Hunting as a management tool
What is management?
Management is defined as being in charge of something and responsible for its smooth running. The management of wildlife is very challenging because nature is not an exact science. There are many variables to consider and many conflicting human opinions that influence management decisions. Some people believe in total protection of wildlife and letting nature take its course. Experience has shown this is not always a wise plan.
In Hollywood’s make-believe world where all the animals are friends and talk to each other and the only bad guy is human, we are led to believe that there is no suffering in nature.
This is far from the truth. Rabbits don’t talk to skunks and wild bears never make friends with deer.
The world is bound by natural laws and one of those laws is that habitat can only support a limited number of animals. When wildlife populations grow beyond the carrying capacity of their environment, their numbers must be reduced.
Nature's population control methods are often harsh, unforgiving and brutal.
Overcrowding contributes to disease and parasites like this tick
Population control by nature can be painful and cruel. If there is not enough food to go around, animals will starve to death. Over crowding results in the easy spread of disease and parasites. In some natural way, the population will be reduced to the number the range will support. Overpopulation often decimates the available habitat to the point it takes decades to recover.
Predators are another way nature controls populations. Some natural predators include bears, cougars, wolves, and humans. Predation is cruel because it requires an animal to die to feed another. Some predators are more humane in the way they kill than others.
For example, wolves will often chase their victim for miles, biting and running the animal until it can no longer escape or defend itself. At this point the wolf pack will move in and often begin to eat before the animal is dead.
One of the definitions of the word humane is “inflicting as little pain as possible.” That means humans hunters are among the most humane of all the predators.
Some people believe that man is the only predator that kills for sport. Simple observation proves this is not true. Wolves, coyotes, cougars, bears and foxes often kill more than they can eat.
Even the cuddly domestic house cat will kill mice and birds when they are well fed and have a bowl of cat food waiting for them on the back porch.
Activity: Big Game Manager
What you will need: A bag of dry beans and a five ounce cup (or similar small container)
- Count out 30 beans. These will represent deer in your herd. Pour them into the cup. The cup represents the carrying capacity of your ecosystem or how many deer can live in your habitat.
- Did all of your deer fit in the ecosystem?
Step 1- Each year some of your deer will be killed by wild predators. We’ll assume that ten percent will die this way. For every ten deer, remove one from the herd.
Step 2- Each year new fawns will be born. We’ll assume that half the deer in your herd are male (bucks) and half are female (does). Each doe will have two fawns. Add one deer for every surviving deer in your herd.
- You should now have 54 deer in your herd. Pour them into the cup. Do they all fit?
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have more deer than the habitat will hold. The beans that spill over the top of your cup represent the deer that would die from disease or starvation. The bigger your herd gets, the more deer there will be that die this way. These deer are surplus and wildlife managers use hunting to remove them from the herd. This makes the rest of the herd healthier and provides money from license sales to help manage the ecosystem, benefiting all the animals that live there.
- Experiment with hunting in your ecosystem. How many deer can be removed by hunters each year while still maintaining your herd near the carrying capacity of your ecosystem?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year that result in $1 billion in vehicle damage, about 150 human fatalities, and over 10,000 personal injuries. Slow down, the life you save could be yours.
In the state of Utah it has been determined that drivers may kill as many or more deer every year than hunters.
Dollars and sense
We’ve seen that hunting makes sense as an important tool in keeping wildlife populations under control. Another benefit of hunting is the money it creates to support management efforts.
In 1937 a program called the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act was requested by hunters. It provides federal aid to states for the management and restoration of wildlife. The money comes from a tax on sporting arms and ammunition. It is used to support wildlife projects, including buying and improving wildlife habitat.
Each year about $200 million dollars are generated by this tax. In addition, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation in 2006 showed that 87.5 million Americans spent more than $122 million on wildlife related recreation. According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “About 90 percent of the funding used to manage Utah's wildlife comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, and other funds associated with wildlife management.”
Hunters want wildlife populations to stay healthy and have formed groups such as Ducks Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The National Wild Turkey Federation, and many more to accomplish this goal. These organizations are dedicated to improving wildlife habitat. This benefits all wildlife and all people who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors.
Federal Duck Stamp Program
Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as “Duck Stamps,” originated in 1934. Hunters that pursue migratory waterfowl must purchase one of these stamps each year they hunt ducks, geese or any other waterfowl.
The duck stamp program has had a tremendous impact on wetlands conservation efforts. These funds not only benefit ducks and geese, but millions of other species that make wetlands their home.
Since 1934, the sale of Federal Duck Stamps has generated more than $750 million. This money has been used to help purchase or lease over 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one-third of the Nation's endangered and threatened species, such as the bald eagle, find food or shelter in wildlife refuges that have been created with money raised from the sale of duck stamps.
Although most of the money for wildlife conservation efforts comes from hunters through the sale of licenses, permits, taxes on equipment and other items, hunters are not the only people who enjoy the results of these efforts.
People of all ages and backgrounds visit refuges to enjoy the outdoors. In fact, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on the northeast arm of the Great Salt Lake, has earned a reputation for being one of the premier bird watching sites in the nation.
It just makes sense that people that enjoy hunting want to preserve the animals they pursue. A reduction in the numbers of wildlife also reduces the hunting opportunities available.
In fact, in 2011 Utah deer hunters were instrumental in changing the way deer herds are managed in the state, even though the changes will reduce the number of available deer permits and increase the cost of those permits.
Hunters who respect the wildlife and environment, obey hunting regulations, and honor bag limits are among the most conservation minded people in the world.
Because hunting involves the killing of animals, it is often viewed as barbaric. People who don’t participate in or understand hunting often base their opinion of hunters on the way they are portrayed in the media.
Hollywood leads us to believe that animals all live in complete harmony, that predators will make friends with prey animals and help them defeat the wicked humans. Hunters are usually portrayed as slobs that have no other desire than to kill everything that moves.
The news media usually focuses on the few hunters who actually fit the Hollywood stereotype. The millions of law abiding and contributing hunters don’t seem to get any attention.
Most hunters are required to complete a hunter education class before they can purchase a permit. These classes teach safety, ecology, and ethics. Trained hunters who participate in controlled, regulated hunting actually benefit wildlife and the environment, because hunting is selective. Hunting seasons and bag limits are designed to have hunters harvest only excess animals that would otherwise become overpopulated, leaving the remaining animals with more food and shelter available to them.
The bighorn rams shown above have spent so much time in an area that has been reseeded with the help of sportsmen dollars that the highway department put up a sign warning motorists to watch out for them.
Because hunters have a desire to increase their hunting opportunities, they often support efforts to reestablish wildlife populations. Many of the wildlife species that all people can enjoy would not even be available for viewing without the funding provided by hunting that has been used to improve habitat and transplant wildlife.
In the state of Utah, seven of the nine big game species have greatly benefited from such efforts. The same is true for other states as well.
These are some of the animals that have benefited by transplanting funded by hunters. Bison were introduced to an area north of Lake Powell and have grown to a healthy herd that lives on the Henry Mountains. In 2010, 25 bison from this herd were transplanted to the Book Cliffs. Since 1966 about 1600 big horn sheep have been moved into and around Utah. Mountain goats were introduced in 1967 and have now been established in several high mountain locations across the state. The Parker Mountain pronghorn herd has produced nearly 5000 animals that have been transplanted.
A prime example of the well intentioned but flawed concept that total protection is the best form of wildlife management is the early attempts to preserve the mule deer herd on the Kaibab Plateau.
Located in northern Arizona, this area was ideal for an experiment in resource management. The deer herd here is isolated by the Grand Canyon on the south and east. This, in addition to large tracts of harsh desert on the north and west, kept the deer on the plateau isolated.
In 1893, when the area was set aside as the Grand Canyon National Forest Reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt, the area had been heavily overgrazed.
The deer herd in the area was in bad shape and it seemed that the first logical step in restoring deer numbers was to eliminate predation. Deer hunting was prohibited and a campaign was launched to eliminate the natural predators of the area.
At first the program appeared to be a huge success. Deer numbers increased every year and in less than ten years the herd had doubled in size. Two years later it had doubled again.
By 1918 there were an estimated 15,000 deer on the Kaibab Plateau. That number increased to as many as 100,000 deer in 1923. George Shiras, one of the leading experts in America, inspected the range and reported that “from 30,000 to 40,000 deer are on the verge of starvation. He described the range conditions as ‘deplorable.”
The Kaibab deer herd had become a starving, parasite ridden group of animals. The plant life had been so over grazed that some predicted it would never recover. Each year hundreds, if not thousands, of deer starved to death.
Experts tried catching and herding the deer in an effort to move many of them out of the area. These efforts failed miserably. Finally, hunting was reinstated, but it was almost too late to save the Kaibab deer herd.
By 1931 starvation, disease and malnutrition had reduced the herd to 20,000 unhealthy animals. Fortunately, nature is as resilient as it is cruel and the wise management, which includes controlled hunting, has restored the area to its original condition of healthy range that supports a stable deer population.