22 January 2010


By coincidence, parallel articles on illegal poaching came out yesterday, at opposite borders of the continental U.S. In the alternative weekly the Missoula Independent, there was an extensive story called "The Price of Poaching", which was presented from the perspective of Montana's understaffed, underpaid and overextended game wardens. The state's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) employs only 72 game wardens statewide -- covering an area that measures 500 miles east to west, and 300 miles north to south, that means each warden on average is responsible for an area the size of the state of Delaware. In Montana there are 550,000 licensed hunters, and an unknown number of non-licensed hunters.

Over the years, wardens and many longtime residents report an erosion of the traditional, responsible conservation ethic. In its place has arisen an ego-driven and cash-driven poaching mentality which rationalizes murdering game out of season, on posted No Hunting land, and far in excess of the legal bag limit imposed by licensing. The result, when coupled with human residential encroachment into natural habitat, has been a steady, and recently alarming, decline in the numbers of game animals, both ungulates and predators.

Game wardens must operate within the same strictures as other law enforcement agents -- relying on their knowledge of the residents in their assigned districts, on police training, on fieldcraft, and on information gathered from past poaching events and from the state's poaching hotline (406-TIP-MONT). Even so, they cannot keep up with the sheer volume of illegal killing. The article states: "The evidence is hard to look at -- scores of antlers, piles of hides, photo after photo of big game shot in the name of bragging rights and discarded in the field without remorse .... Social poaching groups have gotten so big and people's egos have gotten so big about illegally taking animals, they allow themselves to do serious damage to the resource. They're taking trophy game out of the gene pool."

This is such a paradigm shift from the conservation ethic I grew up with. Montana is a hunting culture and a gun culture. As a young teen, I took a hunter's safety course, even though I never hunted anything but pheasant (and regret doing even that). The emphasis was on firearm safety and responsibility toward landowners, other hunters, and the game species being pursued. In the years since then, as more hunters come from out of state in search of ever-diminishing numbers of trophy animals, ego gratification and the temptation to make a quick buck on the black market have become so prevalent that they take up most of the time and resources of state game wardens.

The second story appeared in the Tucson, Arizona Daily Star. Thanks to my friend Lou for the heads-up. "The capture of Macho B the last known wild jaguar in the United States (bold italics added), was intentional, according to a new investigative report by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General. The report says Arizona Game and Fish Department employees meant to capture the jaguar Macho B on Feb. 18 last year, citing evidence gathered as part of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. The IG investigators reviewed the material gathered by criminal investigators of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing by an Arizona Game and Fish Employee and an Arizona Game and Fish subcontractor. The document doesn't name them. That conclusion is important because the game and fish department originally called the capture unintentional (see footnote) and because such "taking" of an endangered species may be a crime under the Endangered Species Act." Article goes on to cite several other examples of misfeasance and malfeasance.

Oh, but the conclusion is a killer -- "Ten days after the jaguar's initial capture, officials recaptured Macho B on March 2, 2009, because he was showing signs of decline. Government officials and veterinarians at the Phoenix Zoo concluded the jaguar should be euthenized."

Am I the only one who smells a rat here???

Alright, let's call a spade a spade. I've had direct encounters with poachers, both as caretaker of a nature preserve and as a private landowner. I am persuaded that poachers should be shot on sight. I am persuaded that the supposed protectors of wildlife who turn rogue and start killing endangered species, should also be shot on sight. As one who supports the constitution's guarantee of a fair and speedy trial, I know this represents a paradox. I also know that falling back on the statement "extreme times call for extreme measures" means that any lunatic can proclaim himself/herself to be judge, jury and executioner. To paraphrase my old political antithesis, Barry Goldwater, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of the natural world is no vice. I would also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Alright, for those of you with tender sensibilities, failing direct vigilante action, I propose that all state and federal wildlife officers be properly trained (including stringent classes on ethics) and properly paid. I propose further that requirements for hunting licenses be made much more restrictive, including mandatory classes in safety and ethics, and that the penalties for violation of state and federal game laws be increased tenfold, to include mandatory jailtime and severe fines. No exceptions, no time off for good behavior.

Further, regarding predators, any removal or shooting of habitually problem individual animals (e.g. wolves, bears, mountain lions) should be done only by a trained and certified state or federal wildlife officer, NEVER by an individual farmer, rancher or hunter. Killing an attacking animal in self-defense is the only exception.

Footnote: An update in today's Daily Star notes that far from the initial jaguar capture being "unintentional", a state wildlife tech stated that she had been directed to put female jaguar scat at the site of the trap two weeks before the capture. If Departmental lies were told to cover up departmental defiance of federal law .... heads had better roll.

Think of it. The last surviving jaguar in the U.S. is dead. My heart is broken.

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