Saturday, February 25, 2012

In support of Daniel Richards

I hate to see the pressure that California Game & Fish Commission President Daniel W. Richards is under for participating in a hunt he had every right to undertake. Although hunting mountain lions is illegal in California, Richards traveled to Idaho for a successful lion hunt. Richards is not only a hunter, but reportedly is a life member of the National Rifle Association – two things that gall animal rights activists (led by the Humane Society of the United States) who are now seeking his removal. A report in California media quoted a California assemblyman who may seek a legislative resolution that would remove Richards from the commission. It’s my hope that Richards will prevail, because state wildlife commissions need to be filled with people like Richards, and by that I mean hunters and those who view hunting as a wildlife management tool.

Disregarding how it enrages me that agenda-driven activists are seeking to penalize an American for something he has every right to do – in Richards’ s case, traveling to the Northern Rockies to participate in a legal activity, and supporting local economies in doing so – my main concern is the need to retain hunting options for managing wildlife. Mountain lions are not endangered – they are a common, widespread large predator. They must be managed, and Richards gets that.

Why should I, a Wyoming rancher, be concerned about the California game commission? I don’t know Daniel Richards, but I am firmly in his corner. I am terrified about the spread of anti-hunting agenda and how that endangers human life when predators are involved, and keeping people like Richards in positions with decision-making authority for wildlife management is critical to stopping this nonsense.

Changing social attitudes towards predators appear to be one of the factors leading to the increase in predator attacks on humans. Wildlife conservation and preservation campaigns emphasize the need to conserve or save species, but provide little support for actual management and control of predator populations. Increased tolerance for wild animals near humans can cause a chain reaction of a wild animal losing its fear of humans, eventually leading to attacks on their human neighbors.

Animal advocates often promote legislation or ballot initiatives that result in bans or severe restrictions on predator hunting – that’s what’s happened with California’s Proposition 117, which banned lion hunts in California. Regardless of where ballot-box wildlife management is initiated, the result is often the same: a predator population that has lost its fear of humans, and eventually becomes a threat to humans. The areas where most of the fatal predator attacks on humans occur are within or near areas where hunting of predators is not allowed.

California has certainly had its share of mountain lion attacks on humans. Researchers have discovered a pattern of lion behavior that indicates such attacks may be imminent. High mountain lion populations close to urban areas, increases in lion sightings, lions showing little or no fear of humans, lion attacks on pets, and any other pattern of close encounters with humans indicate that there is an increased risk of an attack on humans. Mountain lion experts have determined that most mountain lion attacks on humans are predatory in nature.

Researchers in Canada point out that it is most likely that hunting of mountain lions has helped to significantly reduce interactions between mountain lions and people, but restrictive mountain lion hunting regulations, combined with increasing mountain lion populations, and increases in prey populations, have come with an increase in attacks on humans.

Voters in some states have banned the sport of hunting mountain lions with hounds in attempt to protect the big predators. But such efforts can come with unintended consequences, such as that experienced in Washington after the hound-hunting ban was passed in 1996. State officials found that instead of the selected lion harvest practiced by hunters who used hounds to tree their lions, hunter harvest was much more indiscriminate. Hound-hunters tended to take trophy-sized adult male lions, but hunters harvesting lions on their big-game package tags tended to take any lion they were lucky enough to encounter, so the number of female, reproductive-aged cats increased in the harvest.

Walter Howard of the University of California, Davis, has advocated that mountain lions must be hunted to be managed properly: “Mountain lions are normally quite shy, wary, solitary animals not commonly seen by hikers, hunters, or other people in the mountains. The absolute number of lions present is not very important, for when lions suddenly become very visible … and livestock, dogs, and other domesticated animals are attacked, the lion population has become too abundant.” Howard suggests that in order to show true compassion for lions, wildlife agencies should use licensed hunters as predators to maintain healthy populations of lions in suitable habitat.

Delwin Benson of Colorado State University notes that the historic pursuit and persecution of mountain lions by humans and dogs has helped to reinforce the cat’s secretive and elusive behavior, thus encouraging their desire to keep their distance from humans. Mountain lions that encounter humans with no negative consequences learn to tolerate people, and the lion’s desire to retreat is dulled. Benson suggests mountain lions should be subject to “aversive behavioral conditioning” such as being pursued with hounds to the extent the lion flees, in order to reinforce the lesson that humans are threats and should be avoided. Lions would thereby learn that humans are not intruders, and neither are they prey species.

That’s the kind of lion management I support. And I encourage hunters to come to Wyoming and other states that allow for such lion harvest (and bear harvest, and wolf harvest, etc).

And to Daniel Richards: Hang in there, sir. Some of us really appreciate your efforts.

Added note: The photo I used with this post is of a captive lion. He’s appeared in numerous nature shows. The snowy tundra he’s often filmed in is an Idaho potato field.


Steve Bodio said...

Hear, hear! You said it all, Cat.

Two additions. One is entertaining: my Dec 19 post ( with a YouTube) of a local, bloodless, but typical lion hunt with hounds...

The other, David Baron's book The Beast in the Garden, is about the Boulder lions attacking humans and sometimes eating one-- a chilling reminder that we do not live in The Peacable Kingdom.

Retrieverman said...

It's a great idea to ban cougar hunting.

That way they can learn to hunt dogs and people.

As for wolves, I do support regulated wolf hunting as a way of mitigating human and wolf conflicts. It's not persecution. It's just trying to come up with ways to reduce conflicts.

But if you say one word about it, there are people with a nearly religious conviction about wolves that pales before anything I've seen in traditional faiths.

Large predators learn about what prey is appropriate. And although wolves don't regularly consider people prey, they can learn to do so. It happens in Russia a lot, and in Medieval Europe, wolves took peasants on a regular basis. A large pack even invaded Paris to hunt people for a while. Even mentioning the simple fact that wolves occasionally learn to prey upon people is met with scorn.

If these animals are hunted, the adults teach their young to avoid man-- because man can blast you away. And you don't have them hunting people.

Some people actually think wolves and cougars are endangered. As species, they simply aren't. Regional populations may be.

Anonymous said...

This kind of scenario jerks me back and forth--it's hard to comment fully on why BOTH sides are BOTH wrong AND right on this issue, without totally wearing my right index finger to a nub! One thing Mr. Richards should do next time(and I'm sure wherever he ends up, there is likely to be a next time), is, by gawd, EAT some of that lion meat! I've heard it's actually quite good! Not that that will really lessen the criticism much. Another thing that annoys me(because I am such a peasant)--do people REALLY have THAT much disposable income to use to go kill a critter that's not bothering or threatening them at all? Dang, if I had THAT kind of money, I'd rather do almost ANYTHING else instead(but that's just my individual preference)--like buy all of Steve's wish list for him on Amazon! Just sayin'......L.B.

Steve Bodio said...

Who says he DIDN'T eat it, Lane? I have eaten (hound & bow) lion, shot & cooked by E Donnall Thomas and would again.

So did (non hunting) naturalist David Quammen--Don took him out and changed his mind about lion hunting, and he wrote a column about the controversy in Outside, "Crossing lines in lion country".

He is not the only person to recommend lion (or bobcat) meat to me either. And the other reasons stand. Besides, dogs love & NEED employment...

Anonymous said...

...well, in the article on the link, the AR's were using that arguement that he was killing something but not eating it(a silly arguement when big game trophy hunting is involved--I mean, even if you eat every scrap of an elk or other poplular trophy animal, it is still a VERY expensive and impractical way to procur meat!). And though trophy hunting just irks me on a personal level(I ain't sayin' I'm RIGHT, or that it isn't hypocritical of me, for various reasons I just find it distasteful--but I also wouldn't OUTLAW it!), only the stupidest individual can't help but acknowledge that by giving various animals such monetary worth, species and habitats are protected that otherwise would not be. But two things about this particular discussion I find perplexing. Although Mr. Richards may not have openly publicized his hunt, he SHOULD have known that if found out(no matter how legal his activity was where he hunted) he would face all manner of controversy and possibly totally alienate his constituents--which he did! If he WANTED to stir the pot, and go out a political martryr, then he is likely going to be successful! If he really wanted to implement change in California by getting such an obviously prestigious and lucrative position(is he not even worried about being unemployed?) he should have gritted his teeth and at least played along a bit--it goes with the territory in that business, to get ANYTHING accomplished! It's like going on the T. V. show "Survivor" and doing stuff to purposefully irritate everyone, and be so cocky you think you are invulnerable. Yup, you'll quickly be voted off the island! be continued....L.B.

Anonymous said...

....the other thing is, hunting and killing animals in remote wilderness areas(where most trophy hunts take place), won't help much in training predators in the areas(near human settlements) where they are potential problems. I understand WHY such humongo expensive hunts don't take place in suburban sprawl(not very aesthetic surroundings for a hunt!) and that the very people who would most benefit will squeal and howl the loudest if such did occur, but that is just how warped things are now. In the past, hunters would walk or maybe ride a horse from their settlements to hunt, and certainly did make an impression on local predator populations, but those days are mostly past. I suppose large ranches that allow hunting could benefit from such "training" of the local predators, but then, most ranchers handle that "conditionning" quite well themselves!....L.B.

Anonymous said...

....I personally saw this scenario aroung Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near where I used to work, on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains. Local black bears were making a nuisance of themselves raiding dumpsters, causing all manner of damage and fear with the local residents, but when some local hunters , during legal bear hunting season, treed and killed some of these bears with hounds, the residents raised bloody hell! And yet, it was acceptable to these residents for Rangers to shoot or trap and euthanize the bears. Go figure. The problems continue in that area, and likely always will. Yet killing a naturally shy, wild bear deep in a distant wilderness area some distance away is not going to help this situation out a bit, where the bears have become habituated to humans.....L.B.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Lane, you're buying into an incorrect assumption of the West - that of hunting of these predators is taking place in remote wilderness areas. I doubt that most mountain lion and bear hunts occur in wilderness areas. The West is a big place, with people scattered here and there, and predators are located where prey animals reside - and that is often outside of wilderness areas, especially where humans have made alterations to the environment (irrigation, vegetation manipulations, etc). Most wilderness here is high mountain, and buried in snow most of the year, so provides only seasonal habitat for prey species.

Anonymous said...

I ain't buyin' into it--I ain't got near enough money! Yes, us Easterners definetely have a different idea of "wilderness" than you guys out West! But the advertisements I've seen for Big Game hunting out West do tend to promote hunts in a "wilderness setting"--no doubt that has greater, more romantic appeal to prospective trophy hunters. While pondering all this, I thought of the very interesting tale of a trophy hunt in Zambia, where a man-eating lion was terrorizing a district, and an American trophy hunter(Wayne Hosek) was asked to help, which he generously did with his limited time, and eventually bagged the infamous "maneater of Mufuwe"--an interesting account to read about, for sure, if you've never encountered it yet. One time when even I have to admit a trophy hunter really came in handy! On cougars specifically, though, whenever this discussion comes up, AR's who have actually done their research often will throw out there(on the subject of hunting cougars makes them fear and avoid people) that the place where the most recorded cougar attacks have occurred is also an area where they are heavily hunted--Vancouver, B. C. And it IS true, though much postulation has gone into why this may be so--it appears to be something of a unique, perhaps untypical set of circumstances. One of the theories is that there is more social pressure among the cougars since it is a limited island environment(dispersal being rather difficult!), so there is fiercer competition for prey and territory, therefore more selection for aggressive behaviour in cougars that incidentally leads to more attacks on humans. It sounds plausible enough to me.....Anyway, it could be postulated, when hunting-as-adverse-training discussions get going, that because of this heightened level of aggression in Vancouver's cougars, hunting them is MORE necessary than elsewhere! Hey, I'm at least TRYING to be fair, here! But you must excuse me, as the keeper of a couple of splendid cougar personalities in a zoo, I am naturally going to be somewhat biased on this issue! So Cat, have you ever lost any livestock to cougars? I suppose out in the Plains habitat you are in, cougars aren't likely to show up much?....L.B.

Anonymous said...

Well, it appears(from the link Steve sent) that Mister Richards DID indeed eat his lion! But did that help his position or get him any sympathy? Nope, now that is being used against him as being rather disgusting! Goes to show, you just can't win in situations like this. I wonder if transporting partially digested mountain lion parts in your stomach across California State lines is considered illegal? I'm suprised his detractors didn't think of that--but no doubt things have moved along by now, and it would be a moot fecal. I expect regardless, he WILL be voted off the island. Sounds like he really was in the wrong business--he should move to Idaho or somewheres and start up a trophy hunting business!....L.B.