The following letter from a friend and fellow blogger/photographer, Ingrid Taylar, completely annihilates Time Magazine’s recent anti-wildlife article, “America’s Pest Problem…
David von Drehle’s piece, “America’s Pest Problem,” barely touches on the crux of the issue which is our own exponentially growing population combined with our gluttonous appetite for land and resources, all of which present wild animals with fewer options. He describes our ecological role in heroic terms, without delving into the much more complicated morass of human intrusion. We encroach on wild spaces, sterilize formerly complex habitats with subdivisions and lawns, raze and trample forests to provide grazing lands for cattle, pollute water sources with our industrial production of food and materials, poison critical plants like milkweed out of existence for Monarch butterflies and bees, build roadways through critical migration corridors, produce trash to the degree that there is no feasible way to dispose of it all, plasticize the oceans, and so forth. But what conclusion does von Drehle derive? That we kill too rarely. It takes a lot of gall to argue for lethal methods against wildlife as a solution when we are, in fact, the most damaging and lethal ecological presence ourselves, literally altering our ecosystems and forcing other species to survive and seek out food sources within the realm of hazards and limitations we impose.
To present the issue as simplistically as David von Drehle does is lazy journalism. The piece ignores important environmental considerations while also leaving out the known problems with lethal control. He doesn’t grapple, for instance, with the paradox that despite unregulated and often brutal killing and trapping of animals like coyotes, their populations explode nonetheless. He ignores the biological principles which suggest that killing meso predators leaves gaping niches which are then filled by even more animals. He engages fear mongering over the presence of apex predators, not seeming to fully grasp that animals like wolves help balance our ecosystems more effectively than any human management plan. He doesn’t mention, for instance, the concept of trophic cascades, where healthy wolf populations lead to numerous benefits for plants and animals which now thrive because of this restored balance. At the same time, he leaves out information about state wildlife programs which actually work to keep deer abundant for hunting purposes, or which promote habituation by allowing hunting over bait. He makes little issue of the fact that populations of feral pigs in many cases were encouraged for sport hunting. These are but a few examples that point to a much murkier underbelly and even a deliberate complicity by humans in these problems.
There are success stories about urban and suburban coexistence with wildlife that don’t involve mass slaughter. Marin County in California is one such place, replacing lethal predator control with creative ideas about managing our lives, our needs, our farms and our lands in the context of a more compassionate, progressive and sound ethic toward wildlife. Von Drehle argues for an archaic, 19th century model of wildlife “management” which drastically underestimates what we can achieve through more thoughtful and advanced paradigms of understanding and conflict resolution. Von Drehle says it’s time for a new perspective on hunting and wildlife control in the 21st century. On this, I agree. What he misses, however, is that better models do exist and are being improved based on our increased scientific awareness of wild animals and their inherent value. Instead, he looks backward for answers, to an era and an ethic when killing and exploitation were the applied solutions for almost all issues involving wildlife. As a species and as individuals, we are much better than this. But you’d never know it from this article.