Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay
In front of me is a small booklet with the catchy title, A Critical Evaluation of the Proposed Reduction in the Mid-continent Lesser Snow Goose Population to Conserve Sub-arctic Salt Marshes of Hudson Bay. It was published by the Animal Protection Institute (now Born Free USA) and the Humane Society of the United States in 1998, and co-authored by biologist Vernon Thomas and me.
The arguments we made failed to stop the U.S. and Canada from enacting an absurd increase in bag-limits and open seasons and the use of electronic decoys for hunters after the “lesser” snow goose, which breeds in the mid to western arctic. The geese had undergone dramatic increases in numbers. For reasons too complex to address here, it was feared they’d damage large parts of the arctic ecosystem by their habit of “grubbing” – pulling plants out by the roots when feeding. They were called “overabundant,” a term that is entirely in reference to subjective value systems.
What bothered me then, and what bothers me now, is the lack of scientific rigor in the documentation presented to defend the vast increases in hunting kills proposed and enacted. References to previous high numbers of snow geese were misrepresented or ignored.
We made several predictions, and in the two decades since then, we’ve been proven correct. Put simply, one prediction was that the proposed hunting increase wouldn’t work. It didn’t. We predicted that the real threat to arctic and subarctic ecosystems came from global climate change. That is proving to be true, too.
But, governments and the public trust wildlife management types have made something out of a career out of alarmist rhetoric about the population “explosion” in these geese, and in the Ross’s goose. Sadly, they are believed. Ross’s goose is a smaller version of the snow goose and was apparently once reasonably abundant (it’s hard to know as early observers tended not to distinguish it from the snow goose), but had become endangered by the early 20th century, and is now again common, perhaps more so than ever before. The Americans have already been shooting extra numbers of this species and, although we were able to slow Canada down, years ago, now it has again proposed an increased bag limit for Ross’s goose.
I have written to the Canadian government in opposition to increasing bag limits for this small goose. Beyond a “natural” tendency people attracted to wildlife management have to “manage,” to control, nature, what I think was behind the original concern two decades ago can be seen here. Numbers of hunters were in freefall, and it’s hunting that justifies so much of the wildlife management profession and pays the expenses and salaries of wildlife management professionals.
But, not only are increasing numbers of people taking pleasure from viewing and photographing – but not killing – wildlife, even many who dohunt refuse to kill more than they can eat, and, as we predicted, just knocking the top off the population curve allows high numbers of these species to continue.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,