Time to rethink wildlife management?

Time to rethink wildlife management?

Some of this country’s greatest conservationists came from the hunting world.  Many hunting (and fishing) organizations have been leaders in protecting the habitat and environments wildlife need to survive. But is it really conservation when you are merely protecting one or two species merely so that you have prey to hunt come spring? Should the goal be to protect and preserve reasonable, sustainable populations of wildlife  (game and non-game) or should it be to build the largest herds of game animals possible to aid the hunting community come fall? This is not an anti-hunting attack: My own love of the outdoors grew in part from my enjoyment of hunting and fishing as a boy.  No, I pose the question because it needs to be asked. After decades of focus on exterminating natural predators, and promoting the growth of “game” populations, we are seeing wild spikes in numbers throughout the west. Here in Washington, several counties on the east side of the state have so many mule deer that the animals pose significant problems in a number of areas. Farmers are complaining about crop damage. Motorists are reporting record number of collisions with deer, and residents of cities and towns are finding the animals raiding their flower and vegetable gardens for the first time in memory. Why is this happening? In part it’s a result of a public relations backlash against a state initiative banning the use of hounds to hunt cougars. That ban prompted the state Fish and Wildlife Department to issue cougar hunting licenses at fire sale prices and to extend hunting season on cougars to cover most of the year. So more cougars are being killed today than at any time in the state’s history. As these natural predators are decimated, the deer populations explode. A related event in occurring with elk herds in some parts of Washington. In the Mount St. Helens area, elk herds are growing because of the drop in predator numbers, and because some well-meaning, but misguided individuals are feeding the herds each winter. Rather than have to forage for winter feed, which forces the herds to break up into smaller units, the “farm” feeding programs encourage large gatherings. But the elk don’t get all the food they need day-to-day from the ‘feeders’ so they graze the local area between feedings. When these massive herds deplete the local food sources, they move into non-traditional feeding ranges, as cities and towns. From Longview to Packwood, city residents have complained about damage done to yards, gardens and family pets by hungry herds of elk. Even worse for the elk, these large, closely packed herds encourage the spread of disease among individual animals, and even to domestic herds in the same area. The elk population around Mount St. Helens is now suffering from a growing problem of hoof rot.  Twisted, deformed hooves are being found in growing numbers on elk of the area, and many of the big animals have died as a result of the deformations that eventually prevent the elk from even standing, let alone walking.  Biologists are stepping up research into the problem, but by all indications, the problem is growing. Trying to manage wildlife populations is never easy, but as we move deeper into the 21st century, it is time we rethink our management goals and objectives. We need to focus less on building big herds of deer and elk to shoot. Rather, we should concentrate on creating stable populations of ALL species so wildlife watchers, photographers and hunters can enjoy them all throughout the year.
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