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.

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.

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.

Experiments with Wolves

Earlier this month the Albuquerque Journal reported that an employee of USDA Wildlife Services (WS) is being investigated for killing a Mexican wolf. The news came as the Mexican wolf recovery program reached its 15th anniversary. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which oversees the Mexican wolf program, refuses to comment.
The Mexican wolves released by FWS are wolves bred in zoos. David Parsons, the original director of the Mexican Wolf reintroduction program, decided to exclude wild wolves who were not genetically pure Mexican wolves, thus limiting the release candidates to animals who had spent several generations in zoos. Under the 1982 amendment to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, zoo wolves are considered experimental and nonessential, and are do not have the full protection of the ESA.
When he established the final rule governing Mexican wolf recovery, Parsons answered public concerns about the use of leghold traps for wolf management. Parsons declared: “The Service believes leg-hold traps are an essential tool for wolf management. Their use will be primarily for research and relocation purposes.” To this end, Parsons included “depredation specialists” from Wildlife Services in the Interagency Field Team he created to implement the Mexican wolf program. 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.
As FWS director at the time, Jamie Rappaport Clark approved Parsons’ plans to treat the Mexican wolf as an experimental species. She now serves as President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, which is is campaigning to restore federal protection for wolves. Their campaign may succeed in raising money, but it is almost certain to fail to protect wolves, thanks to members of Congress like Rancher Senator Jon Tester, (Democrat of Montana). Two years ago, under Senator Tester’s leadership Congress amended the Endangered Species Act to remove protection for the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies and upper Midwest. Tester’s action earned him a 100% rating from the Defenders of Wildlife Action fund, and an endorsement of his 2012 reelection campaign from the League of Conservation Voters. Removal of grey ESA protection for the grey wolf, Canis lupus, potentially affects subspecies including the Mexican wolf, Canis lupus baileyi. Prominent wolf biologist David Mech, whose work was used to support the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, has endorsed the political delisting of the grey wolf.
Since Mech includes mink trapping among the hobbies he lists on his web site, he clearly agrees with his colleague Parsons that leghold traps are an acceptable form of wildlife management. Wildlife biology has taught Clark, Mech and Parsons to view wolves and other wild beings as interesting experimental subjects, not as sentient beings. Environmental lobbyists who advocate “science-based” policies do not realize that science is not concerned with cruelty.

Great White Hunter

There are many problems with Allan Savory’s TED presentation this month which he calls How to green the desert and reverse climate change. As the Wildlife News and other websites have pointed out, the very concept of “greening the desert” is problematic. But even people with no experience of grasslands and deserts should see a problem with the ideas Savory expresses in the following excerpt from his presentation:

When I was a young man, a young biologist in Africa, I was involved in setting aside marvelous areas as future national parks. Now no sooner — this was in the 1950s — no sooner did we remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals, then the land began to deteriorate, as you see in this park that we formed. Now, no livestock were involved, but suspecting that we had too many elephants now, I did the research and I proved we had too many, and I recommended that we would have to reduce their numbers and bring them down to a level that the land could sustain. Now, that was a terrible decision for me to have to make, and it was political dynamite, frankly. So our government formed a team of experts to evaluate my research. They did. They agreed with me, and over the following years, we shot 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage. And it got worse, not better. Loving elephants as I do, that was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life, and I will carry that to my grave.

 

To dismiss the killing of 40,000 elephants as a mere “blunder” hardly sounds like a person who loves elephants, as Savory claims to. It is, however the attitude one would expect of a person in Savory’s position at the time, a game ranch biologist working for the white colonial government of what was then known as Rhodesia, now the independent nations of Zambia (where Savory worked at the time) and Zimbabwe (where Savory was born). In order to set up areas, misleadingly called national parks, for the benefit of great white hunters, Savory and his colleagues saw the need to “remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals.” This was apparently noncontroversial, but Savory’s hunting colleagues were understandably skeptical of the need for “our government,” i.e., the white colonial authorities, to kill 40,000 “unsustainable” elephants instead of leaving them for hunters to kill. It seems that Savory now regrets this “blunder” as it potentially diminishes his authority as an expert on “sustainability.” There is no reason to believe that he ever cared about the lives of the animals he was responsible for killing.

Later, Savory came to prefer the term “holistic” to “sustainable.” Savory acknowledges his debt to South African General Jan Smuts for coining the term “holism.” It is easy to see why Savory, who studied at the segregated University of Natal in South Africa, would appreciate Smuts. Although he dabbled in science and philosophy, Smuts was primarily a military officer and politician. As a politician, Smuts attempted to save white minority rule in South Africa by allowing limited rights to the black majority, but he was unable to convince the white power structure to accept his proposed compromise.

Savory’s career in his native Zimbabwe followed a similar path to Smuts in South Africa. Savory used his wildlife tracking experience to track independence fighters viewed by the white minority Rhodesian government as “terrorists.” The mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune recounted with admiration Savory’s role in establishing the Tracker Combat Unit (TCU) of the Rhodesian Special Air Service:

Fighting terrorists —when they could be forced to fight — was easy. Finding them is another story and the genesis of the TCU. In 1965, foreseeing the fundamental problem of covering large areas with limited troops in heat that often exceeded 110 degrees, the Rhodesian Army adopted a solution suggested by ex-game ranger turned ecologist, Allen Savory. … the Rhodesians developed the basic fieldcraft into a tactical science that later accounted for the deaths of many terrorists who mistakenly thought there was no danger in leaving a track of communist-supplied boots across the African veldt. Savory’s concept took native tracking and turned it into a military discipline.

Like Smuts, Savory then went into politics. As a member of parliament in Rhodesia, he tried to save white minority rule by granting minor concessions to the black majority, but had no more success than Smuts had had decades before in South Africa. Savory described his political views in a 1972 ITN interview: “We are not extremists in any form, right or left. We regard ourselves as moderate, average Rhodesians who are determined to do something about the current drift in the country towards more and more petty and unnecessary racialism which we do not believe is characteristic of Rhodesia or has ever characterised Rhodesia.”

Savory’s self-serving rejection of extremism (which he claims got him kicked out of Rhodesia) is now mimicked by the Quivira Coalition’s claim to represent what they call the radical center:

The two groups that we consciously neglect are the extremes on both sides of the grazing “debate.” We work in what is being called “the radical center” with the idea that the extremes are too entrenched in their positions to move. …We don’t facilitate, mediate, or try to achieve “consensus” on thorny issues. Instead, we grab progressive ideas and plow ahead in trying to implement them and spread the news.

“Spreading the news” is, of course, the literal meaning of evangelism, which seems to be Savory’s true career. Savory’s evangelism may be new to most of TED’s YouTube viewers, as well as to the elite few granted the privilege to spend thousands of dollars to attend the TED conference in person. But in New Mexico we are well familiar with Savory’s wild claims, not just from his presentation to last fall’s conference of the Quivira Coalition, one of his major supporters, but also from his long presence in Albuquerque.

Savory started Holistic Range Management (HRM), later known as Holistic Resource Management, and now known as Holistic Management International (HMI), in Albuquerque in 1984. Lynn Jacobs described HRM in the Waste of the West:

What exactly is HRM? Savory calls it “a method of managing resources, involving planning and monitoring and replanning until desired goals are achieved.” More fully, HRM is Allan Savory’s malleable, theoretical concept of land management designed to lure and seduce every special interest group. With it, ecological interrelationships are carefully analyzed and manipulated; the results are then monitored and the management practices refined until the desired effect is achieved (or until the test fails).

If you think this sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, you are right. Holistic Resource Management is a nebulous term and purposefully so; a malleable non-entity cannot be refuted and remains the property of its creator. What HRM really amounts to is studying ecosystems to more effectively and profitably manipulate them — with Allan Savory as paid interpreter and advisor.