This is an opinion piece written by Bart George, a wildlife biologist and hunter in Northeast Washington. For another perspective, read “The Trophy Hunting That Leads Away from would-be hunters” by Professor and author Paul Lindholt.
When it comes to wildlife management and hunting, I cannot go into poetic poetry, quote Shakespeare, or ponder philosophical conundrums while drawing abstract conclusions that fit my predetermined bias. No, as a professional scientist, I am required to comment on my opinions and to rely on hard data, historical knowledge, and field observations to guide my own course of action and management decisions.
The science of wildlife management is informed by the research and data that has been generated over the past several decades. Population dynamics, birth and death rates, carrying capacity and habitat composition at the ecosystem level are just a few of the variables we consider when managing predator and prey species, as well as their relationship to each other and humans. Wildlife managers don’t gamble with results. We take a very cautious approach. On top of that, we have the equivalent of 100 years of data to draw from. In short, we know what works and what doesn’t. We continue to improve our understanding of complex biological relationships and adjust the management scheme as new technology increases our ability to collect more new data.
The denial of modern wildlife management is a denial of science and history in favor of rhetoric and emotion.
Fortunately, most sane Washingtonians understand this, even if they don’t hunt in person. While it is perfectly acceptable for a philosopher to cherry-pick data to reinforce hypothetical reflections, the scientist must look at the context of the data holistically. For example, while a survey commissioned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found a significant decrease in approval of hunting (which was a staggering 88% in 2014), the full context of that paper found that an overwhelming 75% of Washington’s population approve of hunting. legal regulator (with 44% strongly agreeing) in 2022. The survey found that only 10% refused. Additional context reveals that a small minority of the naysayer population feels this way because they are against killing animals for any reason.
Unfortunately for science, passion usually wins. People today believe what they want to believe, and unfortunately, confirmation bias tends to win the day.
We are seeing this very model unfold at the highest levels in Washington. Professional biologists from WDFW have provided massive data supporting only an allowed spring bear hunting that would remove 160 bears (out of a total population of nearly 30,000) from designated areas to avoid property damage and conflict with humans. However, these trained wildlife biologists with years of study and decades of cumulative experience were Overruled by political appointees with an ideological or financial conflict of interest.
This is a loss for knowledge. This is a loss for wildlife.
I understand that it is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around the fact that killing wildlife saves wildlife. It’s a logical challenge and as a simple wildlife biologist, I’m not sure I can explain it…but I will try.
North American model of conservation It stems from our historical recognition of what not to do. We know where we’ve gone wrong in the past: the unsustainable harvest of natural resources and wildlife during the Westward Expansion and the Industrial Revolution.
From that, we’ve created a sustainable model that produces funding for wildlife management, habitat conservation, biological studies, law enforcement and more. Over the past century, this model has reversed the unsustainable practices of our ancestors while producing abundant collections of wildlife for future generations.
In fact, Most people today don’t remember a time when there was a shortage of wildlife. But not so long ago our wild life was on hold. If it weren’t for people like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, many of America’s wildlife would be extinct.
Roosevelt and Grenell founded the Boone and Crockett Club, in recognition of our unsustainable harvest of wildlife. The organization, made up of hunters, initiated legislation for our National Park System and the first science-based wildlife management laws, including the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as conservation-based funding that created the Federal Duck Stamp Act and the Wildlife Restoration Act.
This model has only been improved over the past century, and those historic legislative breakthroughs are still in use today and fund the scientific wildlife management model in the United States.
And while the numbers of fishermen are declining across the country (Although, contrary to some claims, numbers have gone up during the pandemic), athletes have contributed $1.5 billion to protection (nearly $1 billion from fishing), which equates to more than $11 million to keep Washington state from hunting taxes. Just. In addition to these indirect taxes, purchases of fishing-related equipment contributed $343 million to Washington’s GDP and supported 4,700 jobs.
I fully agree with Mr. Lindholt’s assessment “For the sake of the environment, we need to keep ethical fishermen on board.”
The word “cup” is perhaps one of the greatest misnomers related to hunting. This word has been hijacked by the 10% of the population who are philosophically opposed to hunting in order to strengthen their ideological beliefs. In fact, “booty hunting” is responsible for preserving wildlife globally.
Roosevelt and Grenell, who confessed to the unrestrained killing of wildlife, When creating the Boone and Crockett Club, which embraced the abandonment of the killing of females and young men of the species they pursued. To incentivize hunters to move these specimens, which would be left to breed and recover depleted populations of deer, turkey, elk, bear, cougar, and more, they created a book of records acknowledging the most mature examples taken each year. It was the “trophy” animals that were killed while the younger ones were left to ensure the sustainability of a species.
Genetically speaking, a mature animal has served its biological purpose. It has passed on its DNA for many breeding seasons, thus ensuring the survival of the species.
As a hunter, going after an older animal means I pass on opportunities to “legal” animals that don’t meet my personal standards for size or maturity and, as a result, may not kill any animals during the season. By choosing to be selective and go after a personal ‘trophy’, fewer animals are killed.
The term “cup” often indicates that the animal is not eaten. this is not true. Chalice, deer, cougars and elk are eaten here while elephants, lions, etc. are eaten outside. In fact, there are “random waste” laws that require hunters to use all edible parts of game animals and laws that protect against unreasonable waste of useful parts of harvested wildlife.
The imprecise use of the word “cup” goes hand in hand with other loaded words, such as “sport” and “game.” Again, context matters. Historically, the word “sport hunting” has been used to distinguish hunters who obey newly developed restrictions guiding hunting seasons, methods, bag restrictions, and selective harvesting of only mature males from last year’s market hunters who provided meat, feathers, and hides in an unsustainable and unregulated manner to city dwellers For food and fashion. As “sports” hunters, we strive to use the whole animal—meat, hides, bones, horns, and feathers—on our dinner plate, and we hope it will be on display for decades.
As a hound handler who contracts with the state of Washington, I can tell you this: When cougars are killed by the call of a human-wildlife conflict, that animal is lost. They are killed and summarily dumped in a landfill, their meat, skin and skull rotting – and at a cost to taxpayers.
A mountain on display may seem a barbaric “souvenir” to some, but everyone should agree that using every part of a killed animal is more respectful and ethical than the alternative. Today’s “sport hunters” do just that; When agencies kill animals, they are lost. I know, I’ve been involved in dozens of agency removals and can recognize the shameful waste of an animal being discarded as litter.
I can’t quote 400-year-old English sonnets, but I can promise one thing when it comes to wildlife management and using emotional arguments rather than science: Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Bart George is a professional wildlife biologist in Northeast Washington who specializes in studying cougars and avoiding human-wildlife conflict.