A barn swallow, not near a barn.
I’m a hunter. I spend a lot of time thinking about hunting. I think I’m from the old school of wildlifers who went to the wildlife management profession because I was and still am a hunter. There are still some of us around.
I recall learning that managing wildlife and hunting was a close tie because in general, the people who were most passionate about wildlife were hunters. If you didn’t hunt, there were better things to do than spend a career trying to manage wildlife.
The reason the people who were managing wildlife in the early days – and for a long time afterwards – is rooted in history. Lots of people knew there was a wanton slaughter of wildlife going on, but it wasn’t going to stop until hunters themselves put a stop to it. And that’s what happened.
Hunters demanded new rules and regulations, because they knew hunting was a problem.
Over time, the management of wildlife became increasingly complex. But for a long time, the focus was the management of game animals and hunters. And most Provinces and States maintained Game Departments.
Some of the first changes began a few decades ago when Game Departments started to see themselves merged with other departments or agencies with environmental responsibilities.
Once that happened, the tide turned away from hunting, hunters and game.
Hunting, though, is still a problem.
And it’s not getting the attention it needs, in part because hunters don’t have near the clout they used to have in government wildlife management circles.
The focus today is on non-game species, often species identified as a ‘species at risk’ (which suggests that unless something is done, that species could become extinct . . . go the way of the Dodo).
These days, the majority of employees in wildlife management agencies are non-hunters and many studied non-game species during their formal studies in college and university.
A consequence of having a lot of people involved in non-game management – and a lot of interest to be involved in that field – is it creates pressure for non-game departments to grow and expand their budget. That’s just the way government works.
There can be consequences. One that many of my colleagues and I see is a growing trend to identify and categorize more and more species as being ‘at risk’, even if they really aren’t.
Let’s look at the barn swallow as an example as to the point I’m trying to make.
To start, guess where barn swallows nest?
Barns! However, the kind of barns barn swallows like – big and airy with haylofts – no longer dot the countryside. They’ve been falling down for years and aren’t being replaced. Fewer barns, fewer barn swallows.
But barn swallows don’t just nest in barns – before the days of barns, they had to have been nesting in other places.
The fact is, there still are a lot of barn swallows nesting and flying around the countryside. Just not as many as there were back when barns were common..
But because the decline – in some places – was large and is still on-going, the powers that be have decided there must be a problem. In Ontario, the barn swallow is listed as being threatened with extinction. COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, also lists it as Threatened.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, though, one of the most prestigious institutions in North America in bird studies, says this about the barn swallow:
“The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world. It breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.”
Here’s the link. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barn_swallow/lifehistory
As a species, the barn swallow is in no danger of extinction. True, its numbers are down – maybe precipitously in some places – but is the species really in trouble? It’s the “most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world”.
Lots of money is being spent on barn swallows, wood turtles, whip-poor-wills and many, many more non-game species. A lot of that is a ‘good thing’. But it’s not all good.
These non-game species programs cost a lot of money. Managing game costs money too, but game management also generates a lot of money. Lots. There’s not much money to be made managing barn swallows.
If we did a better job of managing game animals, there’d be more money for all sorts of wildlife management. But managing wildlife, in large part for hunters, isn’t ‘cool’. It’s ‘icky’.
There’s no doubt in my mind game species and hunters are too often getting the short shrift.
Hunters and not a small number of non-hunters, know this isn’t right, but don’t know what to do.
Better game management makes economic, environmental and social sense.
In many areas it even has the potential to improve race relations.
It’s just the right thing to do.