Has science gone by the wayside?

Recently an article appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune about the decision by legislators to bring a Bill to increase the removal of mountain lions, black bears, and coyotes. This issue is disturbing and it allows us to explore the complexities that lie beyond the binary position of hunt/don’t hunt.

It was in the late 19th Century that the negative impact of westward expansion became realized. Leaders, such as Theodore Roosevelt developed attitudes and practical applications that would later become known as ‘conservation’. The damage that had been done by commercial hunting was not only responsible for the demise of large ungulate populations, but also contributed to a reduction in predators because their prey base was decimated. There was another threat on the landscape for predators in the form of Bounties. Fast forward to today in Utah, where hunt areas where harvest mortality limits that have already been met, have been re-opened under pressure from Legislators. There is not even the pretense that this has any kind of scientific basis. It is merely scapegoating the mountain lion as something that the human predator sees as competition for habitat, for herds, and feels that they can actually control, unlike climate change and other stochastic events.

There are many dedicated scientists at work trying to figure out ways to reduce conflict between domestic livestock and large carnivores. Looking to creativity and experimentation is a way of actually finding a solution. Removal is temporary, and plainly speaking a landscape that provides, food, water, shelter and space, will be quickly re-inhabited by new residents, if the existing ones are indiscriminately killed.

There are many biologists that work for State Wildlife Agencies, that are committed to ensuring stable and sustainable populations of large carnivores on the landscapes. Every animal whether predator or prey is part of a much larger picture. We must urge our decision makers to concentrate on the ecological contributions that large carnivores make, and not be swayed by the idea that removal is the only way to manage.