Conservation. Do you know the meaning of the word? It really chaps my hide when I get lumped into a group of ‘Environmentalists’. I am a Conservationist. I want to USE my habitat, not wrap it up in a cute little box and put it on my Shrine of No Change and worship it from afar. I want to be an active participant, and be a contributing member of said habitat. If you are or want to be a hunter, you are a conservationist. You got to USE it, or LOSE it! If we are not out there, outdoors, using a resource, then it does not have value. Humans have been affecting their habitat (the world) for over 40,000 years in our current (Homo sapien) form. Do you think our involvement is somewhat valuable? Yep, I do too. So these ‘Environmentalists’ who push us to ‘restore’ areas to pre-Gold Rush habitat and ‘preserve’ them by not allowing … well I hate to tell you this but the Native Americans that were here before us white people were manipulating habitat for centuries beforehand. So pulling that ‘humans are bad to the environment’ crap does not fly with me. We should use it, but use it wisely and sustainably. Which involves hunting.
Some facts: Hunters have contributed more towards conservation and habitat restoration and improvement than any other environmental group, combined. Hunting has never caused or contributed to an animal going extinct. MARKET hunting has. At the turn of the 20th century, market hunting practiced and led to species like the Passenger Pigeon going extinct. Market hunting is when people kill as many animals as possible to sell the carcasses for table meat. Market hunting is illegal in the United States, thanks to recreational hunters noticing wildlife populations being depleted. This caused the first games laws and State Wildlife departments to be formed. So next time you enjoy seeing a family of deer in the field, or a flock of ducks take to wing, thank a hunter.
There is this thing called Compensatory Mortality. This is an essential component to Hunting Theory (yes, this is taught in the universities, it is a real thing, not just a bunch of hicks wanting to kill stuff). Basically, as has been shown by almost all Adult to Young ratios found in monitoring surveys across the globe…. Animals reproduce waaay more young than they need. There is a built-in over-production of young because, well frankly, shit happens.
If you are some badass Bambi-momma deer, you want to pass on your genes. How do you guarantee this will happen, given all the cliffs, ravines, lion dens, bear mouths (etc etc) that Bambi can find trouble in? Well you double your bet. You do this by calving more than one offspring, to be your little genome-packet of the future. The problem with this is that, depending on the habitat, your bet could be a double-winner. Yes, great for your genes, but shitty for the habitat. Unless there is super-awesome habitat, too many Bambii (plural for Bambi right?) eat all the habitat (or trample it, or overgraze so there is less habitat the next year) and all the extra Bambii die from starvation. Hunting is used by wildlife managers to prevent this, by keeping populations at a steady level, they prevent huge fluctuations that would adversely affect habitat, and the longevity of a piece of habitat to sustainably support different populations of animals, and prevent possible exinction-level events. This is not just for huntable species by the way. The management of huntable species benefits other non-game species because the big component of Wildlife Management is Habitat Management.
A lot of people get into Wildlife Management thinking they will not have to deal with people, that it’s all about the furries and fuzzies and featheries. Oooh that is sooo false. What they don’t tell you (I’m pretty sure this is intentional) is that animals need plants, and basically all animal/wildlife management is habitat management. Which means plants. Which means, as my botany professor put it, you have to confront and overcome the “Green Blurs”. So if you know what plants your prey eats, that is GREAT! But you also want to know what other plants are utilized during the different life stages. What kind of habitat do deer prefer to give birth in? What type of shrubs to they prefer to browse on? What types of shrubs do they need to bed down in during the day and the night? What is good cover, but not too dense so deer can see and escape from predators? Stuff like that.
Within habitat there are 5 essential components for every animal: Food, Water, Cover, Space, and Arrangement. Some animals are flexible in their requirements for these elements. We call those Generalists. A good example is the turkey. The Turkey eats a wide variety of things, both plants and animals. In fact most game birds prefer a diet that includes invertebrates (bugs to the rest of us), and in fact, studies have shown that in some game birds, up to 90% of the diet of young is invertebrates, and it’s only when they reach ‘teenager’ years that they start selecting plant material over bugs. But Turkeys like to roost at night, so they need somewhat large trees near grassy areas with bug and forb (small non-grass plants) production, and they water in the morning, so the trees need to be near a water source. Food, Water, Cover, Space, and Arrangement.
Animals that are very specific about their habitat needs are called Specialists. Most of the animals that you hear about being ‘Endangered’ or ‘Threatened’ are Specialists. This is because there is some aspect of their habitat they are less flexible about and at some point we humans did something to affect that aspect. Or some other animal or element has affected the habitat. At any rate, some aspect of the Food, Water, Cover, Space, and Arrangement has been affected, and it interferes with the animals’ success in surviving or passing on the gene-packet we call young. They might be more susceptible to predation, or their mating might be interrupted, or young survival has been pushed out of whack. For whatever reason, these animals evolved in very specific conditions and the only way to fix it is to figure out WHAT is going wrong (not always easy and usually involves a lot of research dollars with minimal effect initially). Generally speaking, these animals are not hunted, because their populations could not sustain the pressure. Hence the reason we do not have Spotted Owl Tacos as a local delicacy.
Next time- Hunting 104: Yes you CAN hunt in a Prius!