Sport Hunting As Wildlife Management
March 17, 2015
This is not a new discussion here, but this recent article out of South Carolina made me think it was worth trotting back out.
It appears that the hog problem in the Francis Marion National Forest has gotten bad enough that the land managers have decided to bring in some professional hunters. And, as always seems to happen, this decision has generated some uproar from the sport hunters (or recreational hunters, or whatever you choose to call them).
To the sport hunters, it’s a question of fairness, and they argue that the SC DNR should be focused on expanding opportunities for the public, instead of paying someone to do what the hunters suggest that they would do “for free”. But in the article, the DNR offers what I think is a pretty solid response:
“We don’t treat hogs as game animals. We want them eradicated. That’s the difference between a hog hunt and a removal,” said Sam Chappelear, a regional wildlife coordinator for the agency.
It’s an old conflict, and I’ve seen it play out all over the country. A state has nuisance animals to remove. Sport hunters jump and say, “let us do it! We’ll pay for the opportunity, instead of paying professionals to do the same job!”
Sometimes, it does make sense to open hunting opportunities to non-professionals. As many municipalities have learned, bringing in sport hunters to help manage deer populations in suburban or semi-rural areas can be an effective method to thin localized, dense herds. There are certification programs, training, and other methods used to make sure these hunters are safe and conscientious (and accountable). In general, this solution seems to work well for both the communities and the hunters.
But there’s a big difference between some relatively light “thinning”, and the need to eradicate or sharply reduce an entire population, especially when it comes to feral hogs. Here are a few points that many sport hunters don’t consider… or don’t understand.
- It’s not going to be enough to hunt a couple of hours at daybreak and sunset on your days off. Eradication requires an all day, every day (and some nights) effort until the pigs are gone.
- It’s not enough to find the easy trails, or sit in a blind/stand. When the dumb pigs are gone, you have to get in there deep to get the smart ones.
- It’s not enough to shoot a couple of good “meat pigs” or a trophy boar. Eradication means killing everything, from the big, stinking boars to the itty-bitty, striped babies… and getting it done as quickly as possible, before the sows have a chance to drop more itty-bitty, striped babies that will grow up and make even more.
- It’s not enough to send random hunters into the field to shoot at and scatter the sounders. Eradication requires a coordinated effort with a plan.
I can relate to the frustration of the sport hunters. When I was living in CA, I remember well the issues at Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton with hogs tearing up sensitive habitat, and even wreaking havoc in the parks. Like many other local hunters, I was chomping at the bit for the State to come up with a solution that would allow hunters to pursue these hogs. And, honestly, in the case of the hogs at Mt. Hamilton, I think sport hunters could have played a positive role in pushing the pigs out of the park… or at least in keeping the pressure on them to reduce their impact.
But the State has other considerations, not the least of which is liability. California’s reputation for litigiousness is well deserved. The donnybrook that would likely occur if hunters were turned loose in a State Park, that close to major population centers is staggering to imagine. Who needs that? A few trappers, moving in quietly and setting up in the wee hours do a better job with less visibility… and less risk.
Sport hunters are a significant asset to certain wildlife population control programs. There’s little doubt about that, and recently documented declines in whitetail overpopulation in the Southeast offer some measurable proof (although the numbers are only for a couple of years, and the trend could easily reverse) that liberal limits and lots of hunters can make a difference. That’s great. But when it comes to wiping out a prolific, non-native invasive species, we’re just not the right tool for the job.