April 5, 2012 in Outdoors, Sports

Landers: Hunters must consider their image

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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In Idaho, hunters use chainsaws to boost elk. In Washington, fisheries managers use nets to thin out Pend Oreille River pike.

Hunters and trappers have always had a tendency to be their own worst enemies.

Nowadays they can do it in a global way.

The World Wide Web saw red last weekend as animal-rights groups took great pleasure in spreading photos of hunters and trappers posing in bloody scenes with their wolves.

While a hunter posing with a dead animal is offensive to some people, hunters have a right to remember the moment of a successful legal hunt. After all, they’re just taking responsibility for what they’ve done, unlike people who turn to restaurants for their meat.

But the most offensive photo making the rounds last weekend features a man kneeling and smiling. In the background is a wolf, its tongue hanging out, its front foot clamped in a leg-hold trap. The wolf was standing at the far edge of a blood-tinted circle it had made in its attempts to escape the trap and the chain that anchored it to a stake in the middle of the circle.

Photos of hunters or trappers posing with dead wolves are sufferable. However, in this case, the guy is mugging for the camera while the wolf suffers in the background.

Then the dolt posted the photo on the Internet.

Soon an expanded story was on the Reuters wire and making headlines on websites and wolf-advocacy emails.

The outrage was spread by animal-rights group giddy with the opportunity. Can’t blame them for running with a gift on a plate.

People of any persuasion can live a sheltered life in the world of the Internet. We can close out voices that challenge our perspective. We can forget that half of the people in the country have a different opinion on just about everything.

When you do something really stupid and inflammatory in the digital world, the message can spread like lightning.

Suddenly, it’s not just your problem, it’s the problem of everyone you represent.

Hunters have a right, and even a calling to be active, in managing wolves.

In a sense, they’re the foot soldiers paying the way and doing the dirty work. Everyone who looks at this issue objectively knows that wolf numbers must be balanced as the predators are integrated in a complex world filled with too many people – hunters being only a fraction of them.

But all hunters are cursed by the guys living in havens where they find support for bragging about cruel behavior to wildlife, whether it’s game or vermin.

I know wolf-hatred is rampant in Idaho, but last time I looked, Idaho was just one of 50 states. Maybe the hatred is rampant in 20 or 25 states. That’s still short of a majority.

The tough-guy talk is ramping up in Eastern Washington, too. But what about Western Washington? That’s the side of the state that shut down hunting cougars and bears with hounds. Remember the photos they showed of hounds ripping up bears?

When it comes to shooting down sportsmen’s initiatives, the West Side has the firepower.

Washington hunters will get what we deserve if the tough-guy stuff continues, and a black eye isn’t out of the question.

Killing animals is serious business. A hunter or trapper who wasn’t taught as a kid to take an animal’s life as quickly and cleanly as possible needs to go back to Hunting 101 with the grade-school kids.

The wolf-hater hero photos or the wolf-hating propaganda moving on the Internet is a setback. It demeans us.

It’s behavior that rivals the other grim extreme – the anti-hunters who rally with every gory photo they capture into a campaign to stall wolf management.

Idaho likely would not have made the leap to wolf trapping if environmental groups had not gone to court two years ago to stop the second hunting seasons in Montana and Idaho.

Wolves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared “fully recovered” got another year to boom out of balance.

Those interventions to the carefully crafted wolf-management plans were counterproductive to the region’s deer and elk herds, to the wolves and to the communities who subsist around these wildlife.

Just before the first Idaho and Montana wolf plans were approved by the federal government a few years ago, I interviewed five wolf experts from around the world. Each of them made the point that the social aspect of wolf recovery are every bit as important to the wolf’s survival as the biological factors.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts were saying wolves were recovered and wolf management could begin three years ago.

But some environmental groups pressed on, whipping up wolf extermination propaganda as a fundraiser.

Bottom line: The wolf is their cash cow.

This year, for the first time in many decades, Idaho Panhandle hunters will not have an either-sex elk-hunting season in units once flush with elk.

The issue isn’t just about the wolf’s role in cropping the size of prized game herds. It’s also about messing with the fiber of the culture in those small towns – and I’m talking about places where I’ve been hanged in effigy, so don’t think I’m writing this looking for the love.

When Ed Bangs, former federal wolf-recovery coordinator, said wolves had recovered faster and more thoroughly than biologists could have dreamed, some environmental groups wouldn’t listen.

Some hunters and trappers have retaliated by acting like bloodthirsty thugs.

Now we wait to see the pendulum swing again.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email richl@spokesman.com

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