‘Bear with me’: Numbers don’t lie

By writes Realtree Outdoor News

Lately, some of the responses to my blogposts about the New York Times’ Op-Ed on the NRA and California’s problem with opposition to hunting with dogs have me thinking: Who is pulling the strings of our state-level wildlife management departments? Are anti-hunting groups influencing wildlife commission decisions with claims of false reporting of game populations by state agencies?

Most states have commissions that regulate hunting seasons and policies. All states hire educated biologists and ecologists to collect data, conduct research and work in the field for the good of the wildlife population.  

One reader – in response to my rebuttal of the New York Time's piece, where Lily Raff McCaulou mentioned snow geese and sandhill crane numbers declining – wrote, Quoting population numbers of a select species as an example of the health of habitat as a whole is precisely the type of barroom biology that gives license to stuff like these bills to take place and pose as going to bat for hunters.” 

He is referenceing bills such as The Heritage Act. Where had I seen that, for lack of a better word, reasoning before? Oh yeah, over in the California and dogs arena – where antis question the bear population increase numbers and suspect that the state is ballooning the numbers to allow for more tags.

According to an article in the Reno Gazette, Nevada’s bear management plan is under intense scrutiny this week as its wildlife commission meets to set quotas for big game hunting in the state, to include the second bear season. We’re talking 20 bears, out of 450. Last year, 16 bears were killed.

Enter … an expert witness from Alaska, who claims the state is not basing its population count on science. He wrote, “The state has not met its burden of proof that this population is robust enough to withstand repeated sport hunting without its viability being seriously jeopardized.” The Gazette reports that Stephen Stringham is an Alaska biologist hired by NoBearHuntNV.org.

I called the Nevada Department of Wildlife and asked to speak to Carl Lackey, their bear biologist. He was not available, but the Public Information Officer, Chris Healey, called me right back.

He did not know what “science” the expert from Alaska was basing his findings on, but he did know that the department is confident that its research is based in science. He said, “We’ve handled hundreds of bears, so we really have an idea of what the population is.” He also said that Nevada has undergone the longest, if not THE longest, study of bears in North America – 15 years’ worth. He said, “We have a huge body of data.”

Along with bear biologist Carl Lackey, Dr. Jon Beckman and Dr. Jim Sedinger make up the bear team. These three scientists created the system that tracks the bear population in the state. The science behind the proposal for this year’s bear hunt will be presented at the commission’s meeting on May 11-12.  You can learn more about bears if you read Nevada's Black Bear Bulletin No. 15.

I know which side I’m on, because frankly, it’s common knowledge that you can find an expert witness for any side of the story.  

I’d be a little miffed if someone from out of my state waltzed in here and told us that our biologists, ecologists and researchers had a hidden agenda and were not credible. They would have to present solid proof that first, we had a problem with corruption or ignorance. I'd also want to know who hired the "expert." Was it PETA or the HSUS (they've done such things before)?

As hunters (and anglers), we are the folks footing most of these fish and wildlife bills. It's our job to root out our own and stand up to wildlife policies that don’t make sense. This "they don't count right" tactic being used in Nevada for bears and elsewhere for other species smacks of an anti-hunting agenda.