Emotion trumps science in new era of wildlife management in California
By JIM MATTHEWS
We have entered a new era in California, the era of fish and wildlife management by emotion, not science.
No longer will the state use surveys of fish and wildlife populations, available habitat, annual production, impacts of predation, and other mortality data to access whether or not to have human hunting or fishing seasons and determine harvest quotas on hunted or fished wildlife.
Instead of using actual science, the state Fish and Game Commission members will all hold hands, examine their inner souls, and divine how we should manage the state’s fish and game populations. They will project their moral superiority over all citizens of this state who still believe in fishing and hunting as legitimate activities to put very special, native foods on our tables. The Commissioners will utilize their views of moral correctness and emotion -- and not science -- when divining whether or not we should continue to fish for golden trout or hunt mourning dove.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife, the scientists and wardens -- who have traditionally protected resources and determined the health of wildlife and fish populations and recommended for biologically sound fishing and hunting seasons -- will become spiritual guides and surveyors or public opinion to help guide the Commission’s decisions. There is no longer a need to study wildlife diseases, plant trout for the public to catch, protect critical habitats, or determine if species are increasing or declining. It’s how we feel about wildlife and hunting or fishing that is important today.
The Commission recently completely banned bobcat trapping in California, and there is talk about banning the take of all predators, whether by gun or trap. Someone forgot to tell the new Commission that banning the harvest of wildlife could only be done by a) the legislature or b) if the science showed trapping was endangering the bobcat population. The legislature did not ban bobcat trapping, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s actual science showed no decline in the predator’s numbers (and if it did, why didn’t the Commission ban hunting of bobcats, too, not just trapping?). They decided they could write new law and get away with it. And did.
Trapping offends some people, the Commission emoted. It’s the new mob rule mentality, and it has now taken over fish and wildlife management in the state.
And it all makes sense, of course. Of the 39 million or so Californians, there were only about 250 trapping licenses sold last trapping season (2014-15). Why should they be allowed to trap 760 bobcats (out of a population estimated to be somewhere between 72,000 to over 140,000 in California and a million plus across North America) and sell their pelts for just under $300 apiece so some Eastern European can wear a fur coat? We don’t like fur coats. Never mind that most of us weather leather shoes. Cows aren’t bobcats. Emotion is important.
Leg-hold traps were long ago banned by the legislature, effectively eliminating the trapping of coyotes. The state banned the use of dogs for bear hunting, the only effective way to harvest bears and assure sows with cubs are not shot by hunters, but never mind all that.
Now that the Commission has been allowed to legislate as an appointed body (that in itself is pretty historic), it’s going to use that new-found power to change all sorts of hunting and fishing regulations and abandon science-based management all together. When you add in that the last pro-hunting, pro-fishing Fish and Game commissioners recently resigned their posts, that means Gov. Jerry Brown has three appointments to make to this body. If we assume that he will appoint more like his previous two appointments, hunters won’t have to worry about using non-lead ammunition for all hunting in 2019, they will have to be concerned if hunting will be allowed at all.
That would make sense, of course. Of the 39 million or so Californians, there are less than 250,000 who buy hunting licenses each year. Hunting is obviously arcane, we don’t need them any longer and it would have to be a good thing for the state’s wildlife, right? Emotionally it feels like the right thing to do.
If Brown, who is dear friends with the woman who ran the state office of the anti-hunting, anti-fishing Humane Society of the United States, appoints more science-deniers to the Fish and Game Commission, anglers will lose the opportunity to fish for salmon, steelhead, and bluefin tuna, oh, just because of Global Warming, and it feels like the right thing to do. Maybe they’ll just ban fishing all together.
That would make sense, of course. Of the 39 million or so Californians, there are less than 1 million licensed anglers in the state, and it’s not like they are some sort of racial or religious minority we need to protect and defend. Banning fishing would be good for the state and our fisheries, right? This is not discrimination. This is not some sort of big brother dictate. It’s just the “new” Fish and Game Commission doing its job.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]