The Myth of Wildlife Overpopulation

At a workshop at last month’s Animal Rights 2014 Conference, In Defense of Animals (IDA) described their efforts to reduce the deer population. Joining in this effort is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Statistics on wildlife regarded as “game species” generally come from data state game departments collect from hunters. They have a vested interest in pushing up the numbers to increase hunting opportunities. But even if we take their dubious figures as fact, HSUS cites the estimate of 30 million deer as “nearly the number when Europeans first arrived in North America.” An organization that has high regard for wildlife should welcome a wild species return to the numbers existing in preindustrial times. IDA and HSUS have focused instead on spaying and neutering wildlife populations. HSUS describes itself as “a leader in the emerging field of immunocontraception,” which it supports as a way “to control deer and wild horse populations across the United States and elephant populations in South Africa.”

The IDA-HSUS wildlife control plan is based on the work of Allen Rutberg, who has served as a senior scientist with HSUS. Along with IDA and HSUS, Rutberg supports contraception as an alternative to hunting, but he he also criticizes the whole idea that humans need to reduce wildlife populations. In his article Birth Control is Not for Everyone (a response), he wrote: “even using the crude first generation of immunocontraceptive vaccines, we have managed modest reductions in populations of suburban deer and barrier island horses. So you don’t necessarily need to kill animals to reduce wildlife populations (and their impacts). On a deeper level, though, focusing our frustration and enmity on ‘nuisance wildlife’ evades our own responsibility for creating these messes to begin with.”

Destruction of habitat is a threat to all wild animals, not just officially endangered species. Exotic domesticated species, including humans, cats, dogs, and cattle, have been overpopulating North America for centuries. To save the planet for wild species, we need to stop breeding domesticates.

Rebellion in Otero County

As the long-term drought continues, there will be more potential for confrontation between public lands ranchers and government officials charged with protecting forests, grasslands and wildlife. The failure of the federal government to enforce the law in Nevada sets a dangerous precedent for New Mexico. Catron County ranchers have long ignored wildlife laws. Now Otero County ranchers seem to be on the verge of actively resisting enforcement of grazing regulations.

The Otero County Cattle Growers Association and their parent organization New Mexico Cattle Growers Association are organizing a rally May 31 in the name of Like Cliven Bundy in Nevada, they claim a right to use public land without the need to follow government regulations.

As a member of the American Lands Council, Otero County claims to speak for “ranchers, loggers, miners, hunters, trappers, fishermen, and energy producers across the West.” Their new sagebrush rebellion aims to return to the states rights guaranteed by the Constitution as it existed before the Civil War, when, according to their hero Cliven Bundy, slaves lived a good life.

Ode to Judi Bari

In 2003 the city of Oakland, CA designated May 24th as “Judi Bari Day”. This honor was in recognition of her outstanding social justice and environmental work. Even though she was car bombed by an unknown assailant in 1990 while organizing “Redwood Summer” with fellow activist Darryl Cherney, Judi continued her important work. I had an opportunity to meet her the next year in 1991 during a follow-up campaign to save the redwoods called “Ecotopia Summer”. I told her how much I admired her courage  keeping alive the movement to save the last of the silent sentinels that reached to the sky. Her reply, which I’ll never forget was, “I’m scared everyday”. Judi died in 1997 of breast cancer, and I then wrote this poem to her memory. We must all continue to do the important work of fighting for our Mother Earth until our dying day no matter the cost. Judi did. Viva Judi Bari!


She could see the forests through the trees, bring corporate sleaze to their knees.

Fiddle a tune and make you dance, sending a message it’s the forest’s last chance.

She fought hard and she fought long, and she’s left us now to sing her song.

Never give up fighting for the wild, laugh and love and sing like a child.

Work for justice and for the forests to be free, for in the end, you can leave no greater legacy.



Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing

The December 18, 2013, Santa Fe Reporter, featured a profile of James Lane recently fired as director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. While no public reason was given for Lane’s firing, it seems likely that it was due, at least in part, to his public derision of the nonhunters as “tree-huggin’ hippies.” The department, sometimes known as “Maim and Squish,” manages wildlife on behalf of hunters and ranchers. Even after Lane’s ignominious departure, Scott Bidegain, a board member of NM Cattlegrowers Association, continues as chairman of the Game Commission, which supervises the department’s so-called professional wildlife managers.

What has been the reaction of New Mexico’s environmental and animal protection lobbyists? The supposed protectors of wildlife sheepishly sent a letter to the hunter-rancher-in-chief, begging Bidegain to replace Lane with a professional wildlife manager dedicated to the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

This model is aptly summed up by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Man has hunted since he walked the Earth.  Every early culture relied on hunting for survival.  Through hunting, man forged a connection with the land and learned quickly that stewardship of the land went hand-in-hand with maintaining wildlife – and their own way of life.

In the first half of the 20th century, leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold shaped a set of ideals that came to be known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. They articulated the philosophy that all wildlife belong to all of us. . . .

The Pittman-Robertson act was passed in 1937, through which  hunters voluntarily imposed a tax on themselves, ensuring that a portion of the sale of all firearms and ammunition would be expressly dedicated to managing the wildlife entrusted to the public.  The Pittman-Robertson Act generates $700 million annually, which is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state fish and game agencies across America.

The federal tax on firearms and ammunition is collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). As its name suggests, TTB also administers federal taxes on alcohol and tobacco. No one expects these tax revenues to be used to promote smoking and drinking, yet hunters expect firearms taxes to be used to promote hunting.

RMEF is, however, correct to point out that hominids have been killing wildlife since they first learned to walk upright. In North America, hunting dates back to mass extinctions of the Pleistocene, which corresponded with the arrival of humans on this continent. Well before the establishment of “Native” American cultures species such as saber-toothed cats disappeared from the North American landscape. Species which were able to survive centuries of hunting with spears, bows and arrows, proved little match for European firearms technology.

Only when hunters began to fear an end to their gruesome blood sport did wildlife managers like Aldo Leopold begin to rethink the idea of hunting without limit. Along with the establishment of the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Pittman-Robertson Act attempted to protect ranchers and hunters from destroying both their own livelihoods and their ability to indulge in sadistic blood sports. Thus was born the myth that ranchers and hunters, who had come close to totally destroying the land and the wildlife who live on it, were the “true conservationists,” codified by the North American Model of Conservation.

In spite of the best efforts of the “hunter-conservationists,” hunting continues to decline in the United States. According to the latest [2011] National Hunting Survey, only 6% of the U.S. population hunts. When broken down by region, there has been a 45% drop over the last decade in the Mountain States from 11% to 6%. Correspondingly, the New Mexico report shows a 47% drop in expenditures by hunters.

The drop in hunting is a threat not only to hunters and ranchers, but also to conservation and animal protection lobbyists who have been collaborating with them. In their letter to the Game Deparment, Animal Protection of New Mexico, the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, the New Mexico chapter of the League of Conservation Voters and Wild Earth Guardians expressed their support for the hunters’ North American Model of Conservation.

Many of the organizations which signed this letter have had a long history of collaboration with hunters. Hunter Jon Schwedler headed APNM’s wildlife program before leaving to form the short-lived Sierra Sportsmen, the Sierra Club’s failed attempt to organize hunters in support of conservation.

Now it is the turn of Wild Earth Guardians to join the ranks of hunters masquerading as environmentalists, with the hiring of Erik Molvar. According to his WildEarth Guardians profile, Molvar has a degree in “wildlife management” and “enjoys antelope hunting.”

This profile reveals not only the sadistic pleasure Molvar takes in killing animals and watching them die, but also the difference between a wildlife manager and a biologist. State game departments and other wildlife managers use the cowboy term “antelope” to describe pronghorns. The last of their family to survive the Pleistocene extinctions in North America, pronghorns are not related to antelope, which are native to Africa. “Wildlife management” might be considered a “science” similar to economics and political science, but it is not a natural science like biology and geology.

In any case, contrary to the propaganda of the conservation lobbyists, there is no “pure science” which can guide the protection of wolves, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and other wild species, whether or not they are legally endangered. As the career of Jon Tester, Rancher-Democrat of Montana, demonstrates, the U.S. Congress retains the right to determine what animals can be legally killed without limit. Tester, after using funds from the League of Conservation Voters to defend his seat against the notorious “evil Koch brothers,” authored the law which removed endangered species protection for the grey wolf. A belated attempt by conservation lobbies to petition the Department of the Interior to restore wolf protection in violation of Tester’s law may succeed in raising funds, but it will not succeed in protecting wolves.

Rancher-Democrat Tester has now been joined in the Senate by New Mexico Hunter-Democrat Martin Heinrich. Heinrich & Tester’s Sportsmen’s and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions Act (SPORT) Act (S. 1660) would open all federal lands, including National Park Service land, to hunters.

Time, It’s Not on Our Side

With the recent super storm in the Pacific displacing four million people it should be obvious to everyone that global climate change is getting worse. The global climate conference was meeting in Poland as the super typhoon swept away helpless humans and animals. Try as we might, with meetings and marches, there is no stopping it. The Takers, those who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing, will not stop until they have bled Mother Earth of every last piece of gold, board of timber and drop of oil. All we can really do is a “delaying action” to save what species we can before the human species eradicates itself from the face of the planet. Kurt Vonnegut said it like this in his poem, Requiem.

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if the Earth could say,

in a voice floating up


from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

“It is done.”

People did not like it here.

Highway to Hell

The highways and streets are stained with a terrible shade of crimson throughout state after state.

It is a silent testimony of one too many an animal’s fate.

Most drive on and pay the carnage no mind, and little thought is given to the tragedy left behind.

A carcass here and twisted corpse there,

blindly they go by without so much as a care.

The silent slaughter on the street, who hasn’t been guilty of it at one time or another?

To the majestic moose, the lowly skunk and all the others,

we can only say that we are sorry brothers.

For this injustice we pay no fine or do any time in a prison hole,

but maybe, just maybe, every time we lose just a little bit of our soul.






From the Hunted to the Hunter

I wasn’t born with a voice,
but look deep into my eyes.
Now you can see that, like you,
I would much rather live than die.
But with my heart in your crosshairs,
it’s you and you alone who will decide my fate.
Will I live to run free, or end up as dinner on your plate?
The decision to hunt is yours and yours alone,
you make the choice.
does it take a real man to kill those born without a voice?

Remove Wildlife Services from the Mexican Wolf Program

Earlier this year, an agent of USDA Wildlife Services was caught in the act of killing a Mexican wolf. The agent, described by his employer as a “wildlife specialist,” claimed to have misidentified the wolf, presumably confusing it with one of the coyotes routinely slaughtered by the agency.

How is the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) responding to this incident? Buried in their proposed revision to the Mexican wolf program is the following: “We added language to the provisions for allowable take for authorized personnel to clarify that Wildlife Services personnel will not be in violation of the Act or this rule for take of a Mexican wolf that occurs while conducting official duties.”

The bureaucratic language suggests that USFWS does not consider this a major change. Perhaps this is because Wildlife Services was involved in the Mexican wolf program from its inception. In answering critics of the initial program, USFWS declared: “The Service believes leg-hold traps are an essential tool for wolf management.” They proceeded to include Wildlife Services as part of the Interagency Field Team to implement the Mexican wolf program.

Wildlife Services agents are familiar with economic concepts like depredation, not biological concepts like predation. Long known as Predator and Rodent Control, later renamed Animal Damage Control, the USDA agency now known as Wildlife Services has always been dedicated to killing wolves, coyotes and other predators, along with such dangerous creatures as prairie dogs, on behalf of the livestock industry. The livestock industry has been able to depend on Wildlife Services to kill predators, using leghold traps and M-44 cyanide-laced traps.

Wildlife Services describes M-44s as follows:

A Wildlife Services "biologist" places an M-44 device.

A Wildlife Services “biologist” places an M-44 device.

“The M-44 device is triggered when a canid (i.e. coyote or wild dog) tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth. The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal’s mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Unconsciousness, followed by death, is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered. ”


Wolves, of course, are also canids, which explains why Wildlife Services agents cannot distinguish them from coyotes. How many wolves will die from a “quick” 5-minute gassing?

Harvest time for Bears

On his LinkedIn profile, Frederic “Rick” Winslow describes his position with the New Mexico Game and Fish as follows: “I administer the black bear, cougar and furbearer harvest for the state of New Mexico.” One of Winslow’s official duties at Game and Fish has been compiling bear “depredation statistics.” Not to be confused with the biological term predation, “depredation” is an economic term describing damage to livestock and crops. Harvest, of course, is also an agricultural term, which game agencies have adopted in place of the more accurate term killing. “Fur-bearer” is a term used by hunters and trappers, not by biologists.

So it is hardly surprising that Winslow and his fellow wildlife managers, sometimes misleadingly described as biologists, oppose any program such as diversionary feeding which would save bears. Typical of of his wildlife management colleagues is Dave Garshelis of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, described diversionary feeding as a project of “nonscientists with emotional attachments to bears.”

The objection to “emotional attachment” is that of a resource manager, not a biological scientist. A true wildlife biologist should care as much about wildlife as a medical doctor should care about patients. On the other hand, hunters and other serial killers care little about their victims.

According to the latest  National Hunting Survey, only 6% of the U.S. population hunts. When broken down by region, there has been a 45% drop over the last decade in the Mountain States from 11% to 6%. Correspondingly, the New Mexico report shows a 47% drop in expenditures by hunters from $130,000 to $69,000.

Why, in an era of tight budgets, does New Mexico maintain a separate department for hunters? Is it the influence of the National Rifle Association, which began and remains an organization primarily for hunters, while notoriously opposing any form of gun control which could prevent mass shootings? Or, as the agricultural language suggests, is the primary purpose of the Game Department to serve the livestock industry? Rancher Scott Bidegain, chairman of the Game Commission, which supervises the so-called professionals of the Game Department, is a board member of NM Cattlegrowers Association.

New Mexico needs to abolish the Game and Fish Department. Poaching laws should be enforced by the State Police, not by wardens answerable to hunters and ranchers. The conservation programs now administered by hunters should be transferred to an agency whose mission is to protect wildlife, not to kill for fun and profit.

Gunning for Syria

Negotiations over the last several days have apparently postponed, if not altogether eliminated, the threat of a U.S. military attack on Syria. While the U.S. Congress has not had the chance to take a final vote on the issue, New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators were quick to take a public position.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Tom Udall had the opportunity to take a public vote on this issue. We commend Senator Udall for breaking with the Democratic Party leadership to cast a vote against this war, and to continue to speak out against war in media interviews.

New Mexico’s other senator, Martin Heinrich, is another matter. He did not even have to take a public position, as the issue never came before the full Senate. Yet he felt the need to join the cry for war from the Democratic Party leadership, in particular Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee on which Heinrich serves.

Feinstein has used her committee to defend NSA surveillance, claiming, “This is called protecting America.” She has described the recently disclosed court order compelling Verizon to hand over call data relating to millions of Americans as a program in place since 2006.

Animal and environmental activists remember Feinstein for another of her activities in 2006, when she got Congress to pass the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. AETA established fines of up to $25,000 and imprisonment up to one year “for an offense involving exclusively a non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise or a business having a connection to, or relationship with, an animal enterprise, that may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss.”

At the time of his election to the US. Senate, Martin Heinrich was best known for his strong advocacy of opening up all federal lands, including national parklands, to hunters and trappers. His experience in killing wildlife has earned him large campaign contributions from mainstream environmental groups such as the Leage of Conservation Voters. Perhaps now that the recent massive fire in Yellowstone National Park has shown to be caused by a hunter in the vicinity, Heinrich will have to hold off on his plans, and concentrate instead on supporting the national security establishment.

Even if military action against Syria has been postponed, the real target, as it was in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, remains Iran. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s This Week, President Obama stated: “I think what the Iranians understand is that– the nuclear issue– is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue, that– the threat against Iran– against Israel, that a nuclear Iran poses, is much closer to our core interests.”

Perhaps the Obama Adminstration is now working on a plan for Israel to attack Iran. The Guardian has recently revealed a long-standing program of cooperation between the NSA and Israeli intelligence.