Volume 13, Issue 43 ~ October 27 - November 2, 2005
Burton on the Bay
By Bill Burton

To Kill or Not to Kill

Are hunters murderers or wildlife managers?

Unless we are deaf, dumb and blind, all of us are very conscious that there is something called the environment that may be in danger.
—Former Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton

It was several decades ago Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton made those remarks at a session of the Virginia Forestry Association. Yet methinks there are still among us many who are deaf, dumb and blind. Also in his remarks so long ago, Gov. Dalton added, “The environmentalists have got our attention. Now is the time to sit down and work out a reasonable and balanced approach to preserve our natural resources for generations to come. “The next generation will be just as dependent on our natural resources as this one — and there will be more members of that generation.” Well, that “next generation” is with us now, and more than a few of its members, and members of the older generations as well, obviously choose to ignore William Wordsworth (1780-1850), who penned, “Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” Mother Nature has much to teach us, but we can’t — or won’t — see and listen.

The Fur Flies

This came to mind recently following minor grocery store confrontations with three crank environmental extremists at a time when the hunters of snow geese and non-migratory Canada geese, along with hunters of black bears in Western Maryland, were preparing to go a’hunting. Their gripes targeted three things: a hunter bag limit of 15 snow geese a day; the “needless” killing of nuisance honkers that no longer fly north in summer; and hunters who “were about to kill “most of the black bears in western Allegany County and all of Garrett County.” Mostly, I just listened. There was no way we were going to agree, even to disagree. They wanted no killing. Period. I can understand that, but there comes times when squeezing a trigger can save a lot of killing farther down the road. That applies to all three subjects of this dialogue: black bears in Western Maryland; Canada geese that have become nuisances as they stay here and nest in the summer; and snow geese that come in the fall and head back to the Arctic in late winter. And, I might add, it also apples to imports such as the nutria and the aggressive mute swan, among other wild beings.
Conservationist Gerald Lyons said, “When man is aware of beauty and the worth of his resources, he will naturally work to keep what he has — and improve what is damaged.” For what it’s worth the way I see it, humane extremists aren’t interested in what is damaged, about to be damaged — or for that matter in appropriate wildlife management to improve what is damaged. It’s just Stop the killing. To hell with the future.

The Case of Bears

One of the women insisted there was no reason for the bruin hunt other than the desire of hunters to bag trophies for rugs and den mounts. She must have been psychic. It turned out that eight-year-old Sierra Stiles of Garrett County, who on opening day of the season harvested a 211-pound male bear, said she was going to have it made into a rug. Incidentally, only 13 bears were taken on the opening day. No more than 55 can be taken in the season under regulations set by Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ professional wildlife managers and scientists, who seek to keep the bear population within reasonable numbers for the welfare of bears themselves. Bears, like snow geese and nuisance geese, don’t appreciate that there is only so much food and habitat available. When their needs for habitat, food and space exceed what’s available, problems greater than hunting come into play.
Also ignored were other factors such as predation (which could involve family pets as well as livestock), nuisances and road kills, both of the wildlife and sometimes occupants of motor vehicles trying to avoid them. All of those problems can and do occur when wildlife populations get out of hand. No, in the eyes of wildlife managers this bear hunt is not just a recreational slaughter by hunters seeking rugs or mounts.

Geese in the Docket

It was basically the same with the other two complainants: No shooting, no killing; let nature take its course. What they ignore is that starvation (though it’s rare when an otherwise healthy bear starves), disease and other woes are less merciful than the bullet of a hunter. In wildlife management it’s the same for non-migratory Canada geese, mute swans, deer, nutria and such. It’s a matter of maintaining a viable population in the available habitat. Consider the snow goose, with its voracious appetite, competing with other waterfowl for habitat and food. Its grazing and grubbing not only permanently remove vegetation but also change soil salinity, nitrogen dynamics and moisture levels. Much damage is already evident at such important wildlife areas as Blackwater and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuges, to name a few along the Atlantic Coast. Keep in mind a deteriorating marsh impacts the Chesapeake. Culling goose numbers alone won’t save the Bay, but every little bit helps, and the vast marshes being destroyed in Dorchester represent more than a little bit. Waterfowl managers claim it is imperative to increase snow goose mortality by two to three times to curtail populations and save crops and marshlands. The 15-bird bag limit doesn’t help much. These birds are exceptionally difficult to harvest, so much so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering allowing the use of unplugged guns, electronic calls, extended shooting hours, baiting and such to help reduce populations that have gotten out of hand in much of our flyway. Resident Canada honkers also compete with the migratory fowl for food and habitat. They despoil smaller ponds, pollute land and otherwise do what their nickname, nuisance, implies. Their populations are increasing at an astonishing rate.

My Verdict

Meanwhile, we’re in a deadlock: Do-gooders who ignore long term consequences to stop the killing now versus wildlife managers who look to the future to visualize what things will be like unless we give nature a hand in curing its ills. After all, it is the humans on this earth, not the hunters, who have put us in the pickle we’re in. We can’t remain deaf, dumb and blind. Enough said.

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