one thousand in all of North America in 1890. Massive numbers of pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk and deer were also killed. Passenger pigeons were hunted to extinction.

In response, influential recreational hunters like Teddy Roosevelt, George Grinnell, and Gifford Pinchot began to organize in the late 1800s into groups like the Boone and Crockett Club and lobby for game laws to protect the species they enjoyed hunting. Over time, “sport” hunters became a major source of funding for state wildlife agencies through their purchase of licenses and later through their payment of federal taxes on equipment used for hunting and fishing. Hunters remain a significant source of agency revenues today. Not surprisingly, agencies came to view hunters as their most important constituents.

This financial relationship aligned nicely with the prevailing view of conservation during the same period, which was focused on restoring depleted game populations and managing them to produce a “harvestable surplus” for the benefit of hunters. Aldo Leopold, often considered the father of modern wildlife management, defined game management in his influential 1933 book on the subject as “…the art of making land produce sustained annual crops of wild game for recreational use.”

Theodore Roosevelt on horseback

Theodore Roosevelt on horseback. (ca. 1910. March 14. Photograph. Dawson, Warrington. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007677075/)

He likened it to other forms of agriculture where various factors needed to be controlled in order to enhance the yield, which, in the case of game animals, included things like regulating hunting and killing predators. This approach led to the successful rescue of certain game species from near extinction.

Although Leopold embraced a more ecological perspective in later writings, much of wildlife management as practiced in the U.S. today still reflects his earlier agricultural view. As the concept of conservation has evolved, state wildlife institutions and policies haven’t kept pace.

We now understand that species interact as parts of ecosystems, and that these systems generate the services—clean air and water, healthy soils, pollination, medicines, etc.—that sustain all life on the planet, including humans. In this holistic view, all species are important.

The context for conservation has changed dramatically as well. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction crisis in which plants and animals around the world are disappearing at a frightening rate due to a host of human activities. Since 1970, North America has seen a 29 percent drop in bird numbers. Populations of terrestrial vertebrates—mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians—have declined by an average of 60 percent across the globe in this period. Insect numbers are plummeting worldwide. An estimated one million species are now facing extinction. Scientists have called this a “biological annihilation” and warn that urgent action is needed to stop it.

Informed by these facts, the goal of wildlife conservation is, or ought to be, to protect and restore the diversity of life at all levels; but that remains less important to state wildlife managers than ensuring a harvestable surplus of game animals for human hunters. To be fair, most states also have programs to protect endangered and threatened species, but these tend to be underfunded and a lower priority than game management programs.

I would add that any definition of conservation that does not include a measure of compassion and justice for individual animals is out of step with public attitudes, which are moving away from regarding wildlife as strictly a resource for human use and toward respecting wild creatures for their intrinsic right to exist as well. Killing contests are a prime example. While they don’t usually cause a long-term decline in populations of targeted species, and are legal in most states, most people find these events immoral and not in keeping with a conservation paradigm that includes concern for individual animals.

Game Management vs Wildlife Conservation

The on-the-ground differences between ecological-based conservation versus traditional wildlife management are often dramatic. There are countless examples of this, but let’s look at three general categories: exotic species, “nongame” animals, and carnivores.

The introduction of alien species around the world is recognized by biologists today as a major threat to biodiversity. In the past, however, exotic game animals were brought in by state wildlife managers to provide novel hunting opportunities. In my state, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department maintains huntable populations of several introduced ungulates (oryx, barbary sheep, and ibex) despite their competition with native species and the ecological havoc they wreak.

While most states are no longer in the business of importing exotic terrestrial animals, fish are a different story.  States continue to raise and stock literally millions[v] of non-native fish in their waters every year, solely for the benefit of anglers. These introduced fish often prey on, hybridize with, or compete with native fishes and harm aquatic ecosystems. New Mexico dumps more than 15 million non-native fish into the state’s waterways annually, all of them predatory species like rainbow trout and walleye. Some of these naïve captive-raised fish, which frequently don’t survive more than a few weeks in the wild because they fall easy prey to human anglers or other predators, have to be obtained from other states to meet perceived demand.

When it comes to fish, state wildlife agencies are, in effect, operating as monopoly industries. They have co-opted a public resource—native aquatic ecosystems—in order to produce a consumer product—fishing opportunities for non-native fish—which they then sell to generate revenues for themselves.[vi] The agencies exercise exclusive control over access to their product—you can’t fish in a public water without a license—and their high volume stocking programs maintain consumer demand (“angler expectation”) for their product at a level far beyond what could be satisfied by native fish populations alone. These “put and take” stocking programs sell a lot of licenses, but to say they have anything to do with conservation is ludicrous, and irresponsible, given that freshwater fishes as a group are more endangered and going extinct faster than other vertebrates worldwide.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

The divergence in management results is also apparent in how “nongame” species are treated.  Prairie dogs, for example, are considered by biologists to be a keystone species because of their outsized ecological importance. Approximately 170 other vertebrate species depend on prairie dogs in one way or another. Conservation-driven management would prioritize their restoration and protection; but in most states where they exist, prairie dogs are considered pests and used for target practice and killing contests.

The disparity between game management and ecologically-focused conservation is nowhere more evident than when it comes to native carnivores. Top predators like wolves and mountain lions play a vital role in ecosystems. Most were wiped out from large parts of their historic ranges by the mid-20th century. Conservation would prioritize restoring them as widely as possible across the landscape, but hunting-driven management seeks to do just the opposite.

Carnivores have historically been vilified by hunters and wildlife managers as competitors for game animals and threats to livestock, and that attitude is reflected in state policies today. Coyotes are unprotected and persecuted in most states. Where wolves have been taken off the federal endangered species list, states have responded by subjecting them to intensive hunting and trapping intended to suppress their numbers to keep them just above the level that would trigger federal oversight again. Wyoming allows wolves to be killed year-round, with no limits, over 85 percent of the state. Idaho’s wildlife agency pays shooters to kill wolves in remote wilderness areas and has reinstituted bounties on them.

The argument is often made by defenders of the status quo that, without hunting, wildlife populations would grow unchecked and run amok, but this is not supported by science. Leaving aside the question of what happened in the millions of years before modern humans appeared, there is ample evidence that top carnivores such as wolves, mountain lions, bears and coyotes, regulate their own numbers. They do this by defending territories, limiting reproduction to alpha individuals within a group, investing in lengthy parental care, and infanticide. Hunting is not needed to keep populations of top predators in check; and indeed, it has the opposite effect, because it disrupts the social interactions through which self-regulation is achieved.

Predation can influence the numbers of ungulates like deer and elk, but by which predators? Most state wildlife managers oppose the reintroduction of top carnivores that have been extirpated from their borders, or if they are present, try to keep their numbers artificially low to reduce competition for game animals with human hunters. In essence, then, past and current management policies, driven by antipathy toward carnivores and a desire to improve hunting success, have created a “problem”—scarcity of predators—to which hunting is offered as the only “solution.”

The Myth that Hunters Pay for Conservation

Probably the most common reason for claiming that hunting is conservation, and for justifying hunters’ privileged status in wildlife matters, is that hunters contribute more money than non-hunters to wildlife conservation, in what is usually described in positive terms as a “user pays, public benefits” model.  That is, the “users” of wild animals—hunters—pay for their management, and everyone else gets to enjoy them for free, managers commonly claim.

This is disputable. The financial contribution of hunters to agency coffers, while significant, is nearly always overstated.

It is true that hunters contribute substantially to two sources of funding which comprise almost 60 percent, on average, of state wildlife agency budgets: license fees and federal excise taxes. But there are at least three major problems in leaping from this fact to the conclusion that hunters are the ones who “pay for conservation.”

First, as discussed, there is a considerable difference between conservation and what state wildlife agencies actually do.  Secondly, even if one assumes that everything state wildlife agencies do constitutes conservation, much of their funding still comes from non-hunters, as explained below. And third, some of the most important wildlife conservation efforts take place outside of state wildlife agencies and are funded mainly by the general public.

State wildlife agencies undertake a wide variety of activities, including setting and enforcing hunting regulations, administering license sales, providing hunter safety and education programs, securing access for hunting and fishing, constructing and operating firearm ranges, operating fish hatcheries and stocking programs, controlling predators, managing land, improving habitat, responding to complaints, conducting research and public education, and protecting endangered species. A substantial portion of these activities are clearly aimed at managing opportunities for hunting and fishing, and not necessarily the conservation of wildlife.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

The second problem with saying that hunters are the ones who foot the bill for conservation is that it discounts the substantial financial contributions of non-hunters. To begin with, more than 40 percent of state wildlife agency revenues, on average, are from sources not tied to hunting. These vary by state, but include general funds, lottery receipts, speeding tickets, vehicle license sales, general sales taxes, sales taxes on outdoor recreation equipment, and income tax check-offs.

In addition, the non-hunting public contributes more to another significant source of wildlife agency revenues—federal excise taxes—than is generally acknowledged. These taxes are levied on a number of items, including handguns and their ammunition, and fuel for jet skis and lawnmowers, that are rarely purchased for use in hunting or fishing. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, my initial calculations suggest that non-hunters account for at least one-third of these taxes, and probably a lot more.

Third, significant wildlife conservation takes place outside state agencies, as others have pointed out, and it is mostly the non-hunting public that pays for this. For example, more than one quarter of the U.S. is federal public land managed by four agencies—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service. These 600-plus million acres are vital to wildlife, providing habitat for thousands of species, including hundreds of endangered and threatened animals. The cost to manage these lands is shared more or less equally by the taxpaying public. (Hunters also contribute to public land conservation by mandatory purchases of habitat stamps and voluntary purchases of duck stamps, but these are relatively insignificant compared to tax revenues.)

Wildlife for All?

Even it were true that hunters contribute more financially to agency budgets than non-hunters, it’s worth asking if that means they deserve a greater voice in wildlife decisions. Is it fair that one, small user group—hunters—monopolize wildlife management simply because a system has evolved under which their expenditures, opaque (excise taxes) and involuntary (license fees) as they are, end up supporting the agencies tasked with protecting wildlife more than does the non-hunting public?  Another user group—wildlife watchers—are nearly twice as numerous as hunters, according to a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) survey. Yet another “user” group is even larger: all of us, because we all “use” wildlife to keep ecosystems healthy and benefit from the results. Why should these groups be relegated to minority status, or excluded entirely, when it comes to deciding how wildlife is managed?

Under our system of law, wildlife is considered a public trust. Wild animals do not belong to anybody. The government as trustee is expected to manage wildlife for the benefit of the public, including future generations, and balance competing uses to ensure that the trust is not harmed and the broad public interest is served. It is antithetical to this concept that one group would be granted greater access to wildlife because, for whatever reason, they contribute more financially to its management. It would be like saying that only rich people should be allowed to send their kids to public schools because they pay more in taxes.

It is a question of equity. Everyone benefits from wildlife, everyone should share in the cost of protecting wildlife, and everyone deserves a say in determining how best to conserve wildlife.  If hunters’ claim that they pay more than their share for wildlife conservation is true, the solution is not to exclude others from a seat at the table, but to find new, more equitable sources of funding to support the work.

Struggle for Power

If the idea that “hunting is conservation” is not factually true, why does it continue to have currency? The answer, I believe, has to do with a struggle over power, identity and values. Wildlife management is now firmly ensconced in the culture wars.

The public is increasingly concerned about wildlife and wants a voice in management, something that has long been the exclusive purview of hunters and their allies. Promoting a narrative that wildlife can’t survive without hunters is part of a larger effort to defend the status quo in wildlife governance by those who currently enjoy privileged status and don’t want to give it up.

As with many other social inequities in America today, the people who hold disproportionate power when it comes to wildlife are mostly white men. Hunters and anglers are 74 percent male and 80 percent white (non-Hispanic), according to the 2016 FWS survey. Looking just at hunters, the demographics are even more skewed. Eighty-nine percent are male and 96 percent are white (non-Hispanic). This demographic bias is reflected at state wildlife agencies where 72 percent of personnel are male and more than 90 percent are white.

It could be argued that the undemocratic nature of the current system of wildlife management is a legacy of its elitist origins in which affluent white men like Teddy Roosevelt played such an important role. The term “sportsmen” was adopted, at least in part, to distinguish men of means who hunted for fun rather than for subsistence or market. The roster of the Boone and Crockett Club in its early years reads like a who’s who of New York high society. These individuals were instrumental in getting laws passed to protect game animals, but one wonders if their influential role in shaping the system that emerged also imbued it with a sense of entitlement for men like themselves.

Efforts to equate hunting with conservation gained momentum in the mid-1990s in response to mounting challenges to the status quo. The number of hunters was declining, relative to the general population. Litigation by advocacy groups to protect species under the federal Endangered Species Act was on the rise. State wildlife managers viewed these lawsuits as a threat to their management authority, and still do.

This was about the time that the Ukrainian-born Canadian wildlife biologist (and hunter) Valerius Geist came up with the idea of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. As he described it in a 2001 article he co-authored entitled “Why hunting has defined the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation,” recreational hunters were the ones who rescued wildlife from extinction, built the system of wildlife management we have today, and continue to make the most significant contributions to conservation. By implication, he suggested that the interests of hunters should be prioritized over those of other stakeholders.

A full discussion of the North American Model is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that it has rapidly become something of a sacred doctrine in wildlife management circles, widely heralded as the premier model of wildlife conservation in the world. The problem that is it is both an incomplete framing of history which downplays the contributions of non-hunters, and it is an inadequate set of guidelines for preserving species and ecosystems in the face of the current mass extinction crisis. Nonetheless, its unchallenged acceptance within the wildlife management community has helped fuel the narrative that hunting is indispensable to conservation.

It was around this time also that hunters and their allies began to respond to perceived threats to their control of wildlife decision-making by passing right-to-hunt laws and amendments to their constitutions that affirmed the right of their residents to hunt, fish and trap. Adopting language advocated by groups such as the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, these measures often enshrined hunting as the preferred method of wildlife management and protected “traditional” methods of hunting which were often controversial, such as using dogs or bait stations. Alabama was the first to pass such as law in 1996 (excluding Vermont, which passed its law in 1777). At last count, 27 states have enacted them.

The struggle over wildlife reflects a clash of competing values. In a 2018 national survey, researchers identified two major orientations toward wildlife, which they called domination and mutualism. People with domination values tend to believe that animals are subordinate and should be used for the benefit of humans. Those with a mutualistic bent embrace the idea that animals are part of their extended social network and possess intrinsic rights to exist. These orientations shape not just a person’s attitudes toward wildlife but the way they view the world in general.

Among the general public, more people hold a mutualistic outlook (35%) than domination (28%).[vii]  The mutualistic orientation has been ascendant in the U.S. at least since 2004, according to the survey. Hunters and wildlife managers, on the other hand, tend to hold a domination orientation—a set of values that are in retreat.

As people tend to do when they perceive their values and personal identity to be under attack,  those of the domination perspective resist change. The hunting as conservation narrative is part of that resistance. So too is the strident rhetoric employed by many hunting and gun groups to characterize any perceived critique of the status quo as an attack on their hunting “tradition.”  I find the quickness of these groups to attribute even modest proposals for change as representing the spear tip of a chimerical “radical anti-hunting, animal rights” agenda baffling, since the general public overwhelmingly approves of hunting for food, as do most major wildlife groups. Even the Humane Society of the U.S., frequently identified by those in the hunting community as their arch enemy, does not oppose hunting for food.

The domination orientation that prevails among hunters and wildlife managers leaves little room for a definition of conservation that includes consideration of the rights or interests of individual animals. Traditional wildlife management is concerned almost exclusively with the status of animals in the aggregate, i.e. populations and species. Talk of animals having rights—for instance, the right to not be subjected to cruel methods of capture such as leghold traps, or to not have their families broken apart as invariably happens when intensely social animals like wolves and coyotes are killed by hunters—is dismissed as soft-headedness.

Hunters and their allies are quick to assert that wildlife management decisions should be dictated solely by science, not emotion, as if science could adjudicate among what are essentially value matters. Science can tell us, for example, how many mountain lions can be removed by hunters without causing an unsustainable decline in their numbers, but it can’t tell us whether we ought to be hunting mountain lions in the first place. Under our current system of wildlife management, it is simply assumed that if hunters want to hunt an animal, and the species is not endangered, then hunting will be allowed, regardless of public opinion.

Cougar (Puma concolor) - captive

Mountain lion aka Cougar (Puma concolor) (c) Larry Master, masterimages.org

This is why wildlife advocates have launched dozens of ballot and legislative initiatives since 1990 dealing with controversial wildlife-related matters aimed at circumventing state agencies and commissions. Not surprisingly, hunting groups and wildlife managers generally oppose these efforts, which they deride as “ballot box biology.”

It is possible to see a connection between the efforts to democratize wildlife management with other social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Just as not all cops are racist, neither do all hunters view the world through a domination lens. But like police, hunters are participants in a system that has its origins in the desire to control and exploit the less powerful, in this case wild animals.

Wildlife Conservation at the Crossroads

For their part, state wildlife agencies face a dilemma. As the already small number of hunters continues to decline, the agencies are threatened with a loss of revenues while facing demands from the non-hunting public to take on more responsibilities. They have two choices. They can embrace a more ecological mission and new constituencies, or they can double down on the status quo by trying to convince more people to take up hunting and fishing.

Many state agencies seem to prefer the latter approach. Every state wildlife agency now has a Recruitment, Retention and Reactivation (3R) program designed to increase participation in hunting and fishing. Nationally, there is an effort to “modernize” the Pittman Robertson Act to allow states to use Pittman Robertson funding for 3R programs, something that is currently not permitted. This is a legislative priority of the Association of State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which bills itself as the voice of state wildlife agencies.

To be fair, state wildlife agencies cannot magically create new funding on their own. Legislatures have to approve new funding mechanisms, which few have been willing to do.

It’s unfortunate that we’re having this debate in America over wildlife management because it distracts from the urgent business at hand. The challenge of protecting biodiversity in the face of the ongoing mass extinction crisis is enormous. Scientists warn us we have maybe a decade remaining before we reach a tipping point for protecting biodiversity as well as avoiding irreversible effects of climate change. Both are existential threats to human society and life on Earth, and neither crisis can be solved without protecting and restoring intact ecosystems and species. There is a growing call among scientists to prioritize biodiversity preservation on half of Earth’s land area and seas by 2050. This improbably ambitious goal—currently less than 15 percent of land and about 5 percent of the oceans are protected—is increasingly seen as a crucial step for dealing with these interconnected crises.

In contrast to nearly every other nation in the world, the U.S. does not have a national biodiversity action plan. We may never have one under our federalist system. To preserve the diversity of life in this country, we need the states to be leaders, not obstacles, and that won’t happen without a radical reinvisioning of wildlife management at the state level.

The steps in that transformation are clear. It begins with new marching orders. State legislatures need to equip their wildlife agencies with the mandate and legal authority to protect all species, including invertebrates, which are essential to ecosystem functioning. Many states currently lack this comprehensive authority. In New Mexico, for example, the Department of Game and Fish has only been delegated legal authority over about 60 percent of the state’s vertebrates, despite the fact that the state is home to more species of birds, reptiles and mammals than almost anywhere else in the U.S.

Legislators also need to provide their wildlife agencies with the resources to support their expanded missions, including new funding sources that are not tied to hunting. For one thing, it is not fair to saddle hunters with more of the financial burden of protecting wildlife. The public should share this burden broadly. Secondly, state wildlife agencies will be reluctant to embrace a broader mission and new constituencies if their longstanding financial dependency on hunters is not severed.

States also need to democratize wildlife decision-making. In most states, the wildlife agency is overseen or advised by a commission, whose members are usually appointed by the governor. Hunters constitute a majority on most of these boards. If wildlife is a public trust, shouldn’t the general public be better represented on commissions tasked with managing that trust? There will always be a seat at the table for hunters, but it’s long past time to start appointing more people to represent the overwhelming majority of the public that does not hunt.

And finally, state wildlife agencies need to welcome new partners. Preserving nature in the face of the current extinction crisis is a massive challenge. Wildlife managers will need broad public support to be successful, but first they must earn the trust of the non-hunting public.

A good first step is to stop saying that hunting is conservation. At best, this statement acknowledges the historic role hunters have played in protecting America’s wildlife. At worst, it is inaccurate, polarizing, and a distraction from the real work. Like other monuments to the past that now serve to divide, it needs to come down.

____________

[i] Of the more than 50 major hunting organizations that are members of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, none publicly opposes wildlife killing contests.

[ii] For the purposes of this article, the term “hunting” includes both hunting and fishing.

[iii] One speaker at the conference, University of Montana’s Martin Nie, gave a presentation based on his lengthy law journal article entitled “Fish & Wildlife Management on Federal Lands: Debunking State Supremacy.”

[iv] Per environmental historian Dan Flores in his book American Serengeti. Others have put the number of bison at this time higher.

[v] Information gleaned from state wildlife agency websites puts the number well over one billion.

[vi] Every state has enacted a law, as a condition of eligibility to receive federal grants under the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, requiring that revenues from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses cannot be used for anything other than the administration of its wildlife agency.

[vii] A substantial number of people (21%) score high on both scales, while another 15 percent show little interest in wildlife and score low on both scales.

COYOTES SUFFER A DISPROPORTIONATE DOSE OF CRUELTY

 

Coyotes Suffer a Disproportionate Dose of Cruelty

By Jim Robertson, CASH President


Photo copyright Jim Robertson

The rocky relationship between modern humans and coyotes, since the first cowboys and sheep boys drove their stock out onto the western plains, prairies and cleared forestland, has played out as a one-sided war waged against an unarmed opponent. Like stormtroopers from an evil empire toting weapons of mass canid destruction (traps, snares, rifles, planes and poisons), ranchers have scored heavy casualties against the embattled, outnumbered and outgunned freedom fighters. Still, coyote populations continue to hold their own and (due in part to the annihilation of wolves over much of North America) have even expanded their range from primarily west of the Mississippi to include all 49 continental United States and much of Canada.

Across time and across the continent, the coyote has been persecuted by those who value animal life only in terms of whether it benefits them. A true native to America (one of the few species of mammals to evolve in the Western Hemisphere), the coyote neither wandered across the Bering land bridge nor stowed away on a trans-Atlantic schooner. They are so inextricably tied to the American landscape that efforts to eradicate them from a given ecosystem usually result in a rebound of their numbers.

Although their merit may not be apparent to those who seek to stamp them out, the fact that coyotes have endured despite overwhelming odds is proof of their significance in nature’s design. Anyone with eyes and an open mind can see that coyotes do quite a lick of good in many important ways.

Partners for life, both mother and father are devoted parents–playful, nurturing, affectionate, and protective. One spring in Yellowstone, I watched a forty-pound mother coyote put herself between her den and a hefty male grizzly bear. With distracting yelps and a resolute performance, she successfully lured him from the hideaway where her pups were safely concealed.

Distinctive yelps and evocative howls are part of the coyote’s diverse repertoire of vocalizations–their familiar chorus helps keep the pack in touch. Coyotes howl to communicate with fellow pack members over great distances in much the same way that humans use cell phones to locate friends or family members across the expansive voids of modern mega-malls. But while a ringing cell phone at a crowded shopping center is just another distraction to shoppers not party to the call, the coyote’s multipurpose melodies aide other species who can interpret communications meant as warning signals or announcements that all’s well.

Wily opportunists whose varied diet consists of up to 40% plant matter, coyotes typically utilize the remains of animals who have died in childbirth or of other natural causes. In doing so, they help the very people who vilify them. Kansas mammologist, Dr. Raymond Hall, made this observation on the usefulness of the coyote, “For one thing, he is a scavenger, and on watersheds which supply water for domestic use, he retrieves many a carcass for food that otherwise would decay and contaminate the water supply, or serve as a lure to filth-loving insects which carry the organisms of decay to man’s food.” In a deplorable display of sheer stupidity, those who poison coyotes have been known to spread toxic chemicals onto these carcasses, threatening everyone and everything living downstream.


Coyote catching a mouse

Photo copyright Jim Robertson

As part-time predators, coyotes’ area of expertise is rodent-getter, taking advantage of rapidly growing mice, vole and rabbit populations where they occur. When they do prey on larger animals, they usually select the injured or sick, acting as agents of nature’s greater compassion by reducing the suffering of an animal who would otherwise linger and die slowly. By removing weak or diseased animals from the gene pool, predators like coyotes, wolves and cougars secure healthy traits for future generations. And it’s been well-established that coyotes would much rather stick to their customary prey than resort to domestic livestock, yet the coyote is ever the scapegoat.

As author Jack Olsen put it, “One of the sorriest effects of the incessant propaganda war against the coyote and other predators is that it perpetuates beliefs that have already caused more than enough harm on the continent of North America.”

Whenever humane activists successfully ban various poisons and other cruel kill methods, sportsmen and their game department cronies are quick to counter any progress made by conducting competitive contest hunts. Much like fishing derbies, offering prizes and cash rewards to whoever kills the most coyotes, these bloody tournaments are becoming increasingly popular in many states. In a country built on draining wetlands, fencing grasslands and prairies and paving over everything in between, any animal who dares to thrive is an unwelcome rival.


Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Olsen continues, “By simple dint of pounding over and over on the same points, the sheep industry has succeeded in characterizing all predators as deadly killers that would rather dine on lamb than anything else that lives on the range. In the sheep mandemonology of the coyote, every fallen sheep is brought down by coyotes. If Canis latrans comes across a dead sheep and plays his natural role as carrion-eater, the rancher shows teeth marks as proof of murder. If a sheep falls dead and the coyotes ignore the carcass, the sheep man charges an even more heinous crime: killing for pleasure. No matter what the predator does, a diabolical explanation is provided, and grandiose overstatement becomes the rule. Two lambs dying at birth are transformed into twenty lambs killed by coyotes.”

Exterminating established coyotes only allows younger, less experienced individuals to move into the vacated, unfamiliar territory to prey on the most obvious and abundant nutritional source: lambs or calves. Underscoring the futility of brutal “control”methods, the killing of coyotes paradoxically increases the food-per-coyote ratio, resulting in more pups each spring and higher pup survival rates–ultimately leading to more coyotes.

Anybody who has witnessed the harrowing ordeal suffered by an animal caught in a leg-hold trap should be appalled and outraged that trapping is still legal in a society that considers itself civilized. The continuation of this horrid, outdated practice in a country governed by the people suggests either that most folks have brain damage or that most of the voting populace is simply unaware of the terrible anguish and desperation a trapped animal goes through.

They must never have heard the cries of shock and pain when an animal first feels the steel jaws of a trap lock down onto his leg. They must never have looked into the weary eyes of a helpless victim who has been caught in a trap for days and nights on end. They must never have come across a leg that an animal had chewed off in order to escape a deadly fate, nor stopped to think how tormented and hopeless she must feel to take that desperate action. And they must never have seen an animal struggling through her life on three legs.

I’ve had more than my share of heart-wrenching experiences with the gruesome evils of trapping. On a walk near our home in Eastern Washington, my dog stepped into a leg-hold trap that clamped down onto his front paw, prying his toes apart. He cried out in terror and frantically tried to shake it off, biting at the trap, at his paw, and at me as I fought to open the mindless steel jaws. The trap continued to cut deeper into his tender flesh and my efforts caused him even more pain. Finally, after many harrowing minutes, I was able to loosen the torture device enough for him to pull his foot free.

Another dog I freed was caught in two leg-hold traps. One was latched onto her front leg, while the second gripped her hind leg, forcing her to remain standing for untold agonizing hours. Judging by how fatigued and dehydrated she was, she had been stuck there for several days. The sinister traps caused so much damage that a vet had to amputate one of her injured legs.

With no other hope of escape and feeling vulnerable to anyone that comes along, many trapped animals resort to amputating their own leg. Trappers callously label this grim act of despair “wring-off”. Truly, freedom is precious to any animal desperate enough to take this extreme step. But if they don’t bleed to death or die from infection, they spend the rest of their lives crippled and quite possibly unable to keep up with a demanding life in the wild. Unlike the fictional character “Little Big Man,” who was distraught to the brink of suicide when he found that an animal had chewed off its leg to escape one of his traps, most trappers who find a wring-off are indifferent to the suffering they caused as they begrudgingly pitch the chewed-off limb and reset their trap.

While I was camped near Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in B.C., Canada, in late March, my dog found just such a discarded limb–the front leg of a trapped lynx. In what has to be one of the more deceitful abuses of trust ever, free roaming animals– safely protected within the arbitrary boundaries of parks– lose all such protection and are deemed “fair game” for trapping as soon as they step across an invisible dividing line. Trappers consider the lands adjoining parks the most “productive” and will pay tens of thousands of dollars for permits to run trap-lines in those areas. I’ve had the displeasure of seeing three-legged coyotes near the North Cascades National Park, and within the Grand Tetons National Park.

Sidestepping the indisputable cruelty issue, pro-trapping factions try to perpetuate the myth that trapping is sustainable. But time and again entire populations of “furbearers” are completely trapped out of an area, often within a single season. The winter after I found wolf tracks in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, all seven members of a pack who had found a niche in and around that preserve were killed–permissibly “harvested”– by trappers. Though wolves are extinct or endangered in most of the U.S., 1,500 are legally trapped in Alaska each year.

Leg-hold traps are now banned in 88 countries, and some enlightened states have passed initiatives to outlaw trapping. Still, in many U.S. states, as in Canada, the twisted tradition is not only legal, it’s considered a sacred human right. Compassionate people everywhere must add their voice to the rising call to end this barbarity for good.

No animal should find themselves stuck in their steel jaws–not a bear or hawk, OR a “target” animal like a raccoon or coyote.

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

TRAPPING HAS NO PLACE
IN A CIVILIZED WORLD!


Jim Robertson is the author of Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying Sport. Please visit his website, Animals in the Wild.

Expanded hunting sought on four wildlife refuges

PHOENIX (AP) — Despite the concern of environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand hunting on three wildlife refuges in southern Arizona and allow hunting on a fourth for the first time.

The proposed changes would open or expand hunting and fishing in 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries overall and would be finalized in time for the fall 2020-2021 hunting season, the Arizona Republic reported.

“America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

Environmentalists argue that the plan could further endanger imperiled species on fragile landscapes already at risk from climate change.

The 2,765-acre Leslie Canyon refuge would be open to hunters for the first time since its establishment in 1988.

The parcel tucked into the Chiricahua Mountains protects a rare riparian region.

According to the Republic, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft plan restricts hunters to an 800-acre plot north of Leslie Canyon Road and would open the area to migratory bird, upland game and big game hunting.

The other three southern Arizona refuges targeted for expanded hunting are the 117,464-acre Buenos Aires, the 18,444-acre Cibola on the lower Colorado River and the 860,00-acre Cabeza Prieta.

Many predators such as mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats are included in the expanded hunting proposal.

“The Arizona Game and Fish Department is supportive of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to increase hunting and angling opportunities on the refuges,” Thomas Caddon, spokesman for the department, said in a statement. “This was the first step, and we look forward to continuing to work with Fish and Wildlife Service on future efforts to further align state and refuge regulations.”

Arizona hunters have hailed the proposal.

“We’ve been asking for this for a long time,” said Dave Conrad of the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, a conservation and hunting group. “We feel this is compatible with the mission of the refuges.”

Environmental groups question the move.

“The National Wildlife Refuge System is the only network of federal lands and waters dedicated to wildlife conservation, and hunting and fishing must be properly managed to ensure that conservation objectives are met on every refuge,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands at the Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “We are closely examining the details of this proposal to ensure the rule does not compromise the conservation of fish and wildlife on wildlife refuges, including the nearly 400 threatened and endangered species that depend on national wildlife refuges to persist.”

Craig Miller, senior Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, added that the Cabeza Prieta and Buenos Aires refuges are on the U.S.-Mexico border and are already struggling to maintain habitats due to chronic underfunding and increasing border infrastructure development.

Study shows hunting cougars increases conflicts with humans, doesn’t protect livestock

February 18, 2020
 
CONTACTS:
John Laundré, Ph.D.,Western Oregon University, 315-529-3759, launjohn@hotmail.com
Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, 541-520-6003, brooks@predatordefense.org
Wildlife agencies’ claims about need to kill cougars to control populations, increase deer supply, also not supported by peer-reviewed science
EUGENE, OR – Since the 1970s, when cougars (aka pumas or mountain lions) were declared a game species, state wildlife agencies in 10 western states have allowed tens of thousands to be killed by sport hunters. Kill numbers have increased over time, with currently over 3,200 cougars slaughtered each year. Wildlife managers have long argued that sport hunting is necessary to control cougars’ numbers, reduce the risk of attacks on humans, protect livestock, and augment deer herds for hunters. But a newly released, peer-reviewed study that tested the effectiveness of this practice shows the opposite to be true.
Published this month in PLOS ONE, the study is titled “The elephant in the room: What can we learn from California regarding the use of sport hunting of pumas (Puma concolor) as a management tool?”  Its authors, biologists John W. Laundré, Ph.D., and Christopher M. Papouchis, M.S., saw that–in contrast to the other western states–California has not had a sport hunt on cougars over the same time period, which provided a prime opportunity to test the effectiveness of sport hunting as a management strategy.  If sport hunting was effective, they reasoned that California should have significantly higher cougar density, human conflicts, and cougar depredations on livestock, while also having lower deer densities.
To test for these differences, the authors systematically analyzed over 20 years of data obtained from state and federal agencies. But in each case they studied the authors found no significant difference between California and the other states. In short, California did not have more cougars than other states; it actually had a lower density than four other states. California had one of the lowest per capita rates of human conflicts. There was no difference in the average loss of livestock in California and the other 10 states. California deer densities were the second highest densities across the West.
The authors concluded that, after over 40 years of killing cougars for sport, western states have not achieved their desired outcomes. In fact, like more regional studies have (links below), the authors demonstrated that sport hunting has actually produced the opposite effect. For example, data from Oregon demonstrated that the more cougars they killed with sport hunting, the higher their estimated cougar population.  In Utah and Washington, the authors found higher kill rates of cougars by sportsmen resulted in higher human-cougar conflicts. Several states experienced significantly higher losses of livestock that correlated with higher levels of cougars killed. Likewise, in numerous states more cougars being killed were shown to correlate with lower, not higher, deer densities.
“Our analysis shows that management objectives used to justify sport killing of cougars are not supported by available data,” said Laundré.  “So they should not be used as a reason for continuing this practice. To do so undermines public confidence in wildlife management and trust in government institutions.”
The authors recommend these states reevaluate the use of sport hunting as a management tool and base their approach on sound science and public transparency. They suggest that in the absence of empirical support for management claims, states should refrain from justifying cougar hunting as anything other than providing recreational hunting opportunities.
“Mismanagement via sport hunting has not only killed thousands of cougars for no good reason, but it has actually increased the small risk that they pose to the public and to livestock,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy organization.  “Wildlife agencies have consistently ignored peer-reviewed field studies which show this. The new study published in PLOS ONE serves notice to state agencies that they are responsible for amplifying these risks and must change.  It would also be nice if they acknowledged that the majority of people don’t want cougars to be killed.”
#  #  #
 
Cougar Studies

Opinion: It’s Time to Bring Wildlife Policy Into the 21st Century

On issues like deer population control, state agencies are prioritizing hunters over public health and the environment.

TUCKED IN the far northeast corner of the United States, nestled beneath two Canadian provinces, lie the sweeping forests and coastline of Maine. The residents here have strong ties to the land, with many families having worked the same farms and woodlots for generations. So, as a wildlife ecologist and environmental communications researcher, I listen closely when they talk about their rising concern over ticks. Repeatedly, I hear that ticks weren’t a concern until the last few years. Now, everyone seems to know someone who has contracted Lyme disease, one of several tick-borne diseases rolling northward across the region as the climate warms.

Similar stories are playing out in other parts of the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. Some people are lucky and manage to receive treatment early, despite the confusing process for diagnosing the disease. Others are less fortunate and report battling a series of crippling symptoms for years.

There’s a relatively straightforward way to curtail the spread of Lyme disease. Research has shown that by appropriately managing the population of deer, the primary hosts of Lyme-carrying ticks, rates of Lyme disease in the northeastern U.S. could be reduced by as much as 80 percent. But due to an antiquated federal law, the state agencies tasked with managing wildlife populations have another, conflicting interest at heart: hunting. Not only does this law have the effect of prioritizing hunting concerns over ecological and public health concerns, but it has put the agencies themselves on the path to bankruptcy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

To be clear, the U.S.’s skyrocketing deer population is not solely to blame for the rise of tick-borne diseases. Other factors also play a role, including warmer winter temperatures and increasing relative humidity due to climate change. But the deer population is the primary culprit: The deer tick, responsible for transmitting the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, feeds primarily on the blood of deer during the adult stage of its life cycle, and several regional studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between deer population density and the prevalence of Lyme disease.

Colleagues of mine at the University of Maine recently showed that tick populations and the risk of Lyme disease can be cut substantially by maintaining the deer population below about 10 deer per square mile. When the population is below four deer per square mile, even the secondary effects of climate change become irrelevant to Lyme risk. Yet, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife continues to set deer population targets above these thresholds, at 10 to 15 deer per square mile in the northern part of the state and 15 to 20 deer per square mile in the southern part of the state. The reasons have little to do with wildlife conservation and everything to do with economics.

Like other state wildlife agencies in the U.S., the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was established with the original purpose of regulating hunting and fishing. And like most wildlife agencies, it is funded largely via these activities — through license sales, through an 11 percent tax on sporting arms, ammunition, and archery equipment, and through a 10 percent tax on handguns, as prescribed by the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act. The revenue is distributed to states based on their land area and their population of licensed hunters. Funding support for a state’s fish and wildlife agency is therefore closely tied to the number of licensed hunters in that state.

But those hunters constitute a slim demographic. Nationally, only about 4 percent of American adults hunt. Of those, roughly 97 percent are white and 90 percent are male. Due to their status as a primary source of funding for wildlife agencies, this small group exerts disproportionate influence over wildlife management planning. As a result, wildlife agencies have a strong incentive to maintain deer — a favored species for hunting — at numbers far larger than would naturally occur in a healthy ecosystem. Although the agencies often claim that their policy decisions are nevertheless based on science, research has shown that those claims do not always hold up to scrutiny.

The repercussions of this conflict of interest go beyond Lyme disease. Bloated deer populations come with a long list of concerns, including increased risks of vehicle collisions, higher rates of disease transmission among deer herds, and even decreases in songbird populations. Although the sight of a deer grazing in a backyard might be taken by many casual observers as a sign of a healthy ecosystem, wildlife ecologists recognize it as a disconcerting signal that the animals are becoming domesticated. By hunting deer’s predators to near extinction, humans have not only changed their numbers but also their behavior. We have disrupted what scientists refer to as the “ecology of fear.”

The Pittman-Robertson Act has often been used by the gun lobby as leverage to win policy debates and evade regulation. One example is the continued use of poisonous lead ammunition, which threatens the health of wildlife and can contaminate soil and drinking water. The ammunition is especially harmful to vultures, coyotes, and other scavengers — members of nature’s “clean-up crew” that help to limit the spread of diseases like rabies. Ecologists and public health advocates have pushed to eliminate the use and sale of lead ammunition, but their efforts have consistently been met with strong opposition from the gun lobby and hunting community. To win public support, pro-gun lobbyists have proclaimed that every sale of a lead bullet supports wildlife conservation efforts through the Pittman-Robertson Act, when in reality, every sale does direct harm to natural ecosystems and indirect harm to public health.

By hunting deer’s predators to near extinction, humans have not only changed their numbers but also their behavior.

The Pittman-Robertson Act isn’t merely outdated environmental policy; it is also fiscally unsustainable. A nationwide survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the number of hunters declined by more than 18 percent between 1991 and 2016. There are roughly half as many hunters today as there were 50 years ago. This number is expected to continue to dwindle, and as it does, so will revenue streams for state wildlife agencies. Already, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has been forced to address a roughly $4 million per year funding gap by reducing staffing levels, hampering their efforts at habitat conservation and invasive species control.

Increasingly, Americans are taking to the outdoors not to hunt but to enjoy other forms of recreation. More than a third of all Americans now participate in activities like bird watching, wildlife photography, or visiting parks for the purpose of observing animals. These recreationalists reported spending nearly $76 billion on related expenses — including binoculars, tents, and lodging — in 2016. Those numbers will come as little surprise to anyone who has noticed the crowds in our National Parks or the increased demand for hiking permits on trails like the Pacific Crest Trail.

This cultural shift in the way that we value the outdoors presents an opportunity to simultaneously shore up state wildlife agencies’ financial outlook and better align their interests with those of science and health. A tax on non-hunting outdoor gear could not only replace the revenue currently collected under the Pittman-Robertson Act but surpass it — and continue to grow. And, importantly, it would foster a more inclusive approach to wildlife conservation by removing the disproportionate influence of the hunting community.

Good governance requires accepting cultural shifts and continuously finding ways to update outdated policies to match a society’s changing needs. For the sake of our ecosystem and our public health, it’s time we abandon the Pittman-Robertson model and broaden our wildlife conservation priorities from regulating game species to protecting the full range of biodiversity.


Elyse DeFranco is a wildlife ecologist and environmental communications researcher. She is currently based in Maine.

South Dakota’s grisly predator bounty program has already claimed 15,000 animal lives this spring, and counting

May 16, 2019 0 Comments

In the last month, South Dakota residents have trapped and killed more than 15,000 raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes and badgers, cut off their tails, and submitted them to the state’s wildlife management agency for a $10-per-tail reward, all as part of South Dakota’s new Nest Predator Bounty Program.

The intended goal of this grisly exercise, introduced by Gov. Kristi Noem, is to increase the state’s pheasant population for hunters. To incentivize the killing, the taxpayer-funded agency has already given away more than 16,000 traps to residents and paid out $150,000 in bounties.

The program claims to promote awareness and education while training a new generation in conservation and wildlife management. But instead it is training residents, especially children, to kill needlessly. The state has issued traps to children as young as three years old, and the agency’s social media page features photos of grinning kids holding up the lifeless animals they helped trap.

Wildlife managers have long known such predator bounties to be ineffective. Mass killing of predators often causes surviving animals to reproduce at higher rates and bounce back in greater numbers. Also, when these species of predators are culled, others like crows, magpies, snakes, coyotes and feral dogs move in.

There is no scientific evidence that killing the animals the program targets will result in more pheasants. The survival and health of pheasant populations depends primarily on weather and suitable habitat. Despite this, Gov. Noem worked with Secretary Kelly Hepler of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks agency to force the program through regulatory approval.

There is also no clear support among a majority of the state’s residents for this program. In fact, according to the Argus Leader, only a dozen or so South Dakota residents submitted comments in support of it ahead of the public hearing, while nearly 100 residents opposed it.

Participants in the program are not required to complete any trapping education course; they don’t even have to obtain a trapping license. The wildlife agency gives no guidance on how to humanely kill trapped animals or deal with domestic pets captured in the traps. Trapped animals can die slowly from shock, dehydration, starvation or exposure. The creatures who do survive long enough for the trapper to return are often killed inhumanely, by drowning, chest compression, asphyxiation or strangulation.

Mass trapping in the spring is especially cruel to young animals who are orphaned when their mothers are killed. These newborns often die of starvation.

There’s absolutely nothing about this program that South Dakotans can feel good about: it’s expensive, gruesome and unproductive, and it causes untold suffering to animals. If you live in South Dakota, please call or email Governor Noem at 605.773.3212 or GovernorNoem@state.sd.us, and Secretary Hepler at 605.773.3718 or Kelly.Hepler@state.sd.us. Ask them, politely, to cease their cruel Nest Predator Bounty Program.

Great news out of Oregon!

From Project Coyote

Great news out of Oregon! Thanks to your help—as well as that of our colleagues with Predator Defense, Oregon Wild, Audubon Society of Portland, and others—SB 580, a bill to ban cyanide devices (also known as M-44s or cyanide bombs),was signed into law earlier this week by Governor Kate Brown. The legislation prohibits the use of deadly M-44s to kill coyotes, foxes and other wildlife in Oregon.

This victory in Oregon—following bans in California (1998/ballot measure) and Washington (2000/ballot measure)—sets a standard for the humane treatment of wildlife in the thirteen states that have yet to ban cyanide bombs. These cruel and senseless devices are still used for predator control in Nevada, Utah, Colorado (only on private land), Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia. (Idaho placed a temporary moratorium on M-44 use in 2017.)

We will continue pressing for a ban of poisons and other indiscriminate wildlife killing methods across the West, and we thank all of our supporters who spoke up for Oregon’s wildlife, people and pets—your voices made a difference!

For coexistence,

Katie Stennes
Project Coyote Programs & Communications Manager
P.S.: More good news! On Monday in California, the State Assembly passed AB 1788, which would ban deadly rodenticides, by a vote of 50 to 16—that bill now moves on to the Senate.