Saturday, January 05, 2013

Attitudes to Predators

I just got an email from Al Cambronne, who has a new blog Deerland here, and book coming out at Lyons by the same name. He wrote an interesting post on how public attitudes toward three predators-- muskies, wolves, and (Bald) eagles differ as exemplified in his home state of Wisconsin.

I found the discussion stimulating enough that I replied at blog length (edited after more reflection):

Analogies between muskies, wolves, and eagles are... BIOLOGICALLY difficult, because as you surmise culturally different. Muskies have always been prizes, but pike which are similar in every way not always so-- persecuted in European trout and salmon water for one example.

I would say that both wolf and eagle are romanticized and revered by the same element of urban society. Some tribes do hold them sacred, which doesn't mean they don't kill them, sometimes cruelly. Wolves are serious stock predators, which doesn't mean we shouldn't let or encourage their return, but not by doing so on the backs and economy of rural residents. So-called reparations for lost stock, at least in NM, are held to such an absolute standard of proof as to be absurd-- evidence of wolf tracks and eaten carcasses is NOT enough even if wolves were seen chasing stock.

I think the urbanites who so want them might find a way to help pay, perhaps as subsidies to predator- harassed ranchers who must share their land. (That they might then demand a say in ranching practices might open up a bigger can of worms-- they know nothing whatsoever about pastoral life, and some ranchers know only a little more about wildlife, but some places both sides are polarized past compromise-- government's fault, another issue).I think confirmed stock killers should be removed, permanently-- good evolutionary biology too. The surprisingly widespread wolves of Europe rarely bother humans. Ranchers should learn the use of stock protection dogs like my Wyoming friends the Urbigkits. Urbanites should not romanticize individual wolves at the cost of harming humans who must live with them, but take it as a necessary compromise-- you get to hear wolves, problem wolves die, and the rancher is not driven off his land.

I think we should learn to live with a good amount of wolf- game predation-- another divisive issue, but the wild is the wild, and co-evolved species must find their way. Prey populations seem to be wobbling into an interesting balance in big wild areas like Yellowstone. We have a hard time seeing that wild populations are often not stable, but run to boom and bust, and that this is natural. Read Where the Wild Things Were. We have little concept of how important apex predators are-- which does not mean we cannot kill a few!

Eagles? Very controversial and even more complicated, but important to only a few. Legally both wind power companies and Indians can kill eagles, practically speaking almost at will. The first do it as a side effect but kill a lot. Some of the second do it even more crassly for money than the wind blades do, for powwow costumes which are no more religious than a prom dress, though their slaughter is defended by the likes of Leslie Silko as religious last I heard.

Complication number one: there are a LOT of Golden eagles-- five figures worth in the continental US. NOT analogous to wolves! Number two: eagles are still sometimes a significant livestock predator. I know of no recent persecution, but until last year (?-- not sure of the most recent decision), problem eagles were legally trapped and removed. Falconers used this population; in fact, trapped legally. Their take was reduced to SIX a year-- remember, recent studies indicate this is a common bird with thousands of breeding pairs!-- and may be ended for good. This does not sit well with eaglers, dedicated and fanatical even among falconers, who may bond with a bird for decades, while wind blades harvest ten and twenty times the annual number allowed to them, and natives-- I am emphatically NOT talking about the reverent Pueblos, who have a real attitude of respect-- shoot eagles for profit, brag about it, and are released by white judges.

I am, as a once- zoologist, inclined to manage populations biologically. If a harvest of sorts is the price to pay for having wolves back, fine with me. I would crack down on consumptive use of eagles by Indians, as opposed to sacrificial, and FIGHT for it-- no other religion is allowed to decimate a species. And I would allow the same biologically reasonable take on Goldens as applies to any other master falconer's raptor. (Balds are a less active predator, not as good for falconry, and protected for better or worse by the US civil "religion", though I know a guy in Canada who flew a male on whitetail jacks).

I have no trouble with the idea of shooting a wolf-- well, not a huge interest, but I have killed coyotes: Betsy Huntington is buried with the pelt of one. Hunted predators bother us less. Suburban coyotes are behaving in a scary manner in southern California and even Albuquerque, and "lions" can become even scarier when surrounded by gentle vegans (read the cougar book The Beast in the Garden) Specific population numbers are rather irrelevant, and stable is a different number for each species and region; there are always going to be low numbers of apex predators, and there soon could be a decent number of wolves; micromanaging by moving them in and out may actually be hindering them. Shooting persistent outlaws will like it or not "teach them manners"-- they are intelligent-- and keep them from eating our dogs & eventually our kids. And please spare me ideas of their harmlessness; the benign wolf of North America is a historical example of what scientists would call an "artifact", based on rapid settlement and and a historically unusual plethora of guns. Run the figures for Siberia or India-- or go to Native accounts, or Medieval ones (Lane?)...

Can't neglect fish: big muskies (also pike; the large predatory catfish like blue and flathead; alligator gar; even carp in non- wilderness waters). The huge ones are old breeders-- catch, photo & release! It is fine, contra "Throw Back the Little Ones*", to keep small fish & eat them...

*Donald Fagen has a new album out!


PBurns said...

"Who must share their land... "

Who is "their"? In the west, most range land is public land and is subsided to the tune of $12.00 or more per AUM. Pay for wolves and eagles? Sorry, but public lands ranching is already costing us a billion dollars a year. Shoot wolves on private land that if the land owner has predation? Sure. But America owes nothing to public lands ranchers . They owe us fair market value for graze, same as miners for ore and timber companies for timber. Subsidizing extraction industries -- privatizing the profits while commonizing the costs -- is an old western game. Time for it to end.

Steve Bodio said...

"Consider.." as a quote that once failed to convince me began...

That public land lease ranching may be a higher use than the inevitable sudivision, ranchetting, and loss of habitat that follows loss of grazing leases, especially as the anchor deeded land so treated is always the riparian portions...

If you believe in Public Land at all, and unless you are a pure libertarian as neither of us are, SOMETHING or somebody is subsidized. I'd prefer third generation ranchers with a dogged commitment, (whose families were encouraged to settle and who held on, often against tempting offers), and, sure, predators, to ranchettes, worse use and constantly turning over.

I doubt I can move anyone from entrenched positions but it is a too- rarely made argument.

Retrieverman said...

Coyotes here are heavily hunted, and the worst I've seen them do is interrupt a deer hunt by chasing squirrels.

Medieval wolf attacks are fascinating. Part of it is because the line between wolf and dog was so muddled in the dark ages and early modern Europe. The wolves that came into eat Parisians after the Hundred Years War had decimated the French countryside included at least one wolf that may have been part dog. And in France there are two anomalous man-eating wolves, the Beast of Gevaudan and the wolf of Chazes that may have been hybrids. There are plenty of Lutheran Church records in Finland and Sweden that account for children being killed by wolves.

As for North America, the best account of a wolf attack in the US before Carnegie and the teacher in Alaska was Audubon's account of wolves attacking a pair of slaves in Kentucky. One slave was killed, and of course, slaves were unarmed.

Wolves and coyotes are complicated animals. Some kill dogs. Others get killed by them. Others want to mate with them. Some wolves learn to hunt people. Most learn to avoid them at all costs.

I wonder if wolf attacks will become more common as wolves recolonize really densely populated areas. There is a pack of wolves hunting in the outskirts of Berlin as we speak. They are hunting the very overpopulated German wild boars, but I wonder if they will learn to take human prey. Romanians don't think wolves are dangerous at all, and there are plenty about. But I wonder if Western European wolves will cause problems with people as their numbers increase.

Matt Miller said...

Another great post.

I notice that many hunting magazines and organizations have reverted to blaming predators for EVERY game population issue, including declines in mule deer, sage grouse, pheasants, etc.

I admit I am dismayed by this. Hunting coyotes is fine but it is a band-aid for mule deer conservation, and it fails to address the real problems: the development of winter range, too-frequent fires in sagebrush and the spread of cheatgrass monoculture.

I have read several articles in hunting periodicals claiming that Eastern coyotes were "decimating" whitetails in Pennsylvania. For hunters to claim whitetails are decimated in Pennsylvania demonstrates that urbanites don't hold a monopoly on ecological ignorance.

Over the holidays, I was discussing the dramatic population crash of bobwhite quail with relatives in Iowa. These were farmers who are out on the land. They all insisted it was due to the dramatic rise in bald eagles! They were not persuaded by my suggestion that the current corn boom, the loss of all edge cover, pesticides and the current conversion of CRP lands might have more to do with the loss of quail (and now pheasants) than predators.

Hunters have long been the leaders in habitat protection. I hope that the hunting organizations don't lose sight of this.

I am strongly supportive of public lands ranching for the reasons you describe above.

However, I have had ranchers attempt to chase me off public lands and even once a public road. Many outdoors enthusiasts in Idaho experience the same behavior. It is a tiny minority of ranchers but that kind of behavior has to stop, for the good of ranching.

That said, there are also idiot mountain bikers who ride through herds of sheep, and the ATV'ers who leave gates open (or cut fence!) or tear up rangeland or chase cattle. Ranching needs to be part of our public lands' future but there will need to be accomodations and better policing of illegal behavior. Ditto for energy development.

Just Another Savage! said...

Good stuff Stephen, you don't need to post this note but I wanted to say I hope you all had a great Holiday Season. Also I don't now if you ever partake of the Facebook thing but there is a few sites with a few decent dog men on it, a few write for various magazines "Earth Dog Running Dog", Full Cry etc. Anyway I get a good laugh out of some of their antics and learn some good tidbits also. Thought you might enjoy, they are, "Terrer Sight Hound Central," Dig em and Slip em, also "Treed" for the "Tree Dog Men". A few folks from out your way visit em. Good for Staghound and Terrier men.
All the Best in this New Year and
Regards, Audwin

Just Another Savage! said...

Good stuff Stephen, you don't need to post this note but I wanted to say I hope you all had a great Holiday Season. Also I don't now if you ever partake of the Facebook thing but there is a few sites with a few decent dog men on it, a few write for various magazines "Earth Dog Running Dog", Full Cry etc. Anyway I get a good laugh out of some of their antics and learn some good tidbits also. Thought you might enjoy, they are, "Terrer Sight Hound Central," Dig em and Slip em and "Treed" for the "Tree Hound Men".
A few folks from out your way visit.
All the Best in this New Year

Federico said...

Fascinating topic. Before I natter on, I'd like to suggest to the Querencia readers to go and have a refresher on 'self selected group bias' just in case.

First of all I would like to present a different take on predation figures from wherever in space and time. They are a stinking pile of utter bullshit, and they fail to provide any evidence whatsoever about anything at all, and basing one's opining on predators on them is an act of unspeakable folly. Let me clarify. My job involves the collection and management of large amounts of data, and I am surrounded by people who collect even larger datasets, often about complex subjects, such as sexual behaviours. Data collection is never a trivial enterprise, and require careful planning and a large number of checks. There is also the issue of validation once the data has been collected. We know people come up with the most outrageous bullshit when it comes to describing the natural world around them. Hence, unless I have guarantees that the data is not just an expression of: paranoia, economic interests, just plain lies, incompetence, hearsay, inability to tell the difference between normal and pathological behaviour, need to cook up figures for career gains, obfuscating uncomfortable issue etc, I will deem any figures and descriptions of predator kills and behaviour as utter bullshit and nonsense. Just to be clear, people can come up with proper figures/descriptions – please read Jim Corbett for some examples. Please also note his attitude to predators.

On similarly belligerent note, there is the issue of who is in charge of the land, and decides what happens to who. I find the simple mention of townies to be a fast way of going from discussing 'predators' to ending up in bullshit. I have lived both in towns and country and I have met people from many ways of life, and of different shades colour in different continents. On average people do not have the foggiest clue about animals and environment, whether they live in town or country, whether they are noble natives or unpleasant latecomers. What people want is consumer goods, long holidays and higher than average salaries (see my opening comment above). This common indifference to nature has at least the positive property of showing that people are all the same, but makes environment management an utter pain in the ass. Whatever divide we have, both sides will be disproportionately represented by people who do not have a clue, and might have substantial vested interests. Expecting that the average farmer/rancher/good ol' boy could provide a better, more informed attitude to predators and insight on predator management that the boyz from the 'hood is an aesthetic position, not a reality. The 'general' perception of predators is nothing more than a crew-less ship blowing around at random on the sea.

For myself I am not going to let a bunch of (well subsidised with MY tax money) country yoiks tell me how I should see predators and manage the environment because I damn well lived among them and I know that on average what they care about is their profit and convenience, and are doing a damn bad job at being stewards of the land. I will also not let a bunch of urban hipsters who have never seen the animals they so adore how I should see predators and manage the environment because I damn well lived among them, and on average they cannot put litter in a bin, let alone come up with a reasonable and workable plan to manage their cats. Predators are at the same time a wonderful addition to life and a right pain in the ass, if not a proper danger. Many things in life are (is anybody married here?), so finding 'the one true solution' seems to be foolish at best, especially for such moving target as what's going on in the environment.

The best outcome I can see if people stopped and though 'what are we trying to achieve by portraying the issue of predators in such and such way, and why' – that would not be a bad starting point.

Anonymous said...

I think it may be INSTINCTIVE--at least in part, for hunters to be negative towards predators--just as various other animal predators are rather harsh on each other, given the opportunity! Competetion, you know. Humans SHOULD know better, but rarely do. A phenomenon I am seeing/hearing more and more, is the incredibly unskilled and incompetent hunters(talking about whitetail deer hunters here in my experience)--often city/suburban dwelling weekend warriors--can't seem to make the connection between their lack of hunting skill with actual deer numbers--it HAS to be something else keeping them from an easy kill, and the most convienant scapegoat is whatever other predators are around! It is a double-edged sword, this incompetence/ignorance--it causes problems in realistic attitudes, yes, but I believe incompetence/ignorance in a large number of modern hunters in America is why we are having such an upsurge in game numbers and returning predator numbers, like wolves, cougars, black and grizzly bears!(Yee-haw!) And certainly coyotes--including the "reinvention" of the "Red Wolves" in the East. And much as I love all these critters, and am ecstatic to see their return to so many areas, I understand that in human populated/utilized places, some control, at times, WILL be necessary, and preventing people from doing it is only going to cause MORE resentment, and PREVENT people learning how to live--give-and-take--with these potentially dangerous and destructive beasts. The tide could turn BACK, to everyone(or at least the majority) deciding to eradicate these species again--no guarantee these starry-eyed Nature lovers will stay that way! Humans are FICKLE! People against ANY control forget--in the case of wolves, cougars, and bears--next to man, these predators' worst enemies--most likely to kill them--are other members of their own species! So they have no qualms killing/controlling each other! That is just reality. As for wolves killing people in this country, alas, I think we are poised on a time when increasing numbers of human habituated wolves are going to be coming in contact more and more with unarmed people that have no clue how to behave around animals, and there are going to be a lot more wolf attack incidents. And when wolves do that(for some reason), people are far less tolerant than they are with the occaisional bear mauling or cougar attack--doesn't make sense, but there you are. And if this does start happening, I fear the general(voting) publics' attitude is likely to swing back to the old, negative, kill-all-wolves attitude.....L.B.

Anonymous said... for banning all grazing and such use of public lands--it's easy to just lump all such users in one, big, negative category and dispense with them. They are like anyone--some terribly selfish and abusive, others definetely not so!(Ahem! Mrs. Urbigkit I presume?) And it's just WRONG to lump them all together. And how sad if NO ONE can live a life close to Nature and animals like that anymore. Where I live now, how I roam the land and try to live closely with and experience Nature IS against all kinds of white-man laws--but I'm ornery enough to just keep on doing it anyway! But to be sneaky about it! Sad that's how I have to get along. But the lawmakers' incompetence in the woods is VERY beneficial for me as an individual! I had an super environmentally conscious friend once state that he thought all people should be confined to cities(which is where HE preferred to live!), and the rest of the land reverted to wilderness that people had to get permits to access! And he was SERIOUS! I told him I sure as heck didn't want to live that way! Too much philosophy and descision making and developing ethics seperate humans from Nature, as if we have no right to also interact with life on this planet--I think that is a HUGE mistake! And yes, I LOVED the BBC production "HUMAN PLANET"(which I got fairly cheapo and used from Amazon--highly recommended!)....L.B.

Al Cambronne said...

Thanks for the mention, Steve!

Dave said...

The human-predator conflicts are interesting. As a Canadian, I always find the reactions of American hunters to be amusing. Here, at worst, the hunters just blame the decline of game on the wolves; and the ranchers blame the livestock loss on wolves. Yet, in America, people are genuinely concerned about the safety of their dogs, their children and society as a whole. What is commonsense to us is not really commonsense in the lower 48.

On the other hand, the dynamic in Europe is rather interesting, especially in Nordic countries. There are hunters who try to co-exist with wolves, and there are hunters who want to see wolves removed from society completely. The former realizes that the government is not going to budge on the issue and are trying to make life easier for themselves and others; but the latter are perplexed and they don't really understand how countries with high wolf populations manage to co-exist.

What is more amusing though is the reindeer areas. Virtually almost no wolves or wolverine exist there; and eagles are still be poached, despite government protection, for the sake of the "holy cow of the North". While on a summer tour of Finnish Lapland, there were exhibitions of the contemporary poaching by the Sami-people in their hundreds of years war against nature.

(I should e-mail some of the photographs since they concern the Golden Eagle.)

I have no doubt that predators and humans will eventually nco-exist, but in order to do so, it means sacrificing our view of ownership over livestock and the environment.

Steve Bodio said...

Dave: I'd be extremely interested in learning more about the Sami attitude toward predators. The only reindeer cultures I know anything about are the Asian ones, and that is pretty abstract. Of course I have no trouble believing Golden eagles can take young reindeer.

If you're interested email me at "ebodio-at-gilanet-dot com"

Mzuri said...

"Ranching needs to be part of our public lands' future ..."


I saw an earlier argument that ranching is a lesser ill than some alternatives, but I don't necessary presume that our choices are only between ranching and these other alternatives (i.e. ranchettes).

Does ranching on public lands offer an intrinsic benefit to the public lands?