Crows and Wildlife Watchers lose big

Utah Wildlife Board in session

Utah Wildlife Board in session

You can’t play if you don’t pay the ante or even have a seat at the table.

That’s what wildlife advocates and bird watchers learned at the 7th and final public hearing on Utah crow hunting.

Despite overwhelming public condemnation and apparent lack of supportive scientific evidence, the Wildlife Board held firm to its ranching and hunting base and voted 3-2 in favor of maintaining the upcoming crow seasons.

Read Part One and Part Two of the Crow Hunt issue.

It was a contentious affair, with shouts of “Boo!” and “Shame!” after chairman Jake Albrecht announced the final decision. For two hours, scores of bird advocates, college professors, aviary and wildlife rehabilitation directors addressed the board with 2-minute allotments of comment time apiece:

Tracy Aviary Executive Director Tim Brown:

“…Even seasoned bird enthusiasts struggle to determine whether a flying black bird is a crow or a raven. Offering such a challenging

Tim Brown, Tracy Aviary

Tim Brown, Tracy Aviary

identification task to an entry-level hunter is a mistake…Another important lesson for hunters is to consume the game…(which) ensures hunters are not just killing for the sake of killing. No one eats crow on purpose. [The hunt] is an ethical dilemma at best.”

Buz Marthaler, Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah:

“We’re not against hunting, we’re against unethical hunting, just killing to kill. We need knowledge, data, and integrity in this rule. The proposed honor system

Debbie Souza Pappas of the 2nd Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation said she works with state wildlife officials who themselves struggle to distinguish crows from ravens (a protected species):

“These are your people. They are this close to them,” she said, using her fingers to show a few inches. “ And they can’t tell the difference.”

Western Wildlife Conservancy Executive Director Kirk Robinson:

“There needs to be a legitimate rationale for killing things. The bar is too low for

Buz Malthayer spoke on behalf of the WRCNU

Buz Malthayer spoke on behalf of the WRCNU

considering this hunt.”

“I told the board this was going to raise some hackles,” said Salt Lake Tribune reporter Brett Prettyman. He’s covered wildlife issues for more than two decades.

Back in the day, hunters were the only ones attending these meetings, he said. Non-consumptive parties (non-hunters) are relatively new to the scene.

Bird lovers may feel they got dealt a bad hand.

Or, given the board’s make-up and protocol, they might say they were left out of the game altogether.

Read more about stake holders here.

Whether wildlife watchers use this defeat as a rallying cry for greater representation remains to be seen.

What about non-consumptive parties having a stake in the process?

“I think it’s an issue the board is going to have to face,” said Prettyman.

Crow Hunt Quandary, Part Two

crowsLast month, the simmering tension between diverse wildlife interests came to a boil as birders, nature lovers, and photographers squared off with hunters and the Wildlife Board.

At stake, the future of Utah’s crow population.

The Board voted to initiate a crow hunt for the first time in state history. Listen to the hearing.

The uproar continued.

Now, the board has another historical first: it will consider comments after having voted a proposal into law. It may keep it, toss it, or amend it.

Why all the hubbub?

Wildlife Board Coordinator, Staci Coons, told me the board is “obligated to consider the science behind a hunt as well as the social implications and public consensus.”

SX-Utah-DWRIt appears the board is struggling to keep in line with its mission:

The Science:

At the June hearing, Utah Wildlife’s Blair Stringham and Mike Linell of Utah’s Wildlife Services (an agency of the US Department of Agriculture) outlined the reasons for the proposed hunt:

  • They stated crow populations have increased and certain farmers north of Salt Lake City have voiced complaints.
  • They stated crows have a significant impact on agriculture, including the habit of pecking the eyes of newborn calves and lambs.
  • They stated nearly every other state has a crow hunt, so Utah should, too.

Listen to the hearing here.

Examination of these statements reveals serious inaccuracies:

Utah is, in fact, the only state in the country with a “very low abundance” of American crows, according to the most respected data collection source,

This chart indicates the crow population from 1987 to 2013, according to the National Audobon Society Christmas Bird Count. It indicates a high of more than 8,000 crows in 2004.

This chart indicates the crow population from 1987 to 2013, according to the National Audobon Society Christmas Bird Count. It indicates a high of more than 8,000 crows in 2004.

the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

 

According to another respected source, Audobon’s Christmas Bird Count, crows here peaked in 2004 and have been in steady decline ever since. Ten years ago, there were nearly 8,400 spotted; last year there were just 1,800.

It is true that most other states have crow hunts. But other states have more crows. Washington counted 26,000 last year; Oregon had 19,000. My home state, Maine (about a third the size of Utah) spotted 12,000.

Dr. Kevin McGowan of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology is one of the country’s foremost crow experts.

I asked him about the eye-pecking.

“That’s bulls&%*,” he said. “It has no bearing on reality. Crows eat small invertebrates and small vertebrates. They’re after bugs, lizards, mice, those sort of things.”

It appears the board has chosen to ignore the science and the social consensus against crow hunting, leaving one to draw just one conclusion:

We’re having a Utah crow hunt because it is something novel to shoot. But since most folks can’t tell the difference between black birds. Many ravens, magpies, grackles and blackbirds may fall victims, said board member Bill Fenimore, one of two who voted against the proposal. “It’s something that has rattled the bird community,” he said.

Did you know?

Crow hunters attract crows by using a distress call. It attracts more crows since they tend to mob as a form of survival and group protection.

“Hunters use these good family values against them,” said McGowan.

Ravens are far more common in Utah and may likely be the culprit to more agricultural damage (like eye-pecking).

Read Part One

Crow Hunt Quandary, Part One

To understand the current brouhaha surrounding Utah’s pending crow hunt, it helps to know about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The model was referred to several times at the Utah’s Wildlife Board public hearing, where the board voted 3-2 in favor of the crow hunt.

It derives from an 1842 Supreme Court case which addressed hunting, wildlife, and set in motion the placement of wildlife into public trust.

In a nutshell, that’s how we’ve gone from Open Season on Everything (circa early 1800’s) to protected species, endangered species, and hunted species with seasons, bag limits, etc. etc.

crow, carrion 05-26 SCOTSportsmen have, for over a century, had a seat at the wildlife management table. They didn’t get it for free. In Utah, the hook and bullet contingent supports 94 percent of the state’s wildlife department budget with its licenses, taxes on ammunition, duck stamps, and the like. Read more here.

As recently as 25 years ago, this sportsmen-government arrangement jibed well with the population. Back then, “every pickup had a shotgun in its rack and every kid had a big rodeo belt buckle” recalled Bill Fenimore, a Wildlife Board member and an award-winning birder.

In 2014, however, scads of Utahns aim only with a camera or pair of binoculars. Many of them showed up at the public hearing.

Blair Stringham, Migratory Game Bird Coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the crow hunt idea originated internally and was sent out to the Regional Advisory Councils for comment sessions.

It was approved by four of the five RACs.

But at the state hearing, more wildlife watchers than hunters showed up. This makes sense since, according to the most recent US Fish & Wildlife survey on fishing, hunting, and wildlife-associated recreation (2011), that population now outnumbers the hunters and anglers combined. Of the 1.2 million Utahns getting outside, just 15 percent of them are hunters. Two-thirds are wildlife watchers.

So why was the crow hunt approved?

SX-Utah-DWRFollow the money.

As derived from the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, billions are funneled from sportsmen and women to state and federal wildlife agencies. For generations, these folks were pretty much the only ones tromping through woods, wading through streams and attending hearings.

Only recently have non-consumptive parties asked to be part of the decision-making dance.

For the first time in state history and in response to public outcry, the Wildlife Board has scheduled a public hearing after their vote to institute the crow hunt. It’s a shining example of the shifting dynamics of wildlife interests and how non-consumptive parties are asking to be part of the process.

But given their lack of contributing dollars, how can wildlife watchers obtain a greater stakeholder status?

  • Charge a birdwatching season pass?
  • Charge hikers an access pass?
  • Tax binoculars, cameras and water bottles?

All absurd, of course.

Incorporating this growing population is “one of our biggest challenges,” said Stringham, who said many different options, including an access license, have been considered. (Generating funds through dedicated vehicle license plates has had limited success here.)

The model, for so long a pillar of what worked for wildlife, is coming under strain in Utah and elsewhere.

“To be a good conservationist, you don’t have to shoot things,” said Fenimore, “Now we have a lot of people interested in wildlife but without ranching backgrounds. The department is struggling to answer the question of how to ask that girl out for a date.”

To be sure, especially if she’s picking up the tab.

Read Part Two

Trail Trash Talk

Woodsy_owlWilderness ethics meant “clean up after yourself” to me, decades ago. Back then, family “vacations” usually had something to do with trail maintenance. My dad was president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and led scores of service outings. Us kids were charged with clearing and clean up. I had a “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” pillowcase and sheet set and probably drove my mother mad singing the US Forest Service jingle.

So littering is an act that I struggle to understand and tolerate.

I’ve logged several hundred miles in the Oquirrh mountains and foothills since moving here last year. By far, the most prevalent users of this beautiful, rugged country are horsemen and women. And by far, the biggest litterers are beer-drinking riders.

That equestrians are most guilty is particularly galling, since I spend a lot of time representing the community with NickerNews and BestHorsePractices. Most riders I know personally are conscientious and share a Leave No Trace mentality. Still, on any given ride, I end up stuffing my saddlebag with somebody else’s empties.

Rather than piss and moan about it, I’ve decided to take action. I planted signs and receptacles in two spots, a mile apart blfrom one another, along the busiest trail in the neighborhood where public and private lands intermingle. The reused laundry baskets won’t collect water and no animal can get trapped in them.

Thus far, riders have dropped growing collection of cans and bottles (mostly beer). Call me odd, but I’m feeling grateful. It’s an appreciation for picking up strangers’ trash that I never embraced as a kid.

These strangers might be shifting the burden off themselves, but, hey, at least they give a hoot.

Watch video of the grand evolution of Woodsy the Owl, the US Forest Service spokesanimal from the 1960’s to the 1980’s.

 

woodsy

Utahns Not Stressed, evidence shows

I stumble into this low cost hair-cutting place in Sandy because I have a coupon and because it’s next to another store, for which I have an even better coupon.

xxxI’m expecting savings.

I’m not expecting a bizarre, Coen-brothers scene where something crazy happens and nobody pays any mind. The following illustrates, in an odd way, how Salt Lake and Provo are some of the least stressful cities in the country, according to CNN Money and Sperling’s BestPlaces.

To note:

Inside the salon, “Jennifer” greets me and points towards an available hairdressing station. The place is empty aside from another gal who’s cutting a young man’s hair. Beside them stands a woman I assume to be his girlfriend. She wears cargo capris, thin-strapped sandals, a sheer blouse with a lime green tank top underneath. Her hair’s in a ponytail so you can see the tattoo on the back of her neck.

The couple is talking about “probation…court…doing time…drug task force…judge…officer…not fair…none of it is fair…” The hairdresser nods and shakes her head in appropriate measures, as if she’s listening to cake baking instructions.

Fargo_095PyxurzIt’s just the five of us. No music. No street noise or machines running. One can’t help but hear bits of their story. That they are discussing such a private matter so publicly doesn’t seem to faze anyone but me.

Another man enters. He’s tall and large, with a belly the size of a load of laundry. He wears sneakers, long shorts, and a worn polo shirt. His hair is already quite short and thickly gelled. Jennifer leaves me to get his name and needs. The man sits down with a magazine.

The young couple continues to insult the local justice system and law enforcement. The young man, with his skinny jeans and a t-shirt embellished with dozens of stenciled pot leaves, rolls his eyes as his companion explains their tribulations.

Suddenly, the waiting man fairly jumps from his chair.

“I’m an undercover cop with the Gang Task Force and you two are a pair of $%#@^&*,” he shouts. “And you!” he says, walking closer and pointing to the girl. “You are a friggin’ meth head.”

I dig my fingers into the arms of the chair and try to assess the situation without turning around. I look into the mirror. I think about an emergency exit strategy. Jennifer straightens my head gently and continues to trim my split ends.

Salt-Lake-City-Utah“I am not a meth head. I’ve never done anything hard in my life,” the girlfriend responds evenly. “And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

The big guy cusses again, throws down his magazine and storms out.

“I’m going after him. I’m getting his badge number,” she says before her boyfriend stops her by calmly putting a hand on her arm.

I exhale.

“We don’t get this every day,” Jennifer says. “Do you want some product in your hair?”

Later, I chat with my friend and Utah native, Byron Harward, about the scene and the profound lack of concern by all parties but me.

He laughs, “Most everyone in Utah floats along, thinking everything’s going to be cool. While in reality, we probably have just as many problems as anywhere else.”

He attributes this faith in good outcomes in part to the Mormon culture, in which there is a certain trust and reliance in one’s neighbor and in one’s self.

He’s lived in other states and has observed that one tends to assume the worst from others, strangers or otherwise.

“The real difference elsewhere is the expectation of problems,” he said.

Apparently, I just need to relax and expect things to sort themselves out. No big deal.

 

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