Thursday, November 21, 2013

They Call it a "Tripod" because... - by Stephanne

Picture a tripod in your head.  I don’t care what you want your tripod to support… just make sure that you have a clear picture of what it looks like – the structure – in your mind. 
Got it?
Great, hold that. 
SO… looking at your tripod, what makes it work? Most likely, it’s a connector or connection of the three legs near the top of the tripod.  Doesn’t matter if your connection is made by a platform, from rope tying the three legs together, or superglue… it’s generally going to be a functional tripod because it has a connection where the connection is most needed – the top.  If you think about why a tripod works, it’s that all three of the legs are equal (or close) in length and all provide the same amount of support where the connection exists at the top.  If one leg is drastically shorter, or if one leg is weaker, or if you lack a means of connection for the 3 legs… will the tripod function correctly?  I doubt it.
Curious on why I bring this up? Well, probably not, but lend a girl your ears (eyes) and I’ll try to make it worth your time. 
I see a vast disconnect between the three legs that hold up the platform of “Wildlife Conservation and Management.”  So, what do we look at first… the platform, or the legs?  OK, we’ll go for platform because it’s quick and dirty. 
In the tripod I’m currently thinking of, the realm of Wildlife Conservation is the platform.  We need to define that there is a very distinct difference between the words “conservation” and ”preservation”.  Conservation equates to wise and sustainable use. Preservation means “hands off – let it be.”  I’d love to be a hardcore preservationist, but I’d be a very hypocritical hardcore preservationist as I’d be all “everyone get the hell out… except me.”  <grin>  So, seeing my own shortcoming here… I shall stick with Conservation. 
Now, let’s look at the three legs that, if they were working together like they should, should provide ample support for my wildlife platform:

Resource Management

The Resource Management aspect encompasses those who are responsible for setting limits (many kinds of limits) and they use science to help them define those limits. 
One of the issues that this leg faces is that they are pretty much responsible to a demographic that pays their bills.  We like to call this the “hook and bullet” demographic.  First, you may need to know:
A lot of people are under the misconception that public lands (wildlife management areas, refuges, etc) and the agency that manages all of the aspects of those are paid for and by the taxpayers.  The only thing that makes that statement true is that the people who fund the agency pay and endeavors also happen to be taxpayers.  Outside of that, the general public needs to understand that taxpayer dollars from a “general fund” don’t go for these people, land, or animals.  The money they receive are additional taxes on hunting gear (i.e. ammo, etc) and from licensing fees (in addition to other small contributing factors). 
So now that we have that definition in place, the hurdle here is that when you’re performing a lot of your science and marketing your product, you’re marketing to the people who are tried-and-true buyers of your product.  You market to keep your current clientele and – maybe – work a bit to expand that client base.  So, the agencies are seen as ‘catering to’ “nothing but hook-and-bullet people” because that is who their usual audience (and their primary customer) is. 
Another thing is the lack of standards when it comes to their governing body.  The agency doesn’t usually have free reign to do whatever they feel is best for the resource.  They have a ‘board’ of sorts that they answer to and who has the power to overrule them.  That board, in many cases, is comprised of people who are not required to have degrees or any advanced education in wildlife biology, ecology, or conservation.  So the agency may opt to recommend – for example – not hunting a resource due to whatever factors and they can simply be overruled by the governing body. 

Academia, Philanthropic

The academic and philanthropic arena is slightly harder to quantify.  These are, generally, people that really do mean well.  They help to get the word out about things that may need some attention to further their cause.  The problem here is a few things.
First, the information they provide to the general public is often one-sided.  I remember awhile back sending a letter to my state representative surrounding the export of horses for medical research and/or slaughter.  American’s have an affinity toward horses and I feel that same affinity.  So, I read what the organization put out, was enraged and emboldened by their comments, and fired off a letter to someone who had a voice.  The legislation was passed and I felt vindicated… until I found out that, as a consequence, tons of horses were starving because the people who were ‘farming’ them no longer had an avenue to sell their product.  SO, I helped to save many horses from a humane and expedient death only to have them slowly starving on farms.  Why? Because I trusted someone else’s information instead of doing some research on my own… I let them make up my mind instead of making it up for myself based on a fuller picture of reality. 
Further, the academic and philanthropic organizations will usually work with the local agencies; the agency staff promote the communications and everyone is happy and singing Kum By Ya… until the agency doesn’t do exactly what the organization wants.  Then the organization is in the media crying foul. 
Lastly, the organizations often have an unrealistic ideal of what should and should not be.  I’m a prime example of this… I have an affinity toward apex predators and I have a very staunch belief that they shouldn’t be hunted.  Period.  Ever.  Others will disagree and say that they are entitled to hunt a “surplus” or that they aren’t responsible for the emigration of a species to other areas.  Get me fired up on that topic and I promise you that the only “reason” I see is the one that I feel.  In this case, I’m likely considered an extremist,… which is where many of the people in this category fall in.

Media and the General Public

The media and the General Public (“GP” from here on) are the scariest group.  They both feed on the information above but there seems to be a focus on the extremists.  The media likes the extremist because they are far more dramatic and sensational and provide a ‘better, more exciting story’ and the agency science is downplayed as an “excuse”.  This mindset means that the GP hears that extremist point of view.  So we hear that the evil agency is going to shoot the little birdies or critters because they are a bunch of gun-toting wackos who live only to “shoot sh*t”.  Is that true?  The vast majority of the time, no.  But it’s what the GP hears and, we all know, if it’s on the news it must be true. 
Now, remember, this is the same GP that gets to click a button to autopopulate a letter with verbiage and then flood the email boxes of legislators and agency staff… all while only knowing a portion of the truth that we were fed.  How scary is that?  Think about all the things you complain about in a day that you heard on the news… all the possibilities for the partial information that we use to make a decision on where we stand.  It’s really pretty scary how much we rely on a rating-driven company who is out to make a profit to give us a full and unbiased story. 
Worse, how much of our decision-making on what we believe is based on what I call “Ignorance-fueled hysteria”?  Here’s examples I see of that hysteria in my world:
·         “Cougars, bear, and wolves are dangerous predators who will sneak into a subdivision at night and steal a sleeping child from their room.” 

I realize this is insane, but this is the attitude that I hear about.  It’s a ignorance-fueled hysteria from people who have better odds of winning back-to-back mega lottery drawings than ever even seeing one of these creatures in the wild.  Why? Because they don’t go into the wild.  Their version of “outdoors” equates to their manicured lawn or that stretch of “outside” between their car and the store.  So the question I ask myself often is, “Do these people have as much right to have input on wildlife issues as I – a backpacker – do?”  You tell me. 
·         “We shouldn’t hunt animals because that’s why we have grocery stores.”

That’s fine to know that I can go to a grocery and pick up a slab of ribs that may or may not have antibiotics and hormones and whatever else lingering in them.  It is my right to go to that store and choose what meat to buy and when to buy it.  But we have other options.  Deer, as a good example, have no natural predators (except us) in my region and they are in abundance.  I say it is my right to hunt and consume a deer just as it’s my right to “hunt” for a package of meat at the store.   Honestly, it’s not really a right… it’s a privilege. Just like it’s a privilege that there are stores and meat I could purchase.   I realize the deer is pretty.  I realize the deer need a ‘voice’.  And that is why I rely on my agency to provide me – a voice for the deer (and, sometimes, a voice for me). 
·         “We shouldn’t hunt those because we almost drove them to extinction already!”

Well… I’m sorry to say that humans driving something to the brink of extinction is poor management.  But – when we can and are lucky and successful – the agency and the academics and the philanthropic organizations and the general public work together to restore a population to sustainable numbers.  Letting those numbers then simply continue to increase is great in a preservationist world (which I am fond of in some regard) but it is almost just as irresponsible in the terms of management.  Why?  Because we are a fickle species who loves to vocalize how wretched we are when we negatively impact a species…. And also equally vocal when a species rebounds to population numbers that we then consider the species a nuisance.  Need examples?  I’m glad you asked because I have tons!  Deer.  Geese.  Turkey.  Black Bear.  Cougar (west of me, sadly!).  Should I keep going?  In the eyes of the GP the wildlife is great as long as it’s not so high in concentration that it’s in their back yard.  Hello, hypocrites, welcome to the world
So what’s the lesson that we have learned? Pffft, as if I could begin to pull a lesson out of this? I guess if I had to, the lesson I have learned in the past year is:
 My local wildlife agency isn’t evil… they do what they hear and see as what the public wants usually… so the onus is on the public to be logically vocal about things. If you’re “tired” of them ‘catering’ to the usual suspects, then give them a valid and rational reason to listen to you, too.  I don’t mean to start blasting them with “don’t hunt EVER EVER again you bad, bad humans!”… I mean “hey… I realize you manage public lands and I’d like to visit them if you gave me a reason to go without a rifle or rod.”  Or “tell me who all you talked to, what the science says, and why you’d want to implement a season for blahblah animal?”
It’s simply amazing what we can do with educated dialogue. 
And that’s the lesson.  Educated, clear, and honest dialogue rather than finger-pointing, whining in the media, blatant assumptions, and more.   We need all of the categories of our tripod above to be on a level playing field and being open, clear, honest, and unbiased in what they are telling people. 
If you can’t be all of those things, then (in the great words of teenaged texters everywhere): Shut It. 

Stephanne Dennis is an outdoor enthusiast extraordinaire. A highly skilled backpacker and apex predator specialist, she shares her love of the outdoors with her unrivaled writing skills and her faithful companion, Bandit McKaye, her Anatolian Shepherd. She is currently studying Wildlife Biology at Oregon State University and dedicates her time and skills to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation.

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