|MadSci Network: Environment/Ecology|
Thanks for writing, Chris. You've asked two questions here, and implied a third. I think your central question is "How is hunting a part of wildlife management?" The implied question is "How is wildlife management affected by hunting?"
Your first question was about my opinion of hunting. As a zoologist and ecologist, I'm used to seeing predator-prey interactions. When people hunt to provide food for themselves and their family because that's how they survive, it's a very different activity from the more standard recreational hunting. The first situation is a more natural interaction; the second is making a sport out of killing an animal. That's my opinion.
On to the more involved question of how hunting is a part of wildlife management. I'll use deer hunting as the most prominent example. Despite some claims to the contrary, hunters kill more deer in a season than any other predator, by a large amount. In Michigan this past year, for instance, officials estimated that 450,000 deer would be killed (25% of the state's deer population - Flint Journal). In Minnesota last year, 150,000 deer were killed, and 200,000 the year before (Duluth News). The wildlife management officials have an idea of about how large the deer population is, and how large it should be. They determine what permits and limits will be set for the upcoming hunting season based on these numbers. In Minnesota, the deer population is low this year, so the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) eliminated doe hunting to allow the population to recover (Duluth News). The DNR also takes advantage of the hunting season by checking some of the kills to get a picture of the overall health of the deer herd.
Ecologically, hunting is not "necessary" to control the deer (or any other) population. These animals lived in a stable ecosystem for millions of years before we started shooting at them. However, a lot of wildlife management decisions are affected by hunters. The DNRs of various states do what they can to ensure large deer and waterfowl populations, for instance, because there is a high demand to hunt those animals. In most cases, they can regulate those population by increasing or decreasing the hunting permits and limits, as noted above. Occasionally you will find serious abuses of power based on faulty science, such as the decision by Alaska officials several years back to allow wolf hunting in or around Denali National Park because they wanted to ensure larger populations of moose and caribou for the hunters that visited. In reality, wolf kills of moose and caribou are mostly sick animals, and the numbers are unlikely to affect the number any hunter sees.
I should note, too, that hunters are often aware of the state of the population. The Duluth News article mentions that a lot of hunters in Minnesota this year didn't think the DNR should have had a hunting season at all, as the white-tailed deer population is low.
I hope this helps answer your question. It's a pertinent one here in Minnesota at the moment, as our wolf population is on the verge of being delisted as an endangered species. There is a series of debates going on about what the status of the wolves should be, and the hunters are closely involved in that, fearing that too many wolves will keep the deer population low. Ultimately, it's the people who have the most interest in wildlife that help shape the decisions of the wildlife management officials, and hunters have always been an important part of that group.
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