Monday, March 31, 2008

Otter Ironies

One of the ironies of wildlife management is that the very devices that pushed so much wildlife to the edge of extinction -- guns and traps -- are the very things that are now working to bring wildlife back.

The difference between today and 120-years ago is the rise of hunter-conservationists who understand the value of hunting seasons, the need for limits, and the necessity of wildlife habitat conservation and reclamation.

In earlier posts, I have detailed the history behind the return of the wild turkey which, in the space of 50 years, went from teetering on the edge of extinction to a population of 5.5 million birds distributed over a greater range than occurred even in pre-Columbian times.

Wild turkey hunting is now a billion-dollar-a-year industry, with 2.6 million hunters harvesting about 700,000 birds a year.

The article below is about the return of the river otter to Middle America. As Audubon magazine noted just a few years ago, "More than 2,000 river otters have been caught in legholds in the South and released virtually unscathed in Midwestern states where the species had been extirpated."

Back in the 1990s, when the river otter was being reintroduced in Ohio, Audubon was not only defending the use of leghold traps as necessary for the reintroduction of species like the river otter, but also for management of such species as the wolf and nuisance abatement of other species such as beaver, raccoon, and red fox.

For those interested in the foundation history of wildlife management in America, Aldo Leopold's book on Game Management is still in print more than 70 years after its first publication. Chapter 10 is on predator control. >> Click here to buy

January 21, 2005

Ohio wildlife officials consider allowing otter trapping after success of reintroduction programs

By: Carrie Spencer, Associated Press


The wily and playful river otter was once on the verge of extinction in Ohio. Now they're thriving - and causing so much damage that wildlife officials are considering allowing hunters to trap them.

It's a situation other states have had with other animals. In Florida and New Jersey, it's the black bear. The Rockies and Alaska have the gray wolf. Nearly everywhere else, it's the white-tailed deer and Canada goose.

"In a human-dominated landscape, it's really tough to keep wildlife in the numbers we feel are appropriate," said Greg Butcher, a zoologist with the Washington-based National Audubon Society. "We have affected the environment so much that a lot of natural checks and balances are gone."

The otter's numbers have soared in just two decades - from 123 to about 4,300 - and Ohio wildlife officials are proposing a permit-only two-month trapping season. The Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on the proposal in April.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that wildlife causes US$1 billion ([euro]770 million) in crop and livestock damage each year, while deer collisions injure about 29,000 motorists a year and cost another $1 billion ([euro]770 million). Bird collisions cost the aviation industry $740 million ([euro]572 million) annually.

The otter's story is familiar. Fur trapping drove the native species from Ohio by the early 1900s, but their reintroduction - starting in 1986 and lasting seven years - has been so successful that farmers are starting to complain. A family of otters can eat half the fish in a privately stocked pond before the owner gets wind of their visits.

"If they find a nice trout farm, they're pretty happy with that," said C. Greg Anderson, assistant biology professor at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

Otters used to be in every U.S. state except Hawaii but were wiped out over 70 percent of their range, Anderson said. Reintroduction programs began in the 1980s in 21 states, all successes. Missouri, one of the first with 19 otters released in 1982, now has more than 10,000 and allows trapping, he said. Kentucky began its first otter season this winter, running through February.

Government-sanctioned hunting of all kinds of animals is proliferating across the country.

Starting in February, private landowners in Montana and Idaho won't need written approval to kill gray wolves harassing livestock, while Wyoming is suing the federal government to get its wolf management plan approved. From about 30 wolves introduced 10 years ago, 825 or more now live in the three states.

Florida wildlife officials reported a record number of sightings of threatened black bears in 2004 because of sprawling development and busier roads. The state is studying the bear population and could lift its protected status this year.

New Jersey's second annual bear hunt was called off this year amid a dispute over the state's management plan. New Jersey has more than 3,000 bears, up from fewer than 100 in the 1970s.

Hunting groups once feared the disappearance of white-tailed deer, but management encouraging reproduction worked too well. Last fall, the Cleveland suburb of Solon became the latest Ohio community to hire sharpshooters to cull the prolific landscape munchers.

Few success stories compare with that of the giant strain of Canada goose, which was nearly extinct in the 1960s because of hunting and lack of their preferred grassland habitat.

In the Midwest, restrictions on hunting coincided with the explosion of office parks with manicured lawns and lush golf courses. The birds, with their 6-foot wingspans, are now fouling picnic spots and hissing and nipping at golfers. States from North Dakota to Pennsylvania have expanded hunting allowances.

While some see overpopulation as triumph over extinction, the Animal Protection Institute sees it as failure on the part of wildlife officials. Reintroduction of a native animal requires planning to prevent an overrun, said Barbara Schmitz of the Sacramento, California-based institute.

"A lot of times, lethal solutions are looked at first," Schmitz said. "It is possible for them to become part of the balance of nature again."


jdege said...

The same thing is happening in Africa. Elephants, leopards, lions, etc., they are all doing better in areas in which they are subject to regulated sport hunting.

"Hunting, especially big game hunting, is also a major force in encouraging conservation and promoting economic self-sufficiency in native cultures. In Africa, in 1979 the wild elephant herd was 1.3 million. By 1989, it was sliced in half to 600,000, largely due to uncontrolled poaching. To curb the decline, importation of ivory was banned, and some countries forbade sport hunting for elephants. In places where hunting has been banned, elephant populations have plummeted even more. Kenya banned elephant hunting in 1977. Poachers subsequently butchered the herds, as supervision of the animals also declined with the loss of revenue from hunting. In less than two decades, Kenya 's elephant herd went from 150,000 to less than 6,000.

Botswana , in contrast, permitted big game hunting, and in the same period of time, their elephant herd has quadrupled. The key here is that hunters pump considerable money into the local economy, which increases the value of the animals to local natives, provides jobs and fresh meat for many, and supports wildlife research and law enforcement. It is estimated that hunters spend $35 million to $65 million dollars a year on African elephant hunting safaris. The white rhino in South Africa has similarly increased in numbers, thanks to hunter' dollars.

In 1980, Zimbabwe had 40,000 elephants. Today, after 22 years of carefully regulated hunting, they have 88,000 pachyderms. According to Ed Adobe, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Advisory Council, eco-tourists may outnumber the hunters, but the hunters outspend them, $15 million to $10 million. When eco-tourists come in, they whisk around in a jeep for a couple days, wine and dine, and leave. Hunters stay longer, pay trophy fees and guides, and the meat from animals killed goes to local villages, along with skins and bones that can be used for clothing and arts and crafts.

The program that oversees hunting in Zimbabwe is called CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programmed for Indigenous Resources). (37) Under CAMPFIRE, people living on impoverished communal lands, which represent 42% of the country, claim the right of proprietorship, including wildlife. CAMPFIRE offers people an alternative to destructive uses of the land by making wildlife a valuable resource. Wildlife, in fact, is the most economically and ecologically-sound land use in much of Zimbabwe ."

Kevin said...

Great Post and a great comment to go with it. This North American Conservation Model is working out there and Hunter/conservationists are the most important part of the equation.

What is funny to me is that I have tons of people ask me if I am a trophy hunter and the answer is always absolutely because it is us trophy hunters that are making the difference out there in the wild!