Kill The Caribou (or How To Snipe Polar Bears by Helicopter)

It’s a little about Trump, a little about Palin … but mostly about lions and tigers … and moose and caribou … and bears, oh my!

Polar Bear in AlaskaMostly, it’s about humans versus our very own science, growing impatient with the natural order of things, and aiming in the dark at some popular critters.

It’s about a bill that passed the U.S. House in February 2017, a controversial attempt at undoing a controversial limitation on a controversial animal control law. A battle of principles where the playing field is the planet and the victims are “not us.”

It could be called an attempt to rebalance populations; killing one animal to demonstrate our dominance (and intelligence) as a species, and preserve our preferred animal (to kill) (a different one); a non-subsistence kill to bolster subsistence kills.

The good news is the preferred animal to kill isn’t the popular bear or wolf, but moose and caribou. Some Alaskans feel the less-preferred animals to kill, though, bears and wolves, are getting in the way!

While we share the Earth with, and value all these creatures, does the end justify the means?

American FlagNBC news reports the U.S. House voted to overturn a restriction on hunting in national wildlife refuges in Alaska (70 million-acres), which, if the overturn is approved, would allow hunting bears by airplane and trapping cubs during denning season. Overturning the restrictions would allow Alaska to mandate the management without federal government intervention (and at least for now, allowing the hunting and trapping), and the principle of autonomy is unnecessarily hanging in balance at odds with predator management.

NBC says “Aerial shooting has been deemed necessary in the past in order to curb predator populations that eat moose, deer and other animals that some Alaskans consume for food. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska), sponsor of the resolution argued that the rule seized authority away from the state of Alaska and is a clear violation of federal law.

CaribouFrom the Alaskan bureaucracy’s point of view, what they’re trying to do is similar to if we had too many coyotes eating our chickens, or too many deer on an island. It’s intended to be a temporary change in the rules that allows hunters to balance things out. One difference to some is that these are bears and wolves, but others might argue they could be coyotes or any other animal, because the only issue is with jurisdiction.

“We have to recognize this is not about the little polar bears, the little grizzly bears or wolves on television, this is about the state’s right to manage – not allowing the federal government to do so,” Young said. “We want to be able to take and manage our fish and game for the sustainable yield – so that our fish and game will be there forever.”

The other side’s response turns out to be the job of the Humane Society, whose predictable bias instructs us Young’s efforts “should shock the conscience of every animal lover in America.” And while some people are probably sitting in appropriate shock, there’s more to it.

Why don’t we ask science? Is the case legit? Are we killing the wrong animals, for the wrong reason? We’ve studied this, right? Before I get any more shocked, as an animal lover myself, I’m going to try to figure this out.

kill the caribouIt’s hard to argue against Rep. Young’s statement that Alaska should be able to make laws without worrying the federal government is going to intercede; true of any state, and many issues.

What’s left? Only one thing. Dead animals, and the lingering question that’s been haunting the Humane Society … a good question, but not one I’ve been shocked by the answer to lately … why would anybody kill an animal? What’s the reason, the purpose?

And for the purpose of fairness, if we, humans, are instigators of shocking events in the animal kingdom, which we sometimes are, if we’re the ones responsible, if we’re the one’s making the rules, the ones who are going to pay by doing shocking things and being shocked by them, if we’re playing the game as the leaders who have the power, let’s please not relinquish that power and put ourselves on the same level as puppies and cows, while, even though they can’t speak for themselves, humans deserve credit for trying to speak for them if we are to absorb the responsibility for sometimes not.

To simply say humans are bad and shocking things are taking place is a real cop-out. It offers no alternative solutions, science or objectivity, and feels like insecure, unstudied propaganda.

A biased statement regarding the Alaskan issue, like this one from the Humane Society, might read: “… we’ll see wolf families killed in their dens and bears chased down by planes.” One wonders about the usefulness or intention. But the statement is humane! Perhaps, though, the “art” of journalism and “cause” of humanity should be prohibited from using bait.

Gray Wolf
A Mexican gray wolf, Canis lupus baileyi

Back in 2009, when Alaska had similar news, an animal rights group claimed science is not, as the rural state’s 44-year incumbent Congressman claims, on the side of the killing. “The Palin administration and the Board of Game are acting with complete disregard for scientific wildlife management” said Wade Willis, Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska representative, claiming “It is unprecedented for such a wholesale slaughter to take place, especially when it is based on such shoddy science and when it includes wolves that have been collared by the National Park Service for scientific study.”

However, it’s not unprecedented at all. Not from the wolf’s point of view, anyway, as he doesn’t really care what country he’s killed in. If you remove the “borders” placed on the story by the lawmaking angle … suddenly it’s easy to find yourself, for example, in Canada!

Regarding the wild man’s best friend, the gray wolf, found around the world, but in North America a species which has over the years been relegated to Canada and Alaska, mostly by human organized effort, planned extermination, poisoning, hunting and bounties, what one article calls “deliberate human persecution,” the animal was “exterminated by federal and state governments from all of the USA by 1960, except in Alaska and northern Minnesota.”

“The decline in North American wolf populations was reversed from the 1930s to the early 1950s, particularly in southwestern Canada, because of expanding ungulate populations resulting from improved regulation of big game hunting. This increase triggered a resumption of wolf control in western and northern Canada. Thousands of wolves were killed from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, mostly because of poisoning. This campaign was halted and wolf populations increased again by the mid-1970s.”

In Canada, residents who have “First Nation” indigenous status, Eskimos and Indians, are allowed to hunt wolves without restriction. “Large-scale wolf population control through poisoning, trapping and aerial hunting is also presently conducted by government-mandated programs (in Canada) in order to support populations of endangered prey species such as woodland caribou.”

The wolf’s dominance may also be its downfall. “Other than humans, tigers appear to be the only serious predators of wolves.”

Wolves have even been known to kill and eat bears. “Wolves eat the brown bears they kill, while brown bears seem to only eat young wolves.”

There are records of wolves killing brown bears, black bears and even polar bears. The gray wolf diet is primarily large ungulates, animals like horses, cattle and deer. The wolf is a smart, social and specialized animal, with a wide potential habitat, and a special “foot-warmer” system that keeps the pads of their feet at just above freezing when it’s cold. Even a single wolf can take down a moose, bison or muskoxen unaided.

These days, they’ve got a new reason to howl.

Still, while history does, science doesn’t always support the tactics used in predator management.

Prey populations have been studied extensively over the past decade, says Dave Kramer from Outdoor Life, and the results are unsatisfying regarding strict rules to follow. Kramer says “researchers came to the conclusion that additional environmental factors, such as habitat quality and abundance, were also influencing the prey population,” and “every ecological interaction is different. When predators are negatively impacting prey populations, predator exclusion may be an alternative option to predator removal. However, in some cases, prey decline may not be a result of predators alone.”

Meanwhile, Defenders of Wildlife says Alaska’s predator control program is “scientifically indefensible,” and calls the federal strong-arm move “a reasonable, science-based regulation that helps protect these iconic species on refuge lands and supports balanced, natural ecosystems that benefit all Americans.”

While state-level autonomy is important in the U.S., the question of best practices remains, and is legitimate.

While the question is for grabs in Congress, we must trust the elected officials do what’s right, and remember they are deciding, technically, not the fate of the animals, but whether the federal government should call the shots. Taking away power from states.

In this regard, a Democrat tweeted “I hear you. Wolves w. pups & bears w. cubs shouldn’t be hunted in #WildlifeRefuges. I’ll be voting NO on HJRes69,” while his Republican colleague chimed in “We just blew up another Obama-era bad regulation! HJ Res 69 passed on bipartisan basis.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker shockingly says the federal law impacts residents’ “basic means of survival,” while the Humane Society launched a television ad campaign to spread its own shock. And still, from the point of view of Congress, it could easily be said they’re only trying to manage their national parks.

This isn’t so much shocking as it is confusing.

In a 2016 Finding Of No Significant Impact, U.S. Fish and Wildlife commented on the national wildlife refuge issue, saying “demands for more wildlife for human harvest cannot be the sole or primary basis for predator control.”

And so … I ask, what’s the world coming to?

What’s the world coming to when we use airplanes to shoot bears? What’s the world coming to when we anxiously wait to see if the Senate votes on killing wolf puppies along party lines? What’s the world coming to when Twitter user “darlajane” (Darla Sheldon) responds to an issue that isn’t on the President’s desk by blaming his sons, Donald Jr. (a bowhunter who wears a belt of bullets) and Eric, who admittedly are probably off somewhere killing leopards, elephants, kudus, civet cats and waterbuck for sport (and hanging crocodiles from trees, or posing, smiling, with dead water buffalo), saying “this is unconscionable. Those vicious sons are behind this I’m sure.” What’s the world coming to when we criticize the harsh by attempting to be just more harsh, and with no need for a factual basis?

Donald Trump Jr. with a dead buffalo in Zimbabwe
Junior with a dead buffalo in Zimbabwe

President Trump may not be shuffling these issues personally, but he is, like it or not, involved. His son’s international vacations are now newsworthy, and bound to fuel the shock. The Washington Post says 86 percent of recent poll respondents oppose big-game hunting, and (while theoretically it would have to be a worldwide law) 60 percent think it should be illegal.

While the U.S. Federal Wildlife Service and its Endangered Species Act (ESA) protect many animals, the ESA does not have the authority to prohibit hunting species outside the U.S.

Nevertheless, this foreign hunting, because it would be illegal if done in the U.S., and because it seems to be done abroad both because the hunting is not “available” in the U.S. and because it’s clearly a way to avoid adhering to what are clearly laws intended to be considered guidelines for conduct for any U.S. citizen, and considering the “thrill” and sport of hunting can be satisfied otherwise, the hunting of endangered species abroad by a U.S. citizen is clearly inappropriate. Both the thrill, but also the corrupt nature of the activity, are enhanced by the exorbitant entry fees paid. So while, in the end, no U.S. laws may have been broken, the guy who paid $50,000 for a lion might still not be the kind of guy you want to bring home to meet your mother, even if he is one of the President’s sons. The kind of guy he is, looks like one who, if he has enough money, might just pay for his pride.

The topic is sharply supportive of what’s going on in Alaska. Questions that arise: When have we overkilled? How important are the opinions of entities that don’t have jurisdiction, and how important the opinions of those who live in the region where the hunting is taking place? Are animals everyone’s concern?

And, maybe most importantly, do we consistently consider ourselves as the top of the predator totem pole, and so appropriately consider ourselves sometimes the “predator?” If we did, would we shoot the lion? Would we snipe the polar bear? It starts to feel very unfair, assuming they’re not threatening us and we’re not dying of hunger.

At the top of said pole, we have the same superiority over our pet brown lab as over lions, bears and elephants, and should be proud of it; and to fully honor our responsibility we need to also remember to be proud of our compassion and not be simply ashamed of ourselves.

Is the story about humans being bad? Or are we naturally compassionate? The definition of humane is “having or showing compassion or benevolence.” It’s sort of the opposite of “getting everyone riled up!”

Before I launch into beating up an organization lots of people like, let me propose this: try to think – is it possible – of a more haughty “better-than-you” concept than the two words put together – “humane” and “society?” It sounds like a group Groucho Marx himself wouldn’t be a member of. It’s a name that can’t help but tilt its nose up.

The Humane Society spends boatloads of money arguing around themes of suffering they pull out of just any news story that might have suffering in it. It keeps the money coming in. The organization’s name is derived from the odd fact writing a check to the “Inhumane Society” wouldn’t feel good.

Humane Society LogoYes, they’re humane, but they gotta pay the bills, and diggin’-deep research isn’t exactly what their clientele is seeking; after all, we know puppies are being treated poorly somewhere, and only need someone to tell us where, so we can write a check.

And let’s face it – it would be a really tall order for a humane society to be able to make ends meet and never take sides in a little argument about inhumanity.

If you have questions, call a local chapter and ask. They’ll refer you to an “Inhumane Specialist” who will drive your emotional need to know what’s wrong with the world, while assuring you it’s all happening.

The website only baits me further, saying “your generous donation will contribute to seeking a gentler, more compassionate world for people and animals alike.”

We’re all bad. Or some of us. … At least they’re not. Instead of teaching people how to be humane, they sponsor “lifesaving animal protection programs,” and it’s all strongly-focused on the negative, sprinkled with hopefulness, while waiting in the wings for more inhumane injustice; their purpose seems to have gotten muddled by being a “complaint bureau.” It should be called the “Prevent The Inhumane Society.” The agency probably does a lot of good work, to be fair, but it’s a cruelty-prevention mission, a clearinghouse for injustice, and its title “humane” pricks at us annoyingly, constantly reminding us we’re not.

In closing, most of the news here isn’t new; it’s happened before, unfortunately, and there have always been challenges to finding the real story. Once we find it, sometimes we’re disappointed it wasn’t exactly as exciting as we were baited to think.

Rest assured, though, the excitement will continue, and despite efforts of some hard-working old-fashioned journalists, a cloud of confusion will continue to rain on our overpopulated landscape of communication, and those who apparently need our attention most direly … will continue to unfairly … toss bait.

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