Science Based

antelope-1

These days you hear and read a lot about how government departments, agencies and other businesses are making decisions that are based on science. They call it ‘science, or evidence-based’ decision making. Like most of what you see or hear, there’s a kernel of truth there, but often not much more than that.

Since this is a blog about wildlife, I’m going to limit my comments to that subject. But if you think about what’s going all around you with respect to social, economic and other matters, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion. In other words, a lot of talk, but not much walk.

Back to wildlife. . . I’d like to see the science behind a ruffed grouse daily limit of 5, possession limit of 15 . . . because there is none. Studies done decades ago that concluded hunting has little impact on grouse numbers have long been debunked. Hunting does have an impact, especially where the landscape is highly fragmented, hunting pressure is on the high side, and predators abound – like much of southern Ontario. Ruffed grouse numbers across a large swath of the south of this province have been poor for years, but daily bag and possession limits are the same everywhere, and seasons are long (interestingly, they’re the longest in the south! I guess the philosophy is there are so few grouse and the birds are so wily, you need a lot of time to chase after them, especially to have the hope of bagging enough for a hearty meal).

If we go to the opposite end of the spectrum (biomass wise) you get a moose season (again, in Ontario) that has virtually unlimited calf hunting (everyone who buys a moose licence can hunt and kill a calf, although the magnitude of this problem was sort of recognized and the length of the wide open calf moose hunt changed last year. Now, the wide open moose calf season is only two weeks in duration across the core of the moose range, as opposed to the 11 weeks it used to be). But cow moose, even if they accompanied by a calf, can still be hunted during the ‘general’ moose season. Here’s an instance where the science has shown that orphaned calf moose have little chance of survival in areas where wolves are common (and wolves are common over almost the entire moose range in Ontario), yet the science is given short shrift. It’s no way to address declining moose populations.

So instead of really getting at the heart of the issue (i.e., reducing or eliminating the harvest of cows and calves where moose populations are severely depressed, and not letting bulls be killed prior to the rut – which is also going on), the management solution that’s set to be implemented is to ease up on wolf hunting restrictions, hoping a higher wolf harvest will lead to fewer wolves, less predation, and therefore more moose. That might work, but again, the scientific evidence that it will, is darn skimpy. Working against the plan is the fact that in the past, when wolves in Ontario could be hunted with no limit (under the new proposal, the season limit will be two wolves) and people were allowed to pursue them and shoot them from airplanes, wolf numbers in Ontario remained robust. And killing lots of wolves to provide more moose for hunters isn’t exactly something that a large portion of society views favourably.

There are lots of other examples of wildlife being managed despite what the scientific evidence suggests is the prudent course; enough, I’m certain, to fill a large book.

But instead, let’s just look at one more.

It’s as close to irrefutable as I can imagine that unregulated hunting – anywhere – can lead to serious declines in populations of wildlife. Occasionally, as in the case of the great auk and arguably the passenger pigeon, hunter harvest was the primary cause of their extinction. Other species in North America, including elk, antelope, bison and wild turkey, were almost hunted to extinction, but survived. Fortunately, herculean efforts by dedicated conservationists prevented these and other animals from going extinct and restoration efforts – including highly regulated hunting – have seen populations rebound dramatically.

But over large swaths of Canada, the magnitude of unregulated hunting is now rapidly expanding and wildlife is once again under the gun. It’s a huge threat to wildlife and it’s happening despite evidence provided by science; the issue is being ignored in favour of narrow, legalistic, guilt-ridden social concerns. What I’m talking about, of course, are rights-based hunting privileges.

In most of Canada, based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation of Treaty, Aboriginal and Métis Rights, as enshrined by Canada’s constitution (which came into effect in 1982), Aboriginal and Métis people can hunt (and do a bunch of other things ordinary Canadians can’t do) with little or no regard to provincial or federal regulations. Yes, there are some restrictions (for example, the geographic area where ‘impunity’ applies may be restricted to a Treaty area, where Treaties have been signed), but by and large there are: no requirements to have a hunting license, no bag limits; no specific hunting seasons for the species in question; and, no need to follow a number of other regulations that apply to the general hunting public (for example, in Ontario only licensed big game hunters need to wear specific types of clothing, i.e., hunter orange; and, only licensed hunters can’t night hunt).

In essence, these ‘rights-based’ individuals are outside the law and their activities (in this case, hunting), can’t be managed or regulated by the provincial and/or the federal authorities charged with managing wildlife on a sustainable basis. In theory, Aboriginal and Métis people can manage themselves, but there are, for the most part, no legal mechanisms in place to ensure that happens and also nothing to enforce compliance. Besides, many or even most people and communities with these rights don’t want or think there is any need for restraint. Given that all hunters, whether licensed or rights-based, have access to all the modern marvels of technology (e.g., 4X4s, ATVs, GPS, 10 million power candlelight spotlights, etc.), it’s easy to see there needs to be regulations that limit the hunter kill.

It’s a large and growing problem with no solution in sight. The likely outcome, I think, is that many populations of wildlife will be hunted down to low levels, like they were by European colonialists, before everyone ‘wakes up’ and realizes a regulatory framework for all people, regardless of their race, needs to be in place if wildlife is to survive and thrive.

It’s interesting how history repeats itself. It’s also interesting how people who profess to be committed to science/evidence based decision making can so easily turn a blind eye to reality when the fog of being politically correct consumes the soul.

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