Alright, we’re going to dive headfirst into a complicated topic. I think it is, however, a topic that hunters should be well versed in and able to explain to non-hunters. That topic is the role that emotions should play in wildlife management. There has been a trend over the past several decades of increased public interest in the management of certain species of animals. Charismatic megafauna are typically large and easily identifiable animals with widespread appeal. Examples include deer, bears, tigers, wolves, penguins, and others. For better or worse, these animals receive the majority of public attention. You rarely hear people arguing about the best way to manage squirrels or grouse. However, when the talk turns to wolves or grizzly bears, everyone has a strong opinion.
It’s not a bad thing for the public to be interested in and recognize the value of wildlife. 150 years ago, this was not the case and animals were only viewed as a resource or nuisance. This attitude combined with advances from the industrial revolution led to the extinction or near extinction of many species. Now, when you tell people in the United States that we need to do something to protect a threatened species, it is easy to get them on board. Today, getting people to care about large wild animals is not a problem. The issue lies in getting them to understand that decisions about the management of these animals need to be made by biologists and based on science.
In today’s world, we are surrounded by anthropomorphized images of animals. Anthropomorphism is the attachment of human attributes to non-human entities. Anthropomorphizing is a process we use to make things more relatable. For example, we may refer to cats from the same litter as brothers or sisters, while in reality, they are littermates which is a different relationship than the one we have with our human siblings. Our culture bombards us with idealized images of cute cartoon animals with human qualities. Bambi, the Lion King, and Fox and The Hound are just a few examples. While these movies are fun to watch as children, the problem lies when people attach strong emotions and imagined human qualities to animals. If we see animals as human-like, then our emotions can influence the decisions we make in their management. In reality, wild animals live in a harsh environment: the wild. Nature is not friendly, loving, or cute. It can be brutal, unforgiving, and cruel.
The recovery of animal populations such as elk, whitetail deer, wolves, and grizzly bears over the past 100 years has been a massive success story. These species are all doing well now and are considered recovered from their previous threatened or endangered status. This recovery has been led by wildlife biologists, hunters, and the people who live with these animals on their property. To continue to properly manage these species, state and federal wildlife officials need to be able to make decisions that are best for the animal population as a whole. These decisions should never be based on emotional reactions to anthropomorphized images of these animals. If game officials determine that a population needs to have a certain amount harvested every year, hunters should be able to buy licenses and harvest those surplus animals.
One final note. When having this discussion with people who do not support hunting, they often bring up the point that nature should not need out management. They also say that the reason that too many bears, or deer, or wolves are a problem is only because humans are living in their habitat. While this may be true, you will never put that genie back in the bottle. Humans are here to stay, and with careful and scientific management of the wild animals that live among us, we should all be able to coexist indefinitely.