HomeScienceWildlifeGeorge: Oft-maligned trophy hunting actually key to conservation

George: Oft-maligned trophy hunting actually key to conservation

This is an opinion piece written by Bart George, a wildlife biologist and hunter in northeastern Washington. For a different perspective, read “Trophy Hunts That Drive Out Potential Hunters,” by professor and author Paul Lindholdt.

When it comes to conservation and hunting, I can’t get poetic and quote Shakespeare or ponder philosophical conundrums while drawing abstract conclusions that fit my predetermined bias. No, as a professional scientist, I must suspend my opinion and rely on hard data, historical knowledge and field observations to guide my actions and management decisions.

The science of wildlife management is guided by research and data generated over the decades. Population dynamics, birth and death rates, carrying capacity and ecosystem-wide habitat composition are just a few variables we consider when managing predator and prey species, as well as their relationship to each other and humans. Conservationists don’t gamble with results. We proceed very carefully. We also have 100 years of data from which to draw. In short, we know what works and what doesn’t. And we continue to improve our understanding of complex biological relationships and adjust the management schedule as new technology increases our ability to collect more and new data.

To deny modern conservation is to deny science and history in favor of rhetoric and emotion.

Fortunately, most reasonable Washingtonians understand this, even if they don’t hunt personally. While it is perfectly acceptable for a philosopher to select data to support hypothetical musings, a scientist must fully consider the context of the data. For example, while a study commissioned by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife revealed a substantial drop in hunting approval (which was an awe-inspiring 88 percent in 2014), the full context of that document showed that an overwhelming 75 percent of the Washington residents approved legal, regulated hunting (with 44% approving it) in 2022. The survey found that only 10% disapproved of it. Further context shows that the small minority of disapproving residents feel this way because they oppose the killing of animals for whatever reason.

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Unfortunately for science, emotion usually wins. People believe what they want to believe these days and unfortunately confirmation bias tends to win the day.

We see this same paradigm unfolding at the highest levels in Washington. Professional WDFW biologists have presented overwhelming data in support of a spring bear hunt that would see 160 bears (out of a total population of nearly 30,000) removed from specific areas to avoid property damage and conflict with humans. However, the trained wildlife biologists with years of schooling and decades of cumulative experience are… overruled by political appointees with ideological or financial conflicts of interest.

That is a loss to science. That’s a loss to wildlife.

I understand it’s hard for most people to realize that killing wildlife saves wildlife. It’s a logical challenge and as a simple wildlife biologist I’m not sure I can explain it…but I’ll try.

The North American conservation model stems from our historical recognition of what not to do. We know where we made mistakes in the past: unsustainable harvesting of natural resources and wildlife during western expansion and the industrial revolution.

Based on that, we’ve created a sustainable model that monetizes wildlife conservation, habitat conservation, biological studies, law enforcement, and more. Over the past century, this model has reversed the unsustainable practices of our ancestors while producing abundant wildlife populations for future generations.

In reality, most people today can’t remember there was a lack of wildlife. But not long ago, our nature was at stake. Without people like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, many species would be extinct in the wild in America.

Roosevelt and Grinnell, recognizing our unsustainable harvest of wildlife, founded the Boone and Crockett Club. The organization, made up of hunters, legislated for our national park system and the first science-based wildlife management laws, including the Lacey Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as conservation-based funding that created the Federal Duck Stamp Act and Wildlife. recovery law.

This model has only improved over the past century and those historic legislative achievements are still used today and fund the scientific model for wildlife management in the US.

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And while the number of hunters is declining nationwide (although, contrary to some claims, numbers rose during the pandemic), athletes contributed $1.5 billion to wildlife conservation (nearly $1 billion to hunting), amounting to more than $11 million for wildlife conservation. state of Washington by just paying yacht taxes. In addition to these excise taxes, purchases of hunting-related equipment contributed $343 million to Washington’s GDP and supported 4,700 jobs.

I fully agree with Mr Lindholdt’s assessment: “In the interest of the environment, we must keep the ethical fighters on board.”

Perhaps one of the biggest misnomers when it comes to hunting is the word “trophy.” This word has been hijacked by 10% of the population who philosophically oppose hunting to advance their ideological beliefs. In reality, “trophy hunting” is responsible for the conservation of wildlife worldwide.

Roosevelt and Grinnell, recognizing the rampant killing of wildlife, in founding the Boone and Crockett Club hunting club, to refrain from killing females and juvenile males of the species they pursued. To encourage hunters to pass on these specimens, which would be left to reproduce and restore depleted populations of deer, turkey, elk, bear, cougar, and more, they created a book of records detailing the most mature specimens each years were taken were recognized. It was the “trophy” animals that were killed while younger ones were left behind to ensure the permanence of a species.

Genetically, an adult animal has served its biological purpose. It has passed on its DNA over many breeding seasons, ensuring the survival of the species.

As a hunter, chasing an older animal means passing opportunities to “legal” animals that don’t meet my personal standards of size or maturity and as a result may not kill a single animal during the season. By choosing to be selective and pursue a personal ‘trophy’, fewer animals are killed.

The term “trophy” often implies that the animal is not eaten. That is not true. Trophy deer, pumas and elk are eaten here, while elephants, lions and more are eaten abroad. In fact, there are “random waste” laws that require hunters to use all edible parts of game and laws that protect against senseless waste of useful parts of harvested wildlife.

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The imprecise use of the word ‘trophy’ goes hand in hand with other loaded words, such as ‘sport’ and ‘game’. Again, context is important. Historically, the word “sports hunting” was used to distinguish between hunters who obeyed newly developed restrictions that reduced the hunting seasons, methods, bag restrictions, and selective harvesting of only adult males of the market hunters of yore who provided meat, feathers, and hides in an unsustainable manner. and unregulated way to city dwellers for food and fashion. As “sports hunters,” we strive to use the animal in its entirety—flesh, hides, bones, antlers, feathers—on our plates and, we hope, for decades to come.

Like a dog handler contracting for Washington StateI can tell you this: When cougars are killed as a result of a conflict between humans and nature, that animal is wasted. It is killed and thrown into the landfill, the flesh, skin and skull rotting unused – at the expense of the taxpayer.

An exhibited mount may seem like a barbaric “trophy” to some, but everyone should agree that using any part of a slain animal is more respectful and ethical than the alternative. Today’s “sports fighters” do that; when agencies kill animals, they are wasted. I know, I’ve been involved in dozens of agency relocations and can recognize the shameful waste of an animal thrown away as garbage.

I can’t quote 400-year-old English sonnets, but I can promise one thing when it comes to conservation and using emotional arguments over science: those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Bart George is a professional wildlife biologist in northeastern Washington who specializes in the study of cougars and avoiding conflict between humans and wildlife.

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