THE BLOG

The Latest From the Legislative Loonies: 'A Good Bear is a Dead Bear!'

03/03/2015 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2015

In a previous blog here, I pointed out that a strong working paradigm exists for lawmakers and wildlife management agencies, though it's commonly disenfranchised by political interference. That paradigm is the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, aka "the Model." Developed during the 1990s by The Wildlife Society, the Model was adopted in 2002 by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Those two organizations taken together represent the consensus opinions of working wildlife professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The North American Model, in turn, updates and expands Aldo Leopold's foundational Land Ethic as laid out in his 1949 classic, A Sand County Almanac, to wit: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." By this commonsense rule, public-lands welfare ranching is wrong, and ag-driven good old boy state politics that's allowed to trump scientific wildlife management is not only wrong, it's a treasonous misuse of America's commons and thereby undermines democracy itself.

Wildlife management by special-interest legislation rather than by science and democracy has become the rule in Colorado (and most other states) because the North American Model has, for the most part, no force in law. Rather, the Model simply lists seven far-ranging management tenets (refer to the link above for details) that are widely agreed upon by wildlife professionals as essential to perpetuating the uniquely good deal North American hunters and other wildlife lovers enjoy today. Even the few aspects of these seven tenets that have been indirectly codified by the Supreme Court remain vulnerable to neglect and misapplication at the state level, which is precisely what we're currently facing here in Colorado via House Bill 15-1099, proffered under the banner "A Bill For An Act Concerning The Management of Black Bears by Hunting."

In wildlife agency-speak, "management" is a euphemism for killing. (Similarly, to the USFS and BLM, "management" means sacrificing healthy ecosystems to multiple abuses.) What this bill would do, if implemented as presented, is kill a lot more black bears by altering the season structure to drop November, when most bears are in den and the kill is low, and adding a "general-purpose" bear hunting season in August, when bears are highly active in daylight, especially in drought years, and thus most vulnerable.

It gets even better: To further increase the elimination of public wildlife in hopes of enhancing the profits of private businessmen, aka public-lands welfare ranchers, HB 15-1099 would confound a prohibition against baiting bears that was put in place by a two-thirds majority vote of Coloradoans in 1992, with the "clarification" that "Bait" does not mean a liquid scent that smells like food.

This is a butt-ugly example of how wildlife management by science is constantly at risk of being blatantly undermined via wildlife mismanagement by clueless self-serving politicians, shysters that hunters, being largely "conservative" and not notorious for investigating their own opinions, help to put and keep in office.

Would HB 15-1099 benefit hunters, as the three R sponsors would have us believe, by providing additional hunting opportunities? Yes, insofar as during the first very few years the August bear kill would skyrocket. But soon, the August kill would prove so devastating to the bear population that all bear seasons, which now run September through November, would have to be severely curtailed to compensate. In the end, the overall longterm bear hunting opportunity in Colorado would be so seriously curtailed that hunters would revolt and demand a return to the pre-HB 15-1099 season status.

But by then, of course, the harm would be done with the fallout lasting for years to come. Nor will killing more bears in the backcountry--where most bears live and most hunting is conducted--do anything to alleviate the "garbage bear" problem in rural towns and subdivisions, as the bill's sponsors suggest. These are not the same bears.

Had the bill's sponsors consulted Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists, they would have been told that this bill is biologically, practically, and socially unworkable. But of course the sponsors consulted no one.

Further evidencing the disingenuous intent of HB 15-1099's drafters is the bill's amazing sloppily, open-ended language. Specifically, the bill's authorization of a "general-purpose" season in August implies unlimited "over the counter" availability of tags, while the current September bear season is limited by drawing and the remaining bear seasons require hunters to have a valid big game license as well.

In sum, HB 15-1099 represents dishonest, special-interest legislation typical of what we've come to expect from the radical right-wing aggie pols, who "conservative" hunters persist in helping put in office, ironically, often to their own loss.

Zooming out for the big picture, the root of all evil in state wildlife management is its overtly political hierarchy: The governor appoints the director of the Department of Natural Resources, who helps select and oversees the director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Likewise, the governor and his appointees select CPW commissioners, resulting in a commission that's traditionally overrepresented by vested interests, notably ranchers and hunting outfitters. In their turn, previous Wildlife directors whom I've observed in action shamefully cow-tow to the commissioners rather than educating and leading as a true "director" should. Meanwhile, all agencies, federal as well as state, suffer from an internal culture that stifles rather than encourages open input from the folks in the field who do the research and other hands-on work and therefore are the people who should be making the rules.

While the perpetrators of HB 15-1099 already are being forced to acknowledge that their boondoggle needs extensive rewording, they predictably will persist until they get something out of it, via pure political bullying. Which brings us back around to the worrisome fact that until the entire system is changed, we'll continue to see attempts, some successful, to mismanage our increasingly harassed wildlife and wildlands public resources by politics, rather than managing by sound science.