Autumn means climbing into treestands and bowhunting rutting whitetails, right? Yes, but in this election year, it also means that politics and wildlife management will become inextricably entangled. We’ve seen it many times in the past, and it will continue into the future.
For example, the federal government finally transferred management of wolves in the West to individual states – Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Of course, this happened six years after wolves had reached the prescribed population levels. Still, it happened, which opened up the possibility of wolf management, including limited hunting. But no. Some people refused to accept that, courts intervened, and once again wolf management is on hold.
Then some so-called experts decided that global warming was endangering polar bears, even though bear numbers are stable or increasing in some areas. It seems clear to me that politics played a larger part in that decision than did biology and facts.
Along with those decisions came Ballot Measure 2 in Alaska. At stake were predator control programs initiated by the state game and fish agency to promote recovery of caribou and moose herds in selected areas of Alaska. Measure 2 would have allowed aerial shooting of wolves, but only after the Commissioner of the fish and game agency determined that a “biological emergency” existed. The definition of such an emergency was that the prey population would irreversibly decline unless wolves were taken.
Proving that caribou or moose would “irreversibly decline” could take years, if it could be done at all. Thus, Measure 2 would have removed management from biologists and placed it in the hands of animal-rightists. Fortunately that won’t happen because in late August 2008, Alaskan voters killed Measure 2, allowing wolf and bear management to continue.
Political court battles revolving around deer farms seem to go on forever. As you know, game farming has been linked to the spread of CWD, and many states banned transporting deer or elk to and from game farms in other states. In Kentucky, the North American Deer Farmers went to court to overturn the ban. In September 2008, a federal judge dismissed their suit, stating that they must wait until a state case was concluded.
Meanwhile, in August 2008, a whitetail doe from a Kent County, Michigan, game farm tested positive for CWD. The Michigan Agriculture Department immediately quarantined the 580 captive deer and other cervids on the game farm. Even more interesting was the fact that the Department of Natural Resources immediately implemented its state Surveillance and Response CWD Plan by banning all baiting and feeding of deer in the Lower Peninsula.
Bear baiting continues to be legal, but only meat, fish, and baked goods can be used so that deer are not attracted to the bear baits. In addition, all deer taken in nine townships in and around Kent County must be examined. Obviously, Michigan game officials understand that baiting enhances the chances of spreading CWD. As of this writing, checks of other deer on that farm have been negative.
Many game farms raise deer and elk for the purposes of hunting. Because these animals are shot on high-fenced properties, many people, including hunters, decry the practice as less than fair chase. As a result, some sportsmen’s groups oppose such hunting.
North Dakota Hunters for Fair Chase attempted to get a captive hunting ban on the November ballot, but it was pulled because of questions related to signatures on petitions. Those pushing for such a measure say they will reorganize and shoot for a 2010 vote to stop captive hunting in North Dakota. Deer and elk farmers are proposing compromises.
On a nonpolitical note, new research shows that deer (and cattle) may be able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field. German researchers used Google Earth images to study thousands of red and roe deer feeding in fields. The researchers determined that the animals tended to feed with their heads pointed in a northerly direction. They ruled out wind and sun as the causes for such positioning.
Other animals such as bats, birds, and fish have been shown to have a magnetic sense, so this finding for deer is not a total surprise. The researchers suggest that it might allow deer to “map their everyday surroundings and learn new landmarks.” Hmmm. Does this have implications for stand placement?
Finally, an August 21 article in The Arctic Sounder sheds light on the health benefits of “good” fats. It seems that caribou, seal, and moose fats are far more healthful than unnatural fats such as Crisco and other vegetable shortenings. It seems that Eskimos had no diabetes or heart disease until the early 1970′s, when they switched from wild animal fats to store-bought fats in their cooking. This is not a political finding. It simply demonstrates the value of eating wild game.