Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How the Minnesota DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program Has Betrayed Its Supporters


Photo by Gwyn Calvetti

A lot of people are decrying the Minnesota DNR for opening a season on wolves this year. For a third time in less than a decade, the DNR betrayed those of us who support the state’s Nongame Wildlife Program. When Russ and I moved here in the early 1980s, the wolf was a critically endangered species. We donated as much as we could afford every year to a program advertised as protecting beloved non-game wildlife. But the DNR is now engaging in a horrible bait-and-switch scheme. As soon as species we supported with donations and volunteer work reach sustainable numbers, they’re being re-designated as game species.

Sandhill Crane

The Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program made another beloved species, the Sandhill Crane, their actual poster child for the nongame program in the northwest region. This is ironically the exact region where the DNR opened a Sandhill Crane hunting season in 2010. Three seasons of crane hunting have come and gone, yet the Nongame Wildlife Program keeps that photo of a Sandhill Crane on that region’s nongame web page. Back when we started donating, Sandhill Cranes were a hotline bird hardly ever seen in northeastern Minnesota. Thanks to research and conservation work by non-profits such as the International Crane Foundation and by nongame wildlife programs, the Sandhill Crane is flourishing again. We didn’t realize that the end result of our hard conservation work would be to re-designate cranes as game birds—their status before their populations were wiped out, partly by overhunting, in the first place. I particularly hate the idea of hunting cranes because they are so bonded to their lifetime mate.

Sandhill Crane

The DNR first betrayed supporters of the nongame wildlife program in 2004, when they opened a Mourning Dove season. Sadly, anti-hunters showed up at hearings, unfairly and even viciously attacking hunting and hunters, dooming a fair scientific evaluation of the proposal. I talked to several hunters who told me they personally were opposed to hunting doves until they heard the mean-spiritedness of the opposition. Duluth Audubon and I had made two requests regarding the season. First, we wanted the hawk migration pathway along the North Shore of Lake Superior closed to dove hunting. Even in states with longstanding dove hunts, hunters mistake a lot of birds for doves. One Texas case made national news when a TV news team followed a hunting party as the leader winged a bird. It was still alive when he picked it up and wrung its neck. None of the experienced hunters nor the TV crew noticed that the bird wasn’t a dove at all—it was a Killdeer—until it aired on the evening news. At Hawk Ridge, I’ve heard fairly experienced birdwatchers mistake flying doves for our two small falcons, American Kestrels and Merlins, and I’ve seen experienced birders confuse kestrels and doves when one is sitting on a power line at a weird angle. Since the hunting season coincides with the peak of falcon migration along the shore, we thought restricting hunting in this unique area of international importance was justifiable, especially because dove numbers are so much lower here than in other parts of the state anyway. Our other request was that they limit this new hunt to non-lead shot. But the DNR refused to even consider these requests.

Mourning Dove

So as 2012 draws to a close and Russ and I work out how much we can afford to donate to good causes, the Minnesota DNR has made one decision a no-brainer. I feel sad abandoning a program that still does a lot of good for wildlife. But this new wolf season and that Sandhill Crane photo still gracing the Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program’s northwest region webpage are ample evidence that this program has jettisoned its original mission and left us behind. 

Mourning Dove

12 comments:

  1. I feel your pain. It seems like you may have to find another place to support. Why in the world would they open up on Wolves and Sandhill Cranes??? Especially the Cranes. There isn't any purpose to it other than to kill....and that's rather sick.

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  2. I have to wonder, when the money has been spent to re-establish a predator in the natural food chain and they help with the ever increasing deer population.....what is the purpose? No one eats them. Some cultures even have taboos regarding carnivores. So...why? We have the same thing happening in Wisconsin.

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  3. Thanks for your wonderful post. The doves infuriated me, the cranes broke my heart, now the appalling slaughter of our wolves. It's beyond time to get political. Tom Landwehr has got to go. The legislators who support the DNR's position on these issues must be made to understand that they are vulnerable.

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  4. I still think the non-game wildlife program is worthy of support. It allows protection of habitat and funding for programs which specifically are geared for non-game wildlife. In some cases, sandhill cranes and wolves, the result of these funds and efforts result in the opening of a hunting season. These two are visible, charismatic species which carry lots of cultural weight. It's hard to see what other non-game species would similarly have hunting seasons opened for them if their numbers were to allow it.

    Even though it is hard to have a season on wolves and sandhills it is due to their populations rebounding; a result of successful programs protecting them and their habitat. It becomes a question of cultural values--not biological ones. Although questions of pack structure, for wolves, and pair bonding, for sandhill, are valid.

    In the case of wolves, I think the open season will do much to diffuse a growing perception among some hunters and residents that wolf numbers were climbing beyond acceptable levels and wolf behavior is changing. I think the DNR has been under growing pressure to do something about wolves. Several hundred problem wolves are being killed every year by government trappers/hunters and I'm sure many wolves are killed illegally. These legal seasons may not change things significantly for the reality of a wolf's existence, but they will ease things from a public perception point of view.

    I am disappointed that lead shot is allowed for dove hunting. I'm disappointed with the entire lead issue regarding hunting ammunition--both lead shot and bullets. There are alternatives which tend to be more expensive but we, hunters, push back anytime effort or suggestions are made to move away from lead ammunition. We need stop using lead.

    I'm not sure how much of an issue the raptor/dove corridor is. Dove hunting is most pursued and popular in the agricultural areas where doves congregate and can be patterned. I don't think much dove hunting occurs along the north shore. Still, identification can be hard even for our dear leaders. Wasn't it Gov. George W. Bush who shot the killdeer causing Gov. Ann Richards of Texas to quip "That ain't no dove, Gov."?

    Hunters and Anglers are some of the most ardent conservationist I know. Money from duck stamps, habitat stamps, licenses, taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, have preserved thousands of acres of wildlife habitat both for game and non-game species. Can birders and animal rights activists say the same?

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  5. I agree that few doves are shot along the North Shore--my dove route for USF&WS never has had more than four when hundreds are counted on better routes in w. Minnesota and in North and South Dakota. So why did the DNR insist on having the season in the NE Region? They often restrict seasons to some regions and not others. It was disrespectful to blow off our request, and for what? And it was unconscionable for them to allow a NEW hunt that would be using lead shot. Period.

    I used to believe hunters were conservationists, but they are squandering that reputation by fighting so hard against lead restrictions. I was a rehabber and am too much in touch with various rehabbers to believe the lie that it isn't harmful.

    I and many other non-hunters purchase at least one Duck Stamp every year. And every non-hunting conservationist I know supports our state's non-game wildlife fund and The Nature Conservancy, which preserves land specifically for at least one game bird in Minnesota, the Greater Prairie-Chicken, as well as many nongame species and game animals that use that habitat. And if you look back into history, a great many hunters fought tooth and nail against license and Duck Stamp requirements and the Pittman-Robertson Act. ANYONE who buys guns and/or ammo is essentially contributing to conservation, but I don't think you'd count muggers and drug dealers among conservationists, would you?

    I'm not an animal rights activist, and have no idea why you'd include them with birders, because so many of them fight so hard to protect feral cats in the wild.

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  6. And what other charismatic species have been restored by nongame money? Trumpeter Swans come immediately to mind.

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  7. Folks, you want to know how the DNR works? Spend some time in the House Natural Resources Committee--especially when they're hearing non-hunting/fishing bills. That's all you need to know.

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  8. I'll grant you that the lead ammunition issue gives hunters a black eye. I have stopped using lead ammunition but I do know many who continue to use lead in their deer hunting cartridges. Hunters have fought lead ammo restrictions. This is true. And yet the angels of our better natures watch over us and push us towards better regulations. If I lumped birders and animal rights activists together it is only because the issues of the wolf hunt and the sandhill crane/mourning dove hunt were brought together in your post and these different groups are represented there.

    Where are the sportsman/conservationists of today? Where are the Sigurd Olsons and Aldo Leopolds? I see them in such as Dave Zentner, Mike Furtman, and Sam Cook. All hunters, anglers, conservationists. I take heart in them and the disparate organizations which fought for the legacy amendment and the protection and enhancement of Minnesota's outdoor heritage.

    I find the greatest hurt in the in-fighting which occurs between these different groups who truly love the wild birds, animals, and lands of Minnesota.

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  9. I'm certainly not going to dismiss the conservation ethics of Dave, Mike, or Sam. But you are dismissing my conservationist credentials, just because I refuse to shoot a gun. Do you dismiss the conservation values of The Nature Conservancy, too?

    I've been posting your comments because you're speaking somewhat reasonably even if you are so dismissive of the conservation values of the very person who is providing a forum for you. But I find it tedious arguing with someone hiding behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity.

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  10. And "these different groups" are NOT "represented" in my blog post. I was writing about three species of importance to ME, not with reference to any group. I was saying simply that the DNR figured out a way of taking money from me to restore populations of unhunted wildlife only to switch them to game species once their populations were higher. Show me a single actual scientific study that shows that either wolves or Minnesota's Sandhill Cranes can sustain a hunt. No one has the data to even be certain where the various populations of cranes migrating through the Northwest Region breed or winter.

    Individual choice as far as using lead shot makes as much sense as the EPA saying companies really shouldn't pollute, but it's up to each one to make that decision. And the "better angels" I seem to be hearing about when hunters give up lead seem mostly to come out when they realize they and their children are consuming toxins when they eat venison. I'm not seeing better angels as far as actual conservation goes. It's been decades since lead was banned for waterfowl hunting, yet I still see lead shot casings here and there in wetlands--lead is still legal for use in most wetlands as long as the target animals aren't waterfowl. And I am still reading on hunter websites the exact same baseless nonsense about it not being "proven" that lead causes problems.

    Groups are not conservationists, though a handful have conservation as their mission. Individuals are conservationists, and many, perhaps most, are not hunters. Hunters get the PR is all.

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  11. I happened across this page kind of accidentally, looking for DNR statistics on funds, and I have to say that I'm a little disappointed. The entire point of DNR conservation efforts is to allow a species to become populated enough that human hunting would not harm the overall numbers of wolf populations. Let me begin by saying that there are probably twice as many wolves out there as statistics show, because the statistics only really include collard and radioed packs in the upper portion of the state. But what you don't know is that males go rogue from the pack at a certain age, and they stay that way for years, wandering around. Much of our population has been spotted as far south as Rochester, and Illinois, and the Dakotas, and all these rogues are not counted in the statistics. But the anti wolf-hunt campaigns forget to mention that. They also forget to mention that wolves are an apex predator, meaning they are NOT supposed to be high in population because of how much life-energy it really takes to support a single wolf, much less an entire pack. They also neglect to mention the other statistics that go hand-in-had with wolf statistics, like the fact that in Minnesota, where wolf populations have boomed, our moose population has decreased by over 70% since 2006, and over 35% just within the last year alone. You know why? A major contributing factor is that moose calves are killed by wolves. Wolves not only hunt moose calves, they essentially torture their prey. They separate a calf from a cow and chase it, chewing on the legs and the hindquarters, stripping the flesh from the calf, but allowing it to live for hours this way. Everyone thinks that wolves are some helpless critter that needs serious protection, when in actuality, they're extremely vicious and cruel, and more numerous than you can imagine. Every time I go out to check traps, I see fresh wolf tracks just hours old, and I have to be wary and cautious. I have a cabin near Leech Lake and went deer hunting two seasons ago, and wound up being hunted myself. I was sitting in my deer stand, and a pack of 7 wolves came over a bluff and headed straight for the base of my tree. They stopped at the bottom of my tree and looked straight up at me, in the eye. They knew exactly what I was, and they saw me as prey. They sat and waited at the base of my tree for 4 hours before going back over the bluff a couple hundred yards out. I didn't feel safe leaving my stand, despite wanting to just get the hell out of there. I'm glad I didn't, because a little over a half hour later, one of the wolves peeked his head over the bluff. They were still waiting for me, trying to outsmart me, trying to hunt me. I don't think wolves need protection from us. They're doing just fine now.

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  12. I completely dispute your first statement. The DNR has solicited money from non-hunters for decades to support NON-game wildlife--not game animals that need help to get their populations back up to sustainable numbers such as moose in their current plight. Wood Ducks were still a game bird when they were reduced to levels below those that could sustain a hunt. Are you suggesting that the many songbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and other NON-game species always used by the DNR to tout the NON-game program are simply being managed to get their populations to reach levels at which hunters could harvest them? That has never, ever been part of the information the DNR presents to the public in advertising the Non-game Wildlife Program. It's the duty of hunters to pay for management of animals they wish to harvest, not non-hunters.

    You may be right with regard to some of your points about wolf population levels, but hunting is not the only method of controlling population levels, and there is no evidence that the rapid drop in moose numbers is due to wolves alone--there are several compounding factors, and sport hunting on them should have been eliminated years ago (when wolves were still endangered) until the population had reached sustainable numbers again.

    As a birder with my major focus on bird conservation, the issues that are more important to me personally involve the dove and crane hunts. And again, I'm very concerned that the DNR continues to use the Sandhill Crane as "poster child" to promote the Non-game program in the northwest area, the very area where Sandhill Cranes are now hunted. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/nw.html

    I am not opposed to hunting, and believe non-hunters should respect the contributions hunters have made to conservation. But I believe wildlife has an intrinsic right to exist and thrive, and that wildlife provides many values to humans outside of hunting, and that hunters should respect the contributions that non-hunters have made to conservation. The DNR is supported by taxes and contributions earmarked for non-game wildlife as well as hunting license revenue, and has an obligation to protect wildlife for my uses as a birder and photographer as well as for your right to kill a sustainable number of game speciesfor sport.

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