LET’S GO HUNTING (EARN $500!)
“How was your hunt?” I asked my friend. “Fantastic,” he replied. Then he described watching a meadow for elk while two coyotes trotted out within 10 ft and began howling. He also described being serenaded by owls and listening to elk bugling. Until I asked, he didn’t tell me he hadn’t shot any elk. Contrast my friend’s experience with a person I will call an acquaintance. After his deer hunt, he came home and complained bitterly. He had camped at a nearby forest service campground where he had seen deer in the summer. None had shown up this time. He was angry with the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife for selling him a license when “there weren’t any deer.” He even wanted his money back. What a contrast.
(Habitat good enough for triplet fawns to thrive, is great for birds too.)
Hunting does fill me with mixed emotions—just as did the stories from those two hunters. I grew up hunting small game and have harvested quail, doves and pheasants, as well as rabbits and squirrels. At that time and location in my life, it was the only real excuse there was for being outdoors (http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/how-my-dad-taught-me-to-watch-birds). Even then I saw good hunters and bad (those who would blast a squirrel’s nest in hopes of knocking one out, while more likely killing it in the nest).
The reality is that hunting is a necessary part of management of our wildlands. There are numerous examples of the need for game harvests in locations where there are no longer predators such as mountain lion, wolf and bear to maintain healthy populations. It is also true, that many hunters are tireless advocates for the protection of wildlife habitat. For those reasons, most birdwatchers support hunting when regulated by sound biological principles. Which brings me back to the two types of hunters described in my first paragraph.
We own some land adjacent to national forest and we see lots of hunters and hunting camps. Some of the ATV use and camps seem well “over the top.” My inclination is to wish better luck to those who hike well up into the high country wilderness where good physical conditioning, route-finding ability, and understanding of habitat are so important to hunting success.
My musing about the two hunters was also kindled during a recent hour I spent on a stair-climber at the health club. I read two magazines published by organizations that I admire. One was the magazine put out by Ducks Unlimited (www.ducks.org) and the other by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (www.backcountryhunters.org). Both groups represent hunters who understand preservation of wildlife habitat is more important than their individual success. Duck hunters recognize that ducks and geese are not hatched near where they hunt. If their sport is to survive, they must ensure the existence of safe refuges for birds to be reared and to rest during migration.
(If the habitat is good for pronghorn, it is good for Northern Harriers and migratory species such as Burrowing Owls.)
To that end, DU honored in their pages a wealthy individual who had given a great deal of money to protect wetlands. He recognized his dependence on habitat protection by many landowners, different states, and even other countries if his sport was to survive. Sadly, the same individual was castigated in two different articles in the Backcountry Journal because he had purchased large tracts of land from which he could block public access to trout streams in order to reserve their use for himself and his wealthy friends. It is a good thing he can't buy all the duck habitat.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have a land ethic represented by the experiences of my elk hunting friend. BHA members are relentless supporters of public land, wilderness areas, and taking care of habitat. I loved it when I read the response of one of the group’s leaders when he was asked what “sign” he looked for when hunting elk. “A sign that says ‘No ATVs Permitted Behind This Sign,’” was his retort.
(Backcountry Hunters and Anglers will pay up to $500 for convictions rerelated to reports of illegal ATV use.)
Indeed, ATV use is very contentious as any user of public lands is well aware. A few years ago Colorado experimented with allowing hunters to leave designated ATV routes if they were retrieving game. Unfortunately, the policy was so widely abused, that the privilege had to be rescinded. The abuse was noted despite chronic underfunding of enforcement.
(Here is some great habitat to search for Northern Goshawk and Western Purple Martins.)
Obviously, many ATV users are law-abiding and stick to designated routes, but the habitat damage caused by improper use of these machines can be long-lasting affecting hunters, fishermen, and all who enjoy wildlife. For that reason, BHA is offering $500 to anyone who reports unlawful ATV use that leads to a conviction (www.backcountryhunters.org ). I hope none of us sees such law-breaking this hunting season, but if you do, report it for the sake of the habitat. You might also earn $500.
This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!]