Friday, April 15, 2016

Of Bear Baiting and Buffalo Jumps


By Bob Ferris

Hunting Buffalo by Alfred Jacob Miller
Prehistoric hunters in North America used to stampede bison towards cliffs that they would normally be aware enough to avoid if it were not for the dust obliterating their vision and the mind numbing problems associated with herd mentality.  These areas of mass killing were called “buffalo jumps” and I think of the peril they represent as I look at the letter recently sent by an number of groups to Dan Ashe Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) urging Mr. Ashe to accede to the idea that the State of Alaska should negotiate with the USFWS over proper approaches to predator control on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska.  This is in response to the USFWS clarifying that they will not use certain predator control actions on federal refuges in Alaska because of the USFWS’s biodiversity mandate (see here for details of Federal Register notice).

Below are the practices that are proposed for prohibition on federal refuges in Alaska by the USFWS:
- Taking black or brown bear cubs or sows with cubs (exception allowed for resident hunters to take black bear cubs or sows with cubs under customary and traditional use activities at a den site October 15-April 30 in specific game management units in accordance with State law);
- Taking brown bears over bait;
- Taking of bears using traps or snares;
- Taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season (May 1-August 9); and
- Taking bears from an aircraft or on the same day as air travel has occurred (i.e., land and shoot). 
That letter was signed by the following groups:

Archery Trade Association - Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies - Boone and Crockett Club -
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation - Conservation Force - Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports - Delta Waterfowl - Dallas Safari Club - Ducks Unlimited - Houston Safari Club - Master of Foxhounds Association - Mule Deer Foundation - National Rifle Association - National Wild Turkey Federation - National Shooting Sports Foundation - North American Grouse Partnership - Orion the Hunter’s Institute - Pheasants Forever - Pope and Young Club - Quality Deer Management Association - Quail Forever - Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation - Ruffed Grouse Society - Safari Club International - Shikar Safari Club - Sportsmen’s Alliance - Texas Wildlife Association -
Tread Lightly - Whitetails Unlimited - Wildlife Forever - Wildlife Management Institute - Wildlife Mississippi - Wild Sheep Foundation

Setting aside the obvious insensitivity of these groups in challenging federal authority to manage refuges anywhere at this point in the wake of the Malheur incident, there are a number of other problems with this proposed action.  First, there is simply the unconstitutional idea of any state having the ability to alter federal policies on federal lands.  This should raise red flags with aware hunters and anglers given the vulnerability of state agencies ruled by commissions to influence from energy, mining, livestock and timber interests (1,2,3).  Moreover, the sensitivity to this should be extremely high at this point as we look at these same interests trying very hard to create a fake “grassroots” movement in the West to wrest these land from federal ownership or authority (1,2).  And this has that very smell to it.

Secondarily, the State of Alaska is a particularly bad choice for this effort as it is a state that has been highly criticized for its approaches to predator management in general (1,2,3,4).  And its “one voice” policy for agencies has severely dampened open and honest scientific debate on predators and other resource issues (1,2,3).  And those urging this action should know that.

Certainly when we look at this collection of groups we see entities with strong ties to state agencies such as the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies or the Wildlife Management Institute.  We also see groups that have had long histories of irrational and indefensible predator hatred such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (1,2) and the Mule Deer Foundation.  We see too industry groups and those representing industry interests directly such as National Shooting Sports Foundation or indirectly like Tread Lightly.  And we see groups like the various Safari Clubs and the NRA whose policies frequently conflict with those of hunters and anglers as well as being too closely allied with oil and gas interests for many people’s comfort (1,2,3).

I will also say when you look at this list there is a whole lot of redundancy.  There are many Safari Club groups mentioned as well as Conservation Force which is heavily associated with Safari Club. Then there are the coalitions such as Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports and the Sportsmen’s Alliance which are basically these groups as well.

And on the edge of paranoia I will say that many of these groups—not just the NRA or Safari Club—receive funding from or are led by folks with ties to oil, timber or mining interests with their eyes on federal public lands.  Is it just a set of coincidences that the Texas Wildlife Association is led by an employee of an oil company, that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has close ties with Lucas Oil, or that Consol Energy is on the Ruffed Grouse Society’s list of seven corporate sponsors?   Moreover, why are there so many state or region-based groups involved in this Alaska-only issue if some other larger policy initiative were not in play?

No one who has been watching this or the “hook and bullet” crowd’s struggle with climate change is too surprised by the above or that the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (1,2) representing a body far too filled with Tea Party players would support this poorly considered proposal or anything similar.  But there are a couple of surprises on the list and that is where the aforementioned dust cloud and herd mentality likely come into play. Groups like Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Orion: the Hunter’s Institute should really not be part of this and I am hoping that it is only dust and herd issues that led to their joining rather than bad decision-making or a coming trend.

All groups who signed this ill-advised letter should receive (and deserve) criticism and at the same time the USFWS should receive support for trying to maintain some semblance of fair-chase principles and scientifically defensible actions under very difficult conditions (instructions for comment here).  I will also say that these are groups that should not be supported financially if you are someone who believes in fair-chase, the value of public lands and understands the peril we face from climate change and other forms of pollution (I have provided a list of groups in this arena that I respect before here, thought I might have to re-think Ducks Unlimited).  Let all of them know how you feel!

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