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Frankenstein Wildlife Management

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There’s a lot of weird wildlife management going on in the Pacific Northwest. First, you have the killing of barred owls in order to save spotted owls. The barred owls have naturally migrated to the Northwest where they alternatively mate with and/or kill their smaller cousins. But because the environmental movement sued the federal government to list the northern spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in order to stop old-growth logging on federal lands, there are a lot of vested interests in keeping the spotted owl a viable species (environmental organizations, government scientists) and an equal number of interests (logging companies, rural politicians) that would like to see the spotted owl go extinct. The temporary solution has been for the government to shoot barred owls, which is ridiculous and awful.

Another area of contention in Pacific Northwest wildlife management concerns the salmon population. For over a century, the Northwest has decimated its salmon populations through damming rivers, overfishing, industrial pollution, and effectively creating a new river ecology throughout the region. Yet people remain employed in catching the few salmon left in the region and they want to see their livelihoods protected against all threats–including sea lions and birds:

Oregon officials were successful in getting permission to kill sea lions that feed on protected salmon trying to swim upriver to spawn. Now they want federal approval to shoot a sea bird that eats millions of baby salmon trying to reach the ocean.

In an April 5 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by The Associated Press, Oregon Wildlife Chief Ron Anglin says harassment has “proved insufficient” in controlling double-crested cormorants, and officials want the option of killing some of the birds.

Oregon needs federal approval to start shooting double-breasted cormorants because the birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Once considered a nuisance bird, cormorants were added to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1972, the same year the pesticide DDT was banned.

Like eagles and other predatory birds, cormorant numbers started to climb. Current estimates are that about 70,000 cormorants live in the West between southern British Columbia, the Mexico border and the Continental Divide, said Dan Roby, a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University who is studying the birds.

If only we legalized DDT, we wouldn’t have this problem!

I understand the needs of salmon fishers to survive, but like the region’s loggers in the 1980s, there comes a time when you have to prioritize the resource over employment in a dying industry. And that time comes when you start killing native species evolved to eat fish in order that you can catch those fish. This is a worldwide problem; in the United States, you have dying cultures of fish workers who can’t survive anymore because they’ve simply fished everything out. That’s a big issue right now in New England as Whole Foods is refusing to buy fish caught at unsustainable levels, which includes many of the fish New England fishing boats rely on to make a living. And that’s horrible for those workers, but it’s reaching a point where we can either keep fishing and have no fish left at all or stop fishing these species for 10 years, let the populations rebound, and then institute a more rational fishing regime.

And in both cases, there would have been plenty of trees and fish to harvest if technological advancement hadn’t rapidly upscaled the pace of production. Maybe there’s nothing that can be done to stop new technologies from transforming an industry, but they can have negative effects on long-term employment.

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  • bobbyp

    Just round up the sports fisherfolk and the few commercial fisherfolk left and force them to live on small parcels of otherwise unwanted land and let them ponder the wisdom of the Bolt decision and beg the state to licence casinos on their pitiful property…because, ya’ know, negative externalities are simply beyond society’s ability to deal with.

  • Stag Party Palin

    That is surprisingly good news about Whole Paycheck/Foods. Whoda thunk.

    But on your main point, killing one species to support another, I am ambivalent. As you said, it is human activity that has created the conflict. Most of my eco-friends decry such actions – down here in the desert we have the issue of killing ravens to keep them from eating endangered tortoises. This is akin to the spotted vs barred owl situation. But in both those situations the proper solution (undoing human effects) is so far beyond the possible that it’s not even worth discussing. Most of our ecosystems stopped being ‘natural’ long ago, and ‘managing’ them is the way it’s going to be.

    Managing the raven/tortoise and barred/spotted owl conflict by killing does not, in these particular situations, endanger anything at the species level. It might work for the endangered species too. And, even if we began today to work out a long term solution, this band-aid one would probably be needed anyway.

    The coromorant/seal/salmon problem is as above, but with the added filip that we’re talking about killing one species so we can eat the other. I tell ya, I don’t know whether I’m ambivalent, cynical, or have lost all hope. If I were to pick an issue to spend time on, I might go for salmon farming, which is a greater danger to wild salmon than seals and cormorants and people with guns.

  • DrDick

    Dear sweet Cthulhu! Overfishing at the river mouths and offshore, dams, and agricultural runoff, along with mining waste are the primary causes of the decline in salmon. Birds and other predators are a very minor factor in this equation. I guess the fishermen are afraid to take on the powerful interests.

    • DocAmazing

      Has anyone pointed out to the fisherfolk that silt in the streams that collects because the trees ain’t there no more holds down salmon reproduction?

      May as well get the two extractive-type groups to take on each other…

      • Heron

        In the PNW aren’t they already at each others’ throats? I seem to recall that, in the middle of California’s last drought a few years ago, farmers started railing on about how they needed more water freed up from a river for irrigation, and the fishermen shot back that if any more water were released to ag use it’d damage the spawning of a feed-fish vital to the tuna or salmon populations.

  • Heron

    These are damnably difficult problems(of our own creation) to solve. You pass a fishing freeze and you risk creating a thriving black-market in the fish you’re trying protect, and take away the only livelihood of communities not designed for any other employment. Allow the fishing to continue and the fish (and the other animals that feed on them) will disappear, then the community will collapse anyway.

    Maybe we’re just at the point where we have to start making hard choices. Ban the fishing, patrol the waters, and tell the fishermen it’s time they moved on to another profession. As callous as it is, we’re talking about whether we’ll have a healthy fishery in a decade, or whether we let it collapse and watch the waters become fallow for the next century.

    • Linnaeus

      I can understand that some hard choices may need to be made and that those choices will adversely affect the livelihoods of some, perhaps permanently. If it comes to that, though, I also think that our society has some responsibility to help those who are so affected.

      • Heron

        Yup.

      • Bruce Baugh

        It does. One wishes that the idea of a general social responsibility to people afflicted for any reason were in vogue, anywhere in the halls of power.

        As it is, I feel the same kind of conflict I do in recommending that anyone the most destructive and callous offenders (FIRE sector executives and the like) go to jail.

  • At some point, we’re going to need to decide that human economic activity isn’t part of the ecosystem, at least not in terms of preserving environments.

    At some point, we’re going to need to accept the fact that change – particularly climate change – is part of ecological history and that attempts to prevent *ALL* extinctions and migrations are un-ecological.

    At some point, we’re going to have to accept that humans *ARE* part of the ecosystem, and decide whether they get managed like kudzu and snakeheads or like salmon and sea lions.

    • Heron

      The gruesome truth of it is that if we don’t take care of it, it’ll take care of itself. 4-6 bad harvests in the major grain growing regions of the world and humans will start dying from starvation as easily as over-populated dear.

      • Heron

        deer, rather. :/

  • AlbertOMG

    The thing is we Are going to have to enforce mgmt of our own activities unless the goal push all things to near-extinction. On the other hand, maybe that Is the way of the world. Salmon are overfished until the industry collapses, as will the community dependent on it. The community moves on and, over many decades versus a couple, things come back into line (whatever things are left), and start the cycle again, only a shorter cycle ’cause we’re not likely to have learned any real lessons.

    I was going to ask about what it would take to bring local/seasonal foods in Vogue community-wide. However, that’s just a distraction really since our notion of “sustainability” -influenced by politics- is attached to unending, indiscriminate population growth so that, too, is a dead end. It’s hard to consider what’s reasonable when we can’t agree on what our priorities are… sorry, it seems my point got away from me.

  • stevesliva

    Cormorants are a nuisance bird in that they can turn islands into guano-scorched earth. However it’s tough to argue that their population is larger than what’s natural. But they’re certainly not suffering.

  • fourmorewars

    I remember Thom Hartmann citing a study about the Pacific Northwest, that said native trees were dying for lack of a nutrient in bear droppings that came from fish that the bears couldn’t get enough of anymore.

    This tremendous interconnectedness — that’s what I think the environmental movement needs to pound on, and in line with that, I think it’s the biggest mistake to focus at all on ‘kindness to the earth’ when we could simply focus on the selfish needs of mankind. What halfway-intelligent slob couldn’t be brought around, simply by emphasizing, with enough detail, the vulnerability of any species that sits where we do on the food chain?

  • Indy

    I remember going around the government contracting website a few weeks ago and seeing them letting a contract to zip around the mouth of the Willamette (?) river in a zodiac, stopping at various sandbars and spits in the wildlife refuge, and destroying the nests of various “nuisance species” of seabird.

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