Three years ago, I wrote in this Blog about one of the dumbest government programs I’d ever encountered. It was a plan to protect desert tortoise babies by having government-hired control agents run around the desert spending the taxpayers money to “euthinize individual ravens at something like $1,000.00 per raven. I don’t know if that program ever got off the ground, but I wouldn’t put it past our government to do something that wasteful. Sort of like dropping a atom bomb to destroy an ant nest. It would work, but....
This spring at the San Bernardino County Fair, I happened by a booth run by the East Mojave Preserve, that bastion of bad thinking operated by the National Park Service. Laying on the table was a stack of brochures on “Invasion of the Tortoise Snatchers.” It explained in lurid terms how awful ravens were. How desert tortoise were being killed off by things like disease and habitat loss – true – and by OHV traffic – perhaps true, but doubtful – and by ravens. I notice they didn’t mention coyotes, which are also known to eat tortoise, especially baby tortoise in the spring when they first come out of their dens.
The brochure then lists a dozen or so things desert folks can do to deliver us from the killer ravens who are eating our tortoise. Such wonderful advice as “don’t leave food out in the open while picnicking” and “Encourage power companies to inspect their lines for raven nests” are just some of the tips in this thoughtful little piece of government paperwork. My favorite is “Don’t water your lawn to the point it runs over the curb or fills in depressions.” I guess they hope that will keep ravens from launching their boats on your lawn.
Nowhere in this paper plea to protect tortoise does it mention anything about the real solution to the raven surplus– if that’s what it can be called. The whole tenor of the brochure is that we, the desert dwelling public are the reason that ravens eat tortoise and that it is our fault. Perhaps it is. And perhaps the steps outlined in the brochure will eliminate the raven problem and then all the desert tortoise will have to put up with is habitat lose and disease (did I fail to mention coyotes?)
I don’t think they’ve covered all the bases here. The old idea of eliminating ravens was a sound one, even if the government screwed it up by deciding to hire outside “raven control specialists” to do the job at prices so high per bird they were ridiculous. The idea was sound, just the method was wacky. But that never stopped the government before, so I figured it would be tried.
In the middle of all this, is the central fact that it is raven numbers that contribute to the problem. Ok, let’s reduce the raven population, but let’s do it in a cost effective way, not with some overblown program that spends money like water to eliminate a few ravens at an enormous cost.
We probably do have to spend some of the taxpayer’s money to figure out how bad the problem actually is. I think you’d be surprised at how thin the data actually is. For one thing, I doubt that the wildlife folks have a real handle on desert tortoise population numbers in the first place. It’s a hard thing to study and even harder to get decent data– tortoise being rather reclusive and not living in a area that is easy to travel and exist in while you are doing studies.
I suspect you’d have to have better data on raven numbers as well. Despite the fact they seem to be everywhere, especially around desert communities, you don’t really see large numbers of them out in the more barren places where most of the tortoise actually live. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that ravens may be more of a residential pest that a destroyer of tortoise.
But, let’s say the numbers all add up, and desert tortoise are suffering at the hands (well, beaks) of ravens. What do we do next? Here’s an idea. Let’s get some unpaid volunteers to remove the required number of ravens from the desert, thereby saving young tortoise from destruction. What an extraordinary idea, getting something done on the cheap – certainly not a government plan
The way to do this as inexpensively as possible is to remove ravens from any listing of protected species, and declare them for what they are – pests. I suggest placing them in the predator category along with coyotes and allowing hunters to take reasonable numbers of ravens. If you want stricter controls that merely opening up year-around hunting for ravens, let’s propose a limited season on ravens.
Any competent biologist should be able to come up with numbers that would support a raven season and number of ravens to be removed. I think the raven population could stand year-around hunting without really damaging the overall health of the raven population, if that’s a consideration. However, if you don’t agree, let’s consider a limited season and set a upper limit on the number or ravens taken by hunting. We could certainly do it much the way they hunt bear in California, with a season that is initially set for a certain number of weeks in length, but ends when a pre-set number of bears (read “raven” for this) are taken by hunters.
I personally would set the season in the spring when young tortoise are just emerging from dens, and are the most vulnerable. There’s not a lot of other hunting going on at that time, and a spring raven season would be useful for both hunters and tortoise.
I suspect that the hunting community could help control raven numbers without spending $1,000.00 per dead bird. Heck, you could sell a raven tag for a couple of buck each spring and hunters would by them, contributing funds to tortoise programs that could do some real good for these endangered creatures. It certainly could be that you might want to have the season open in the fall as well, when lots of hunters are in the field, and raven hunting would be just a sidebar to the real hunting, with ravens taken as targets of opportunity while out hunting for something else.
I also think it wouldn’t take long for the predator hunting crowd to figure out some good raven calls and decoys (perhaps a McDonald’s bag with french fries sticking out of it) and they’d be calling in ravens and taking them with shotguns just like they do crows now. I wouldn’t limit raven hunting to just shotguns, however. In those parts of the desert that are open to rifle hunting, I would allow ravens to be taken with any method. Some of the lightweights like the air rifles and the diminutive .17 caliber center-fire and rimfire rounds, and the .22 long rifle will kill a raven cleanly, and if you want to dispatch a raven with a.358, that ought to be your business – after all, you are saving desert tortoise.
All this, of course, would have to be a cooperative effort between the Feds and the State of California. The Feds would have to make changes in the way ravens are listed, and the DFG and the Fish & Game Commission would have to get behind either opening up a year-around raven hunting plan, or set a season if limited raven hunting was determined to be the best approach. Would you buy a raven hunting tag? I would.
-- Richard Bean,