I'm sure many of our readers have been waiting for something like this. I know coming from NY I was use to hunting Coyotes at night but was not allowed to do the same in North Carolina. However, that is about to change this year. North Carolina has decided to allow hunting of Feral Swine and Coyotes at night on private land only. This is a step in the right direction and gives many of us additional opportunities to hunt these animals. The news story can be found here.
Nature can be cruel and it is indeed a dog-eat-dog world out in the wilds. Unfortunately for Barred Owls now, the function known as survival of the fittest is about to not be left up to their species but instead to the US Government. In the hunting regulated society we have grown up in (which is a good thing considering how things used to be) it has been drilled into our heads that birds of prey are not to be messed with, toting jail time and big fines if you happen to shoot one. Leave it to government officials to take it upon themselves to do away with this stipulation when it comes to trying to bring back the Spotted Owl.
Their proposal as touched on here in Outdoor Life has a component in it to selectively harvest Barred Owls because of the impact they have on Spotted Owls. I know it may seem hypocritical to be upset about the above proposal while yelling at the top of my lungs that hunters need to be utilized as a natural predator in the control of wildlife populations as well as pat ourselves on the back for the role we play in bringing back populations from the brink with sound wildlife management and the monies from us used to support such management plans. And I know that controlling predator populations is also needed in order to insure a proper balance in the predator-prey ratio. The difference in this, in my opinion, is that we are talking about two predators who directly compete for food and resources, using the same, solitary hunting style while utilizing the same habitat. Is hunting one to save the other needed in this situation or would helping to identify and protect as much suitable habitat be the bigger help? I tend to lean towards the latter as you'll always have that competition between species even with a decrease in the larger population. And whose to say that selective hunting of the Barred Owl doesn't put us right back in this situation years down the road, with the Spotted Owl population needing to be reduced to help the Barred Owl.
This is a flawed policy proposal in my opinion as we should control what we directly can, i.e. habitat conservation, to save the Spotted Owl instead of relying on the removal of another native, competing species. Agree? Disagree? Have another idea on helping the Spotted Owl regain population? Let it all come out by leaving a comment!
The Messy Reality of Wolf reintroduction
Part three of our series brings us to the 1990's. Allow me to set the stage. Boys II Men were topping the charts, Jim Kelly was still the Bill's quarterback and a passing fad called "the Internet" was beginning to sweep the country.
Meanwhile, it had been six decades since anyone in the lower 48 had seen a wolf outside of the zoo. Several generations of sportsmen grew up without ever seeing a game population that had been subject to natural predation. In the absence of apex predators, game herds grew significantly larger than they had ever been before human intervention, though hunting pressure kept them from reaching Kaibab-esque ecological meltdown levels. The sportsmen from three generations all came to expect these inflated elk and deer populations, as though they were "normal". Similarly, several generations of Western ranchers became acclimated to an environment where their livestock faced essentially no threat from predators and came to expect that condition as though it were the norm.
When the movement we discussed in part 2 succeeded, those six long, wolf free decades came to a comparatively rapid halt. The wolves took hold quickly in their native habitat and the reintroduction program was a resounding success. As anyone who thought things through could have predicted, ranchers saw a noticeable rise in predation rates on their livestock. Sportsmen also noticed that big game herds were down (though it's unclear how much of the later can actually be attributed to wolves).
Now here's where things start to get sticky. You know how sticky a New York politician's hands get when they're inside someone else's pocket?...Well this isn't quite that sticky...but it's close. It's understandable that those sportsmen and ranchers would be upset. They'd had several generations of comparatively easy, wolf-free living and they saw no immediate problem that needed to be solved by reintroducing wolves.
Unfortunately, many of our brothers to the West fell back into that 19th century mindset that I discussed in the first post. Peruse the comment section of any article on this topic and you will see a legion of posters calling the wolves an "invasive species" and saying that we need to kill as many of them as possible to "protect" the deer and elk herds. This is where I get the title for this series of articles. Sadly, the Internet battle cry of those opposed to wolves became the "three S's", standing for "Shoot, Shovel, and Shut up". In other words, encouraging people to illegally poach wolves and then bury the bodies and not tell anyone in order to avoid law enforcement. I cannot think of a worse solution to the problem.
Environmental groups like the "Sierra Club" and the "Defenders of Wildlife" are already opposed to hunting in general, as well as most of the other types of outdoor recreation that we enjoy. These well-funded organizations were likely already predisposed to oppose any wolf hunting. However, these vocal calls for poaching, along with their perception of the wolf as a symbol of nature in general and the success of the environmental movement in particular, solidified that position.
By the 2000's, the wolf population had recovered that it could no longer be considered "endangered" in the biological sense of the word. This point is generally agreed upon by both the state and federal governments as well as the various advocacy groups involved. So, the feds removed the wolves from the endangered species list and they were promptly sued by environmental groups who were looking to stop the wolf hunting that would begin as soon as the wolves were de-listed. The feds lost in the courtroom and the judge issued a court order mandating that the wolves be re-listed. The fish and game agencies set about addressing the judge's concerns and the cycle begins again. Our tax dollars have been dancing this cyclical dance for the better part of a decade now.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful arguments that these groups have had in court is this "19th century mindset" that I have been talking about. For instance, in one of the early court cycles the judge ordered the wolves be re-listed because the state game agencies did not have management plans in place for the wolves in order to ensure they do not become endangered again in the future. In response, Wyoming passed a "management plan" (big time air quotes) wherein any wolf could be shot on sight by anyone at anytime in any place. No bag limits whatsoever... as you can imagine, we sportsmen were laughed out of court on the next go-round.
What needs to happen is simple. First, we need to get widespread acceptance amongst the sportsmen community that the wolves are here to stay, and that this doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Second, we need to work with the state fish and game agencies to set up wolf management plans that handle the animals more like a valuable game species than like rapidly reproducing "varmint" species. This will remove the last remaining cogent argument against wolf de-listing, and hopefully the courts will then allow the process to go forward.
The benefits of de-listing will be numerous. Firstly, ranchers will be able to cull "problem" animals who target livestock and domestic pets (currently, wolves can only be shot if they are in the act of attacking a human). Secondly, each state will be free to choose a balance between their wolf and big game population that best suits their needs, so long as that balance maintains a sustainable (read: non-endangered) wolf population. This is obviously preferable to game management decisions being mandated from Washington DC, a thousand miles away. Finally, population estimates say that there are only a few thousand wolves spread across the American Rockies. This will mean that there will only relatively limited number of tags issued in any given state. Elusive game animal, beautiful trophy furs, opportunity to bolster the elk herd, hard-to-get lottery-drawn tags...sounds like a recipe for a wildly popular hunting season to me. And that is really the best news of all for the wolves, because no game species has ever gone extinct in modern times. There is no stronger constituency that a wildlife species can have than a community of hunters eagerly awaiting the next hunting season. Just ask the wild turkeys, migratory waterfowl, and ringneck pheasants.
Sometimes the great ideas that we have just need something to bring them to the forefront. The Inside Out team will be putting our talents to work and sharing our knowledge and love of the outdoors with anyone who wants to listen.
Curran's Outdoor Adventures
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Hunt Like Your Hungry
inFOCUS (Campbell Cameras)
inMotion (Heartland Bowhunter)
Make It Happen Outdoors
Taking a Walk on the Wild Side
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The Will to Hunt
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