Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Frustration of Poaching

"Seca" (now Deceased)

Last fall, a photo of masked "hunters" (facebook, Sportsmen & sportswomen Against Wolves; Note- Closed Group) and a pile of wolves killed in Wyoming garnered over 500 likes and 300 shares in just three days.  Comments accompanying the image were quite disturbing (to me anyway): 

"Love this!!!!! I fully understand the masks, yer not idiots like those daring you to show yer faces!!!! Keep on killing guys"
"Smoke a pack a day"
"Kill everyone you see boys!"

This post has been a long time in coming for me-stewing around in my head for several years, maybe farther back if I think of it. I was raised as an outdoorsman, hunting and fishing since a child with my father, grandparents and uncles. They grew up with those outdoor sports as a matter of need-the fish and game were table faire and supplemented a thin stock of food in the pantry. I was schooled with a "you eat what you kill" credo out of reverence to the animal. Game laws and wardens were to be respected, even if one didn't agree 100% with them (who wouldn't want five or six rods out when the fish are biting?).  My outdoor tutoring with family and friends carried on the tradition and responsibility that we are stewards of the land and it's resources. I had good teachers.

The masked "hunters" are not. They are criminals. Selfish criminals robbing the rest of us. The environmental scientists at the University of Massachusetts proposed poaching as "an environmental crime, defining any activity as illegal that contravenes the laws and regulations established to protect renewable natural resources including the illegal harvest of wildlife..." Sociological and criminological research on poaching points to the reason for doing so because of claims to a right to hunt, disagreeing with game laws or negative belief in legal authority. Again, just like driving 60 in a 55 zone, no one is pure, including myself, but flaunting and bragging of poaching takes it to a new disgusting level-especially in public.

The facebook image (now hidden) didn't spawn this post. It wouldn't matter if instead it were a pile of cute bunnys or rattlesnakes.  Rather it was a braggart in a local bar, with maybe 3 or 5 too many beers in him, loudly and proudly proclaiming their success in killing five wolves from a pack in the county forest this past winter. "There's four more out there and we're gonna git 'em." he added. For starters, the legal hunting season was long past and two, bragging of it, only succeeds in giving all hunters a bad name. His story telling, and sites like the FB page show blatant disrespect of wildlife. I wondered- what does this mentality teach the youngsters nearby lapping it up-let alone other patrons within earshot? In our day of age, we as a hunting and fishing community should do everything we can to promote the sport and show respect for the resource and the regulations that guide us-even if we don't agree whole heartedly. His self-indulgent gloating was setting us all back and he seemed proud of it. My first thought was to peel off the "no/wolves" sticker from the pick-up bumper in the bar parking lot, but it would gain nothing.
Poaching and worse, killing animals and leaving them to rot is especially offensive. It serves only the anti-hunting establishment and surly doesn't improve relations with the non-hunting public. Perhaps even worse in these county forest killings was the fact that little effort was taken to hide the crime-not the usual ("SSS"-shoot, shovel and shut up), but rather some of the carcasses were recovered by game wardens. It seemed almost a slap in the face toward law enforcement- "what ya gonna do about it?"

It became very clear how effective these poachers have become on a recent DNR wolf survey flight I joined. Three of the collared wolves in the study area from last year were now shot-victims of "lead poisoning" as the researchers call it. Disheartening, knowing how much time, money and effort scientists put into understanding the complex lives of this animal and their place in nature.  I constantly hear how wolves are overrunning the state, and the DNR population estimates are too low.  We’ve learned however, the illegally killed animals probably more than double the hunt quota-not a small number and they are unaccounted for.  Those who would disregard the resource, putting themselves and their groups above the law, are plain greedy.  They see their "sport" and their disdain for one animal over another as the only true way.  They see just one pinpoint perspective of how our natural world is-(or should be) …all other opinions (and laws) be damned.

That's a pretty sad outlook.  We are lucky to live in a state with so many resources, so many ways for everyone to enjoy the outdoors-an asset that could and should be protected by working together not by destroying anything outside of ones narrow self centered field of view.  Eventually, this group of wolf (substitute deer, bear, salmon, etc) poachers will be caught, but at too great a cost sadly, for how many more animals will be taken before then and will it stem their attitude?  We can only hope, for it's all about respect-of others and our natural resources. 

Too often, we create circumstances where we feel we must kill individuals of one species to protect some aspect of ecosystem health... Do two wrongs really make it right?  The solution involves greater respect for life at each level in the great hierarchy. And the solution almost certainly involves better understanding the lives of individual organisms. -John Vucetich. Wild Wolves We Have Known