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.