HOW HUNTING CONTRIBUTES TO SPECIES EXTINCTION
By Ron Baker
One of the most common arguments that hunters use to defend their
“sport” is that hunting has nothing to do with the endangerment or
extinction of any species of wildlife. The facts dispute that claim.
Actually, hunting and game management contribute to the extinction of
wildlife in many ways.
For one thing, state wildlife agencies spend very little money to
restore rare, threatened or endangered species. During fiscal 1980, the
New York State Bureau of Wildlife spent only $174,000 for this purpose,
and some of the money was used to “produce educational materials and
displays.” $143,000 was spent to create three endangered species
enforcement positions. An additional $20,000 was used for a status
survey of loons, a species in decline; and $50,000 was used to collect,
store and process information on rare plants, animals and ecosystems.
The $387,000 spent for these purposes was only two and a half percent of
the 16 million budget of the Fish and Wildlife Division for fiscal 1984.
It is worth noting that these activities were all financed by
voluntary income tax donations. No hunting license funds were used for
non-game or endangered species work, nor were any Pittman-Robertson
funds appropriated from the 11 percent federal excise tax on firearms
and ammunition (twenty-five percent of which filter back to the states).
In fact the New York State Conservation Council, a powerful coalition of
fish and game clubs, has consistently opposed the use of hunting license
money to fund non-game management and endangered species restoration.
The wildlife department of other states operates in essentially the
same fashion. During one recent year, the New Jersey Fish and Game
Department spent approximately one million dollars on game habitat
manipulation, $700,000 on pheasant and quail propagation, and only
$25,000 on endangered species. The Montana Wildlife Department includes
a non-game branch with $40,000 per year staffed by a single biologist.
By contrast, Montana has more than 700 species that are officially
classified as non-game, including eagles, falcons, badgers and marmots.
With so little money spent on non-game and endangered species, what
do state wildlife agencies do with their money? Mainly they manipulate
wildlife and their habitat to provide targets for hunters. Game managers
have a broad public land base with which to operate. In most states only
a few non-metropolitan parks are protected from hunting, and many states
are now opening their state parks to hunters because of a decline in
lands available for hunting, combined with an increase in the posting of
private rural acreage. In New York, for example, more than half of the
state parks have been opened to hunters. Meanwhile, most states spend
comparatively little money for significant habitat acquisition, and when
they do, the parcels that are purchased are rarely off-limits to
hunting. Some habitat that is acquired is added to state game lands
(wildlife management areas). During one recent year, the state of Idaho
spent four and a half million dollars to support hunting and fishing and
only $875,000 for habitat acquisition.
The effect that this has on wildlife is often disastrous. Most state
wildlife agencies stock a few favored game species such as the
ring-necked pheasant and wild turkey, but do little stocking of
endangered species. Large predators such as the timber wolf, panther and
lynx, which are nonexistent in many areas, are shunned because they
compete with hunters for game animals. Hunting regulations are
structured in such a way as to create an overabundance of ungulates,
such as white-tailed deer. This is done partly by distorting sex ratios,
including increased reproduction. They have to do that to compensate for
the sudden annual population crashes caused by hunting. Often food is
increased through habitat manipulation (more about this later).
The non-game species that compete for territory and the same types of
food are often crowded out of the habitat. And even some game species
are adversely affected. For example, excessive browsing by large numbers
of deer on low-level buds during the winter in northern states may
result in declines in the population of Snowshoe hares (which eat these
buds). Fewer hares means fewer hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, and other
animals that prey on them. These predators must find other prey species
or starve, and during some years there may be few squirrels, mice and
other small animals to feed upon. The entire ecostructure is adversely
altered and there is not the biological diversity of animal life that
would exist in an unhunted natural or restored ecosystem. A few species
exist to the detriment of many.
In some areas where the exotic pheasant has become well established,
it utilizes food, cover and space that could be used by rare threatened
or endangered birds and mammals native to the habitat.
In heavily hunted areas, hunting directly affects non-game species,
including those that are low in number, because of hunting pressure,
loud gunshots, and the shouts of men driving deer during deer season.
This creates stress on all the animals of the forests. Birds and mammals
of non-hunted species are also stressed, especially during spring hunts
when the young of most species are being born or about to be born.
Deer management, which maintains deer populations at artificially
high levels for hunting, is particularly destructive because deer are
large animals, which consume a lot of food, and are ecologically
The management of deer was explained by C.W. Severinghaus and Robt.
W. Darrow in an article in the Sept-Oct 1976 issue of The
Conservationist, the magazine of the NYSDEC. Titled “The Philosophy of
Deer Management,” the article stated in part:
“Ideally, if the desired number of antlered and antlerless deer are
taken (killed) each year, the population will comprise the highest
number of breeding females and the lowest number of adult males that
collectively can be supported on the critical winter range. As a result
a maximum fawn crop will be produced each summer.”
Terry Moore, a regional wildlife manager for the New York State
Department of Wildlife, wrote in an article which appeared in the Olean
Times-Herald on September 30, 1978, “We will attempt to increase the
number of deer until we experience high incidences of deer-car
collisions, depredation of agricultural crops becomes intolerable,
and/or the effects on deer habitat begin to result in deterioration.”
Why? To increase the success rates of big game hunters. Little wonder
that many species of wildlife are in serious trouble!
Even more destructive than wildlife manipulation for hunting is the
manipulation of habitat that is often used to increase game animals.
This includes burning, logging and poisoning of plant and animal life.
During the mid-1970’s the state of Connecticut logged thousands of acres
of state forests to produce an abundance of low-level browse for deer
and increase the size of the herd, which at that time numbered about
4,000. Within six years the deer population has skyrocketed to 22,000.
By 1981, a hunter who had received enough permits (including some
obtained through a state lottery) could legally kill as many as four
deer. By 1985, the number was eight deer!
In Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources supervised the
logging of more than 200,000 acres of state forests during the mid and
late 1970’s, thus increasing the deer herd in that state from 400,000 to
more than a million animals. Many areas were clear-cut, thereby
destructively altering the habitat and resulting in the loss of many
species that prefer heavy forest. Many other animals were killed or
displaced during the logging operation.
The use of fire to create browse for deer in mature forests is even
more devastating than most logging activities. Many small animals are
burned alive and many toads, salamanders and insects are also killed,
completely upsetting Nature’s balance. Low-growing bushes that would
provide berries for many species of birds and mammals are killed. If
there are any brooks in the path of fire, the composition of the aquatic
life is altered.
Since much burning is done during the spring, the smoke-producing
fire drives away nesting birds. Those that return may not survive
because of the incineration of their food supply. Animals that do return
find a destructively altered environment, a charred ground surface that
is far from an ideal habitat for any animal. Burning is often done in
national wildlife refuges, such as the Arkansas Refuge on the east coast
of Texas. It is also done in some national parks such as Yosemite. In
the autumn of 1981 a “controlled burn” in Yosemite ravaged 5,000 acres.
Six additional burns were conducted during the summer of 1982.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as a wildlife management
procedure, is using Pittman-Robertson funds to finance the spraying of
toxic herbicides and pesticides on federal lands. Herbicides are used to
destroy unwanted vegetation and promote the growth of low-level browse
to encourage large numbers of deer; therefore, there are more deer but
fewer other animals that would utilize the vegetation for food or cover.
In 1983 more than 40,000 acres were treated with toxicants for this
purpose. Hunted waterfowl are “favored” by encouraging the growth of
plant food through the poisoning of carp and other “nuisance fish” and
by poisoning some types of plant life in marshlands along coastal areas.
For a more thorough discussion of the ways in which recreational
hunting and wildlife management are destroying the ecostructure of our
wild, you can order Ron Baker’s book, The American Hunting Myth, through
our catalog in this newsletter.