Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

This week’s column shows the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s attempt to protect polar bears:

Sir Isaac Newton should have gone into wildlife conservation.
Newton understood that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s a simple law of physics, but it could be applied just as effectively to the U.S. government’s attempt to protect polar bears.
Since 2008, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed polar bears as a threatened species, it has been illegal for hunters to bring home the skins and skulls of bears killed in Canada.
It’s perfectly legal to hunt the bears there. The Canadian provinces territories of Nunavut and Northwest Territories allow native Inuit and Inupiat villagers to kill a certain number of polar bears each year.
Before the trophy import ban, the natives passed their quotas on to well-heeled hunters, who paid $30,000 to $50,000 to hunt and kill each bear. The natives divided up the money and used it to benefit their communities.
Since the ban, those communities are hurting. A Fairview couple recently got to see first-hand the effects of the ban.
Ross and Karol Wallingford had traveled to Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, to hunt musk oxen. The Inuit guides who accompanied them on the hunt told them that the polar bear ban had greatly complicated life in the remote village.
“They said they used to make $30,000 or more for a single polar bear hunt,” Ross recounted. “By contrast, a musk ox hunt is only about $6,000. The guides said they were having to host five or six musk ox hunts to generate the revenue they used to generate from just one polar bear hunt.
“What’s really tragic about the situation is that the ban isn’t reducing the number of polar bears being killed. If anything, it’s increasing it.
“The villagers still get to kill a certain number of bears. In the past, they were able to make enough money to support the village by allowing hunters to kill just a few. Now, to make an equivalent amount of money, they have to kill several times more bears and sell the pelts to rich Russians for $6,000 to $7,000 apiece.”
Call it Newton’s Third Law, or call it the Law of Unintended Consequences: U.S. officials declare threatened a species whose numbers had doubled (using the most conservative population estimates) since the early 1970s. The ban causes hunters to stop booking expensive hunts. Guides in the Canadian Arctic feel the financial pinch and start killing more bears and selling the pelts for a fraction the cost of a single hunt.
The good news is that the ban might be short-lived.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation to reverse the ban and allow American hunters who kill polar bears to bring home the pelts and skulls.
The bill, if passed, would immediately affect 41 hunters who killed bears early in 2008 but were prevented from bringing the trophies home after Fish and Wildlife Service announced the ban.
Their trophies have spent two and a half years in limbo, stored in Canada while American courts and lawmakers decide their ultimate fate.
Political observers believe Young’s bill has a decent chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House, but only a slim chance of passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Regardless of what the legal eagles ultimately decide, the polar bear situation should serve as a cautionary tale for those who seek to make wildlife conservation policy. Channeling Newton, they should look carefully to gauge the reactions their actions might trigger.

Deer complaints rampant in Parkersburg

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Rampant in Parkersburg, at least for now

Apparently the good citizens of West Virginia’s third-largest city have lost their affection for Bambi.

From the Associated Press:

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist says complaints about deer in Parkersburg are increasing and the city should consider an urban hunt.
Jeff McCrady tells the Parkersburg News and Sentinel that he’s been getting two to three calls a day from residents about deer inside the city.
The calls include complaints about deer ravaging gardens and flowers and concerns about fawns.
McCrady says he’s telling residents to contact City Council members and the mayor’s office and ask whether they’re interested in revisiting a proposed urban deer hunt.
Council rejected the proposal last year.

That last paragraph practically tells the entire story. Successful urban deer hunts have been held in Wheeling, Weirton, Barboursville, Charleston and other West Virginia cities and towns. Why are Parkersburg’s elected officials so reluctant to follow suit?

Wood County, where Parkersburg is located, is home to one of the state’s densest whitetail populations. Every year, Wood ranks among the most productive deer-hunting counties. It stands to reason that the county’s hunters would eagerly embrace an urban hunt, especially since deer killed during urban hunts don’t count toward hunters’ yearly bag limits.

An urban hunt seems logical. To spurn an urban hunt seems illogical. Then again, we’re talking about a town where people think it’s a good idea to name an athletic facility “Stadium Field.”

Ralphie and I think this is a bad idea

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Ralphie

If California anti-gun activists get their way, all air rifles sold in the state would have to be painted bright yellow, pink, blue or orange.

This shouldn’t bother a grown man, but it bugs me — mainly because I own one of the more iconic BB guns ever created. When Daisy commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Daisy Red Ryder model, I jumped at the opportunity to buy one. In fact I bought two. I gave one to my nephew and kept the other to give to my son. A medical condition made it impossible to give the gun to my son, so I locked the Red Ryder away in my gun safe. It’s still there.

It offends me that a perfectly wholesome kid’s toy — one that a wise parent could use to teach safety and responsibility in addition to marksmanship — could be so demonized by the Terribly Concerned that it gets saddled with a latter-day version of The Scarlet Letter.

I”m sure Ralphie of “A Christmas Story” fame would agree. All he wanted for Christmas was “an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.” He didn’t want one painted fuchsia.

Neither should any other kid.

Hat tip: J.R. Absher at The Outdoor Pressroom.

With Obama’s signature, wolf hunts resume

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Once again, a political football

Political analysts expect President Obama to sign the budget reconciliation bill Congress recently passed. When he does, he’ll open the door to wolf hunting again in Montana and Idaho.

Two members of Congress — Sen. John Tester of Montana and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho — inserted language into the budget bill that would return wolf management to Montana and Idaho state control. Both states held wolf hunts in 2009 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted Endangered Species List protection on the species, but were blocked from doing so in 2010 by a ruling by federal judge Donald Molloy.

In addition to allowing wolf hunting seasons once again, the legislative rider would allow people to shoot wolves that threaten livestock or pets.

While I firmly believe wolf populations in Idaho and Montana are sufficient to justify hunting seasons and predator-control measures, I think this particular piece of legislation is ill-advised. I believe it opens the Endangered Species Act to legislative abuse.

Think about it. What if some future Congress decided to pass a law that places an abundant species on the Endangered Species List? An absurd example, but an example nonetheless: Many city folk think of black bears and coyotes as innocent cuddly creatures that should be protected. City folk represent a large chunk of the American public, and thus have the ear of many, many members of Congress. With the recent wolf rider as a precedent, what would prevent the urban members of Congress from forcing ESL status for black bears or coyotes?

Do I think it will happen? No. Do I think it could happen?  Now that a precedent has been set, it’s at least remotely possible.

Actions have consequences. Some of those consequences are accidental. Let’s hope this most recent Congressional action doesn’t end up doing more harm than good.

Idaho: ‘Want wolves? Manage them yourself’

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The furry political football

The State of Idaho has sent a loud, clear message to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said the state would no longer monitor wolf populations, investigate wolf kills  or respond to reports of illegal wolf killings.

Clearly, Idaho wildlife officials are frustrated by what they perceive as the federal government’s  interference in Idaho’s wolf-management approach.

As soon as the Fish and Wildlife Service removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List in Idaho and Montana, those states immediately opened wolf-hunting seasons. Pro-wolf activists sued to have the seasons stopped, and last summer they succeeded. Federal judge Donald Molloy issued a ruling that pre-empted future hunts.

If Idaho wildlife officials were responsible solely for managing wolves, the ruling wouldn’t have caused so much heartburn. But game and fish agencies are responsible for managing all wildlife, and therein lies the rub.

When the feds reintroduced wolves into the Sawtooth region of Idaho, state wildlife officials helped monitor the fledgling population. They watched the wolf packs grow and branch off, and they watched the wolf population rise. As it rose, they answered calls from ranchers whose livestock became wolf food. They investigated wolf-poaching incidents. Perhaps most important, they watched elk populations dwindle as wolf packs preyed increasingly on elk calves.

When the opportunity arose to thin the wolf population with a controlled hunt, Idaho officials jumped at the chance. The hunt succeeded. And then Moll0y’s ruling prevented them from repeating the success.

So Otter wrote the letter. Though written in polite government-bureaucrat language, its message is this: You foisted these wolves on us. We saw the value of a limited wolf reintroduction and we helped you. The wolves are fully reestablished now. In fact, you took them off the endangered list. We don’t need as many wolves as we have; we’ve done studies, and they’ve shown that wolves are eating up our elk. Our elk generate a whole lot more money for Idaho than your wolves do. So now, since we aren’t allowed to control wolf populations through hunting, we’re going to do it another way. From now on, if someone shoots a wolf, it’s your problem. If a rancher loses livestock to a wolf pack, it’s your problem. If the wolf population declines, it’s your problem. If it increases, it’s your problem. We’re out of the wolf business. Deal with it.

It’s a harsh approach, for sure. It will be interesting to see how the feds respond. It will also be interesting to see if Gov. Ottter blinks under the pressure the feds no doubt will put on him.

More on the story here, in The Missoulian

Hat tip: J.R. Absher in The Outdoor Pressroom.

Problem child?

Oh, brother.

Once again, in the name of “animal welfare,” politicians attempting to portray themselves as softhearted have shown they’re actually soft between the ears.

Members of the Washington, D.C., city council have tentatively approved an ordinance that would place strict controls on animal control and pest control companies. The ordinance requires workers to take “all reasonable steps” to use humane and non-lethal methods when they capture nuisance critters.

That, by itself, seems reasonable enough. But the ordinance also prohibits the use of snares, leg-hold, body-gripping, body-crushing or sticky traps to capture those animals. In addition, workers must make “every reasonable effort” to ensure that animals’ “family units” remain intact.

Essentially any foxes, raccoons, opossums, pigeons or bats would have to be trapped unharmed and transported to “safe locations where nuisance problems are unlikely to occur.” Any critters injured during capture would have to be transported to a wildlife rehabilitation facility, where they ostensibly would be nursed back to health.

There’s no indication in the Washington Post’s version of the story whether the ordinance allows wildlife-control workers to scold captured animals and admonish them never to become nuisances again. Somehow I doubt it would, because the Humane Society of the United States — the animal-rights organization that backed the ordinance — would never permit such draconian measures.

The ordinance does exempt mice and rats — which shows that its backers haven’t completely taken leave of their senses.

In many jurisdictions, all wildlife captured by animal-control workers must be euthanized. That might seem harsh, but it makes sense. Once animals view human dwellings as sources of food or shelter, they can’t be “re-wilded.” The genie is out of the bottle at that point, and it can’t be put back in.

My guess is that the expense of complying with this ordinance will put some animal-control companies out of business, and it will cause others to raise their rates so high they’ll become unaffordable. That, in turn, will likely cause desperate D.C. homeowners and apartment dwellers to take matters into their own hands. Things will get ugly — both for the people and for the wildlife.

Legislation often triggers unintended consequences. The D.C. animal-control ordinance will probably trigger more than its fair share.

Scares about government gun bans are often just that — mere scares.

But a recent petition made to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the potential to become much more than a scare. It wouldn’t do away with guns, but it’d do away with a lot of ammunition.

Environmental advocacy groups have petitioned EPA chief Lisa Jackson to ban the use of lead bullets, lead shot and lead fishing sinkers on the grounds that the continued use of lead violates the 1976  Toxic Substance Control Act.

The petition (available for review in PDF format at the EPA website) argues that lead shot and lead bullet fragments routinely poison scavengers, songbirds, predatory birds, waterfowl and some mammals. It cites valid scientific studies and makes a pretty fair case for the EPA to mandate non-toxic ammunition.

But to grant the petition and enact a lead ban, the EPA would literally have to ignore the very law the petitioners cite as the rationale for the ban. When Congress passed the Toxic Substance Control Act back in 1976, they specifically exempted lead ammunition.

No problem, say the petitioners. They argue, in essence, that the law refers to cartridges and shells, and not specifically to bullets or shot. They further argue that since bullets and shot are sold individually as ammunition components, they therefore fall under the Toxic Substance Control Act and can be banned by EPA regulation.

It is a sign of the times, I suppose, when perfectly clear legal language can be parsed into something completely contradictory to its original intent.

The EPA has until Nov. 1 to rule on the petition.

Update: Late today, with more than two months left in the petition’s comment period, EPA officials abruptly and unexpectedly rejected the petition. Story is here, from U.S. News and World Report.

dogtether.jpg“We respectfully urge you to repeal this measure and to engage in a community dialogue about how to most effectively address these issues.”

So ended a recent letter from Sarah Sprouse, government relations manager of the American Kennel Club, to Kanawha County Commission Chairman Kent Carper.

Carper and other commission members had railroaded through a countywide dog-tethering ordinance that made some unusual — and some say unreasonable — demands on dog owners.

For instance, the ordinance required dogs to be taken indoors during “extreme weather” — defined as temperatures greater than 85 degrees Fahrenheit or less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The ordinance also required at least 100 squre feet of living space per dog, regardless of breed.

In her letter, Sprouse rightly pointed out that malamutes, Siberian huskies and Akitas are perfectly comfortable in below-freezing temperatures. She also pointed out that many sporting breeds are comfortable in hot or cold weather. And she pointed out that Chihuauas don’t have the same space requirements as Labrador retrievers.

“The ‘Exceptions’ section [of the ordinance] seems to imply that the county recognized some of the inherent fallacies of this provision, but still allows for arbitrary decisions that may cost a responsible dog owner thousands of dollars to rectify or even worse, may force them to surrender the animals,” Sprouse wrote.

In her closing remarks, Sprouse recommended that commissioners work with dog owners to create a more reasonable set of regulations.

Dog owners throughout the county hope the commissioners listen.

Senate shuts off debate on Sunstein

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sunstein1.jpgLast night, the U.S. Senate voted 63-35 to shut off debate on the confirmation of Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s choice to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Services, a.k.a. the administration’s “regulatory czar.”

Sunstein’s record as an animal-rights advocate had drawn flak from sportsmen’s groups. Amazingly, 22 of the 63 senators who voted to invoke cloture on the issue of Sunstein’s nomination were members of the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus.

Sunstein’s nomination now appears to be a mere formality. Thanks a lot, Sportsmen’s Caucus…

sunstein.jpgThe U.S. Senate reportedly will vote today to confirm Cass Sunstein as the Obama Administration’s special advisor for regulation, or “regulatory czar.”

Sunstein, a Harvard University law professor, has history of animal-rights activism.

In a 2007 speech at Harvard, Sunstein argued that “hunting should be outlawed.” In his 2004 book, Animal Rights: Current Controversies and New Directions, he wrote that “we could even grant animals a right to bring suit.”

The interesting thing about today’s vote is its timing. The vote — not on confirmation, but on cloture to prevent a potential filibuster — is being held despite a request for a “hold” by Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson. In literally thousands of Senate confirmation votes since the 1960s, only 71 times has a cloture vote been held to bypass a hold order by a sitting senator.