When we let emotions manage wildlife

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I hate it when I'm right and when animal activists get their way.

Fifteen years ago, animals rights activists in Massachusetts launched a very large and successful campaign to ban the use of leg hold traps and effectively stop the heritage and culture of trapping. I wrote an article about 14 years ago sighting that "as small game overpopulates, all we can do now is sit back and wait for the rabies epidemic."

Flash forward to today as Massachusetts deals with the largest rabies outbreak in the Bay State in a quarter Century. Some of you might be asking yourself how my prediction came true as I assure you that I do not have physic powers or the ability to see into the future. I was looking at the past. It's a simple fact with a ton of historical evidence and proof that any time we stop hunting, fishing or trapping a species, its devastating to that species, the habitat and to society.

Based on nothing more than emotion, these animal rights people believe they are helping the wildlife by protecting them from sportsmen. How do I help a deer by shooting a deer is a tough concept to grasp unless it's explained. If you look at the individual animal as they do, it's horrific; death sucks! They is no pretty way about it and unfortunately, its an inescapable part of life. Life is not the Disney Channel and Mother Nature is about as cruel as you get. Less than 1 percent of our wildlife will die from old age and Mother Nature has a bunch of other terrible choices to pick from. All animals are self sustaining in population control and if hunters, anglers and trappers do not remove the excess animals, Mother Nature will. Yes you heard me, excess animals.

Our land can only sustain a certain number of animals. There is only enough food, water and cover for "x" amount of wildlife on any given piece of the planet. That number is called carrying capacity. When the carrying capacity is full (it happens every year due to natural reproduction), animals over browse and destroy critical habitat before Mother Nature finds a way to remove that excess. The number of animals that starve to death increase, more animals are hit by cars, adding human fatalities and property damage, the number of predators increase (at first) and finally when the overpopulation gets out of hand; a disease like rabies comes along with mass death to level the populations back to a sustainable level. When we stop managing wildlife it doesn't take long for overpopulation to get out of hand and in the process critical habitat is lost leaving a lower carrying capacity and less wildlife in the end.

Small game numbers need to be managed also and trapping has been proven to be the most effective way to do that. Most of these small animals are nocturnal and can not be hunted during the day. Regulated hunting, fishing and trapping have never threatened or caused any species to go extinct. The truth is it has brought many species back from extinction and it's the reason why animal populations are higher and healthier now than ever before in recorded history. THIS is how animals made it this far in history and the reason why many of them are still with us. The turnover rate for small game is about 90 percent.

In other words, 9 out of 10 of those cute, cuddly bunnies will die this year and I'm not even talking about hunting and trapping yet. By allowing sportsmen to harvest and utilize a small portion of the excess animals, it pays for the remaining ones and guarantees a future for our wildlife. Hunting, fishing and trapping are all personal choices. You don't have to do it or even like it, but if you love animals (I don't know a single person who does not love animals), then you owe it to our wildlife to understand the science behind conservation.

In order for us to "Protect Our Wildlife", we must first understand what threatens and harms them. Human encroachment and habitat destruction are what kills our wild animals. Sportsmen are the only group who care enough to pay for our wildlife and protect, save and restore this critical habitat. Sportsmen are the ones who pay for law enforcement, relocate threatened species, protect endangered species and all the wonderful programs that benefit our wildlife. About 96 percent of all conservation funding comes from sportsmen. We are also a tool for monitoring wildlife numbers and habitat needs.

Hunters are the first to speak out and say we are harvesting too many and numbers are low. A trapper is not after every mink in the stream. He wants and needs future mink to continue his passion and relationship with the mink. He is the one watching and living with, the one who loves the mink most. It baffles me how people who claim to love and support wildlife can be against something that helps and protects wildlife. The sign says "don't feed the bear" for a reason. Hunting, fishing and trapping seasons all have lengths and limits for a reason. The North American Conservation Model is hands down the best wildlife management system in the World and the only proven way to save wildlife. We can not base wild game management on feelings and emotions. Every State hires and pays trained professional biologists to do this job and they will explain the same scientific data and facts as I just did. If you really want to help wild animals, purchase a hunting license this year. You don't even have to use it, but you will know that 100 percent of your hard earned jingle will go back to the animals.

The reason for my rant was not to brag how right I was, in fact; it deeply saddens me in this instance. How quick we forget our history, the lessons of Teddy Roosevelt and what the conservation movement was all about. I hope this natural man made disaster can be seen as another lesson and a call for sound game management in the State of Massachusetts. There is a lesson here, as long as we can see it.

— Kevin Hoyt is a native Vermonter, outdoorsman, and conservationist who lives in Bennington. He is the founder of the "Future of Hunting" TV Show and conservation program.


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