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Frankenstein Wildlife Management


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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