Animal neglect – if you really want to get my blood boiling, rip a headline about some individual who was found to have a stockpile of sick and dying dogs and cats barricaded in their home. It happens all the time, and as the local animal shelters overflow with abandoned or neglected companion animals we sometimes wonder how situations of animal hoarding can come to be. Nine times out of ten, the owner of an animal hoarding case is said to have good intentions (albeit mentally unstable, but good intentions nonetheless). Despite an “animal lover” having good intentions, the remainder of society tends to look down upon these individuals – how could anyone hoard sick, dying, animals living in their own filth and feces? Didn’t anyone see the signs? While this type of behavior is looked down upon and accompanied by criminal charges, a growing number of people nationwide are suffering from the same mental conflict with regard to our wildlife, and it’s beginning to take it’s toll.
Here in New Hampshire – the above-mentioned concerns have been a repeat theme in the local headlines over the last few years. Regular letters to newspapers and social media posts attack and criticize the Fish and Game Department for allowing hunting and trapping activities to continue on the landscape. I’m reminded of two siblings bickering – Timmy and Suzy both have the same ice cream cone, but Suzy wants Timmy’s regardless of the similarities. This scenario plays out daily across the nation; its not enough for tourists to enjoy seeing wildlife, they want to see all the wildlife, and suddenly they fear the loss of an entire species because Timmy filled his freezer with a harvested deer. While extremist environmentalists and animal rights groups spur many of these debates, there are a growing number of suburbanites singing along. Folks who left the city for rural suburbia to live closer to nature now want to see that wildlife constantly, on command, and unnaturally. People who once advocated for sustainable wildlife populations are quickly being replaced with a new breed who truly hope to one day hug a bobcat. These folks tend to understand the general concepts of hunting and fishing – they just don’t want to see it or acknowledge it, even if its been taking place in their area well before their housing development became a reality.
Case in point, a mother bear and cubs were repeatedly causing safety issues this past year in Hanover, NH. After multiple requests by NH Fish and Game for residents to stop feeding the bears, the Department made the decision, a year later, to euthanize them after repeatedly breaking into local homes in search of food. Pressure and petitions from local and national “animal advocates” drove NH’s governor to override the Department and demand the bears be relocated. What wasn’t reported in the media was the extreme disdain from bordering states that were less than pleased to hear these bears would be relocated mere miles from the borders – meaning NH’s nuisance bears would soon become their nuisance bears. This story came on the heels of a multi-year campaign by the Department pleading with the public to take down bird-feeders and prohibit from feeding bears and other wildlife.
Just months after the Hanover bear exposé, a Stoddard, NH couple was charged twice for feeding bears in their backyard, which resulted in over ten different bears frequenting the area regularly. Rather than face the music and admit when they’re wrong, the homeowners cited pseudoscience as their backup for turning southern NH into a bear petting zoo. These stories are strewn together with a growing new movement brewing nationwide – where folks are raping and pillaging substantial wildlife habitat to plop a home and watch the bobcats and bears frolic from their back porches. We have literally reached a point where we, as a society, are advocating for wildlife hoarding and stockpiling versus science-based management and harvest. It’s nearly impossible to browse the endless pages of social media platforms and not find your way into a debate about the environment, natural resources and wildlife. Where do we, as a society, draw the line between advocacy for our natural world - and the unhealthy stockpiling and hoarding of it?
False Narratives & Wishful Thinking
It seems like everywhere you turn, people are grumbling about bumping into hunters and fishermen whilst on their daily nature walks with their unleashed dogs in tow. The narrative is usually similar; “why can’t we just enjoy nature with a camera? Why do you need to shoot the (deer, turkey, bear… pick one)?” When one tries to reasonably explain why hunting and trapping activities are a conservation miracle, offering a broader scope of wildlife advocacy as a whole rather than just the individual animal, I tend to see these people’s eyes glaze over as they try to reason with the fact that 10 bobcats under their backyard bird-feeder on a daily basis is somehow a “good thing”.
Whether people have become more open about expressing themselves, or our society has just fallen that much farther out of touch with the natural world, there’s now criticism for all regulated forms of hunting and fishing. Fish and Game Departments across the country are regularly bombarded with seething disdain for promoting the hunting of natural resources. Buzz-terms like “trophy hunting”, “apex predator”, and “self-regulation” have all grown eight hairy legs as they scurry across the pages of editorials and social media posts. These terms have been taken far from their original meaning as they’re now regularly juxtaposed in pseudoscience to display a narrative that is flawed, exaggerated, and tiredly over-used. The suggestion that some “top predators” are above the line of wildlife management has paved the way for a new brand of eco-activist who not only refuses to see the forest for the trees – but becomes outright unhinged if you suggest plucking a few of the leaves.
The false narrative suggesting wildlife needs no human intervention has since given the excuse to the masses that wildlife populations will “deal with themselves”. When the science doesn’t add up with this narrative, those opposed find different science; or just misinterpret what’s already been printed - much like the homeowners above twisting a scientific study to justify hand feeding wild bears. This is what the rest of us down here on planet earth call denial – and some people’s lack of admittance for scientific facts leads me to classify all the examples above as a mental illness, rather than a form of “animal advocacy”. Yes, nature would likely “take care of itself” if man wasn’t here constantly defecating on it; but we’re here - and being blessed with the bigger brain means we’ve developed ways to make these natural resources sustainable. Nature’s “way” of taking care of things now comes in the form of being flattened under a car tire or excruciating bouts with distemper – inhumane forms that can be reduced with management through hunting and trapping.
Rather than face facts that wildlife needs management in the shadow of man’s presence, more folks seem to jump on the bandwagons of magical “cure-alls” to justify dealing with the very real constraints of overpopulation. Too many bear? Relocate them to another state where they’ll be someone else’s problem. Too many deer? Feed them birth control and leave your guns on the shelf. Too many beaver? Forget those traps and install culvert pipes that require constant maintenance. Anything but the perceived blood-sport of “killing” that animal for food or fur!
While these remedies may have their place in certain instances, they do not address the immediate issue – in an attempt to save every individual animal from ourselves, we subject these animals to a darker fate. This sits just fine with many of these folks today – the attitude is one that it doesn’t really matter how wild animals die, as long as man had no hand in it and society doesn’t have to see it. Bury our heads in the sand – and to think many of these same individuals strongly support climate change, but balk at the basic scientific principals of regulated wildlife management.
Time To Face The Music
Long gone are the days of chaining one’s self to a tree to stop the timber harvests. We’ve since learned that selective harvest of timber actually benefits forests and wildlife in the long run. We’ve come to terms that its better to use some of this timber for paper products, homes, etc. rather than allowing nature to control the cull through forest fires and other natural disasters. It seems the old days of standing up to “the man” with the chainsaw has been replaced by a new “cause” to rally – the Fish and Game Departments, who have taken the brunt of the beating from those who mentally can’t grasp man’s place in the food chain. The popular cry as of late has been to suggest unfairness with regard to Departments laws pertaining to hunting activities – with some calling for “equal say” in wildlife decision making. The sad reality that seems to elude these individuals is the fact that Fish and Game Departments are put in place to regulate the sustainable use of wildlife, not to emotionally ban these activities because some don't like it.
Much like bobcat debates and bear referendums, we seem to be more concerned with preserving individual animals, than conserving the species as a whole. Mankind is not slowing down or going away, and as such, we will continue to drive our wildlife closer to us. Despite the delusional hopes and dreams of some, this closer interaction with our wildlife comes with its own very real set of issues and downfalls. One of the key aspects is to determine how long our wildlife is actually wild. It’s important to keep in mind that our wildlife populations have continued to thrive and flourish with hunting and trapping activities on the landscape. The same cannot be said for the ever-looming loss of habitat and dramatic mental shift in a Disney-esque desire to stockpile our wildlife for a rainy day for our own selfish needs, rather than morally manage it for future generations.