CASH Courier > Fall 2002 / Winter 2003 Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier
From the Fall 2002 / Winter 2003 Issue


Anne Muller

Black bears normally run from humans. The attack by a black bear on a human infant was an unfortunate freak occurrence. Yet as aberrant as it appears, it should be vigorously investigated.

Lurking in the shadows of the tragedy is the Bureau of Wildlife (BOW) of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Their management of "game" species for deliberate increase via the manipulation of public lands, and the setting of seasons and bag limits now should come under public scrutiny. Those who make a study of "wildlife management" have known for years that BOW is the cause of "human-wildlife conflicts," and now with Esty Schwimmer’s death, that phrase has been taken to the extreme, and can no longer be tolerated.

What has been kept a secret for too long is that our wildlife management agencies manage wild animals into high populations for profit. They manage wildlife for hunting permit fees and excise taxes on hunting weapons. Those monies never leave the Bureau to benefit the general public, but are used to perpetuate hunting and the existence of the Bureau.

Little does BOW want that fact known to a public that believes they are the guardians of wildlife. In the wake of Esty Schwimmer’s death, an urgent investigation is needed to see if wildlife management itself may have played a role in her death. Simplistically calling for more hunting is merely to gray out what should be black and white.

Managing wildlife to be hunted deliberately and necessarily increases populations of hunted species. That in turn inconveniences people, causes crop depredation, and places the public and wildlife at risk of injury or death.

Hunting creates other types of problems which may have had a role: The killing of large female "trophy" bear leaves youngsters without an elder to teach them the way of the world. It takes time for a bear to learn from his or her elder to harvest food, find water, and avoid danger from humans.

BOW works without public scrutiny on wildlife management areas throughout the state. They create ideal habitat conditions primarily for those species managed for hunting. Sullivan County, where the little girl was killed, has two of the largest wildlife management areas in the state. The Bashakill is 2,213 acres and the Mongaup Valley is almost 12,000 acres of prime bear-growing, deer-growing habitat. BOW terms habitat manipulation "habitat restoration."

A BOW report details a management technique to ensure a continuing supply of bears whose numbers dwindle after hunting. It suggests delaying the onset of bear hunting by one week after the start of deer hunting. Managers report that it gives the mothers a chance to den with the cubs, ensuring that the males will be the more likely sex to be shot. That’s good for the trophy hunters who are looking for large black bears, and it allows mom to live to bear more young. It is precisely what BOW does.

BOW profits from big game permits and from excise taxes on weapons used to kill bear and deer; they profit from bear chasing with dog packs. In fact, from July through October, they permit hunters to chase bears with packs of dogs, sending the bears across roads, into towns, and onto private properties. There have been documented car-bear collisions as a result of "bear chasing." They profit from taxidermy, they profit from fees paid to them by private hunt operations that do their own management for bear and other trophy species. They even "regulate" the sale of bear body parts. This bureau has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the public’s concern over depredation, collisions, nuisance, injury and even death. They have certainly been thoroughly callous when it comes to the wild animals who endure so much misery.

It is not unlikely that with the severe drought bears are desperate for food and water. If BOW’s habitat manipulation has unexpectedly been altered by climate, their funds should be used to provide food and water stations both for the sake of the bears and to keep the bears from having to wander far and raid summer resorts. Not to do so is irresponsible.

Wildlife Watch would like to see an investigation by the NYS Legislature into BOW’s management of bears. If it is found that it has played a role in the death of the child, then this bureau, even the State must be held accountable.

Return to Fall 2002 / Winter 2003 Issue


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