The title of the blog will surely ruffle a few feathers. Wildlife management for the production of trophy animals gets a lot of negative reaction because of what is believed by many to be the intent and intention of such actions. The nub of the issue is: managing for trophies conjures up the vision of growing animals with big antlers or horns, or maybe something that’s big and relatively rare, specifically so hunters looking for such trophies can shoot them. Lots of people find that abhorrent, but most shouldn’t.
The issue, I think, revolves around the word ‘specifically’. And that may not always be the exact word used to describe the intent, but the ‘specifically’ gets across the idea that many people aren’t comfortable with hunters killing trophy animals (plus many people are outright opposed to hunting). But what bothers some people even more, are the people who would take it upon themselves; or, be directed by some agency, often the government, to manage trophy animals so that hunters can shoot them.
However, managing for trophies for hunters is very seldom, if ever, the primary objective in any wildlife management program. It may, in fact be an objective, but wildlife management professionals today use holistic, ecological principles to manage wildlife, even on land or in jurisdictions where the main focus of the wildlife management program is to foster and look after how hunters are managed.
Plus, it should be acknowledged that the consensus amongst the wildlife profession is that it’s generally a good thing for a population of herbivores such as moose, white-tails, sheep, kudus and impalas to have some males who live long lives and sport large headgear. They also believe it’s a good thing to maintain as full a complement of animals as was or is natural for the area, which might mean managing for animals like bears, wolves, lions and rhinos.
If this is what’s happening (in terms of management), then it may well be sold to hunters (whom, as a group, are a major player, or in government speak, stakeholder, in the world of wildlife management) as ‘trophy management’. Selling ‘trophy management’ might be particularly likely to happen in areas where people view hunting, for the most part, positively.
So for me, I find it unfortunate that here in Ontario, any discussion about trying to manage for big, old animals in the population, doesn’t get much traction because at some point the spectre of ‘trophy management’ is raised and if done by government managers (who are responsible for moose management in Ontario), it’s almost assuredly brought forward in a very negative light.
In my opinion, this isn’t good, particularly with respect to moose or moose management, but for other species as well.
The most respected moose biologists in the world, people like Dr. Vince Crichton and the late Dr. Anthony (Tony) Bubenik (chapter authors in the book some call ‘the moose bible’, or “Ecology and Management of the North American Moose”), believe(d) moose populations that have a wide range of age classes, including so-called ‘prime bulls’, are healthiest. Ignoring their advice is one of the problems facing moose in Ontario today.
It’s no secret moose numbers in many parts of Ontario, particularly in the northwest, have plummeted in recent years. The annual licensed harvest by hunters is only about ½ what it was 15 years ago.
Part of the problem is too much hunting of prime bulls before and during the rut. Young bull moose are not particularly adept suitors and cows in heat may rebuff their amorous advances. With few prime bulls in the population, breeding gets drawn out over the fall (instead of a short, intense rut which is what happens when there are good numbers of prime bulls around). As a result, the calving season is also drawn out, giving lots of opportunity for wolves and bears to find and even hone their calf hunting skills which results in them killing and eating a lot more calves then they could if calving was more synchronized.
That’s why biologists like Bubenik recommended hunting not occur until the tail end of the rut, which was more or less what was going on in the 1980’s and 1990’s. And moose did well.
But since then, archery hunting has gained in popularity (some WMU’s issue more archery tags than regular gun tags) and the archery hunt takes place immediately prior to, and during, the peak of the rut. Plus, Aboriginal and Metis harvest has been growing and this hunt, which is unregulated (seasons, limits, licences or tags are not a legal requirement for those who can hunt because of their Constitutional Rights) tend to occur during the rut as well (the rut is a good time to hunt – moose can be called into range rather easily when the rut on – plus there isn’t a conflict with licensed rifle hunters because their moose season has yet to open).
Of course, shooting too many prime bull moose during the rut isn’t the only issue besetting Ontario’s moose population. But it is an issue and one that isn’t being properly addressed because, at least in part, it means talking about the managing for ‘trophy’ moose.
It’s OK in Ontario government circles to talk about managing for trophy fishing opportunities, but it’s not OK to talk about managing for a trophy hunt. Strange, but true.