Is the best science always used?

ESCANABA — The people of Michigan voted to invoke the use of science as the basis of decision when dealing with wildlife and other natural resources management policies. There have been times since then where what is presented as science facts are disputed by the public and thus still fall under controversy. It isn’t settled by review and discussion of fact, it comes more from an “I don’t like it therefore it can’t be right.”

What has emerged as an additional impairment to the use of base science, or at least the model of wildlife management, goes back to the professional science community in two instances here in Michigan.

Even though hunting is an activity used by approximately 10-15 percent of the general population across the country, studies indicate that as at least 92 percent of the non-participating general population supports it. It is a tool in the box to help keep balance of nature, especially when wildlife populations explode. If left unchecked, these same burgeoning species will implode once they overgrow the carrying capacity of their habitat. Seasons and quotas of hunting are set based on estimated populations of specific game species and those numbers are amended periodically to align with contemporary needs.

In the city of Ann Arbor, there is a resident population of deer that has acclimated to urban life and grown to a point they’ve become a nuisance. Some control measures were needed and at first glance, it appeared that the use of hunting would be most advantageous in resolution of the problem. The harvested deer would be salvaged as a food supplement for the needy. The primary concern about hunting within the city was how to hunt the deer.

In some cases, the use of long guns and bullets presents safety issues. Bullet carry is the primary concern as no matter how proficient the shooter, there is always the danger of what lies behind the target and carry of the projectile, especially if there is a ricochet. In close situations, a shotgun is much safer however; some municipal laws still do not permit the discharge of a firearm, other than by law enforcement or for personal protection. Gun hunting within the city limits is not allowed. In many instances, the general public simply opposes the use of guns within any residential areas. In the case of Ann Arbor, the use of archery hunting could fit as an approved method, but instead of moving forward, local politics decided to use capture and sterilization as a long term fix to reduce the overall population and breeding to maintain balance. It turns out to be a very expensive method and appears to be doomed to failure. It is not any part of the true established science models nor does it appear to be a credible experiment. What’s worse is that the tax payers are footing the bill.

In another instance a little closer to home, Isle Royal National Park on Lake Superior has its own burgeoning population of moose. It has been down years back due to the resident wolf population that preyed upon the moose and grew at an exponential rate. Just as could have been expected, the wolves overcame the carrying capacity of the island and their population has now crashed. As a result, the moose have recovered to a point they too are at risk of implosion.

It would seem that hunting the over population of moose on Isle Royal would be a viable tool of management. Wolves remain a protected species of wildlife, currently listed as endangered and awaiting final judgment through the courts and federal legislature. If the resident moose population continues unchecked, they’re going to outgrow the carrying capacity of the island and therefore doomed. Americans have the opportunity to hunt and fish on public lands managed by the Department of the Interior as part of the Department’s multiple-use policy.

There are 75 areas managed by the National Park Service that permit hunting. Of those, 66 permit recreational hunting, while seven areas in Alaska allow federal subsistence hunting only through ANILCA, one area (the Badlands) allows only tribal hunting, and one region of the Grand Tetons National Park allows for controlled elk reductions in coordination with the state of Wyoming. A total of 51,097,000 acres managed by the National Park Service are open to hunting at various times during the year, representing approximately 60 percent of the total acreage of the National Park Service system.

Instead, the science community has opted and be allowed to now re-introduce wolves to Isle Royal to once again prey on moose and control growth. It is seen as an opportunity to observe the process of nature in a study. The question remains as to what they hope to learn as previous science experience indicates that it will show how history repeats itself if not altered by proper management techniques. Moreover, there is major concern that whatever the source of obtaining wolves to be trans-located to Isle Royal, once implemented, will it now establish yet another sub-species of wolves to the Great Lakes Region and thus muddy the path of correction that clearly illustrates this predator species has recovered and needs to be managed?

When it comes to public debate and/or acceptance of recommendations from natural resources professionals charged with best science practices, issues like these are certain to at the very least question the credibility of facts presented as they are regarded more of a theory than real hard numbers when it comes down to the final decision.

It reminds me of a figure of speech I learned a long time ago: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.