Saturday, January 5, 2013

Drop in wildlife census impacts rural economies

Two stories from different parts of the country this past week discussed the diminishing wildlife populations--pheasants in Iowa and mule deer in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.   Both also explain how wildlife populations and hunting interests are increasingly pitted against economic interests--as in agricultural production and oil and gas exploration. Finally, both also wax nostalgic--at least a bit--about our nation's hunting tradition, which they suggest is being lost.

NPR reported yesterday from northwest Colorado, at the Hilandras Ranch, where journalist Luke Runyon of Aspen Public Radio is interviewing John Hilandras, who runs an "outfitting business out of his family ranch."  When Hilandras was a child, he says, hunting was hardly a challenge.
We had literally thousands of deer.  There were just deer everywhere.  It seemed like they were like rabbits.
Now, however, deer are scarce enough that Hilandras is reluctant to market his services as those for a trophy hunt because weeks can go by without seeing a "prize-winning animal" like a 12-point buck.
In good conscience, a good ethical outfitter offering a trophy deer hunt should be careful 'cause it's not like it was.
The story goes on to discuss the possible causes in the decline of the mule deer population.  Runyon's story suggests that oil and gas exploration on western slope of the Rockies, including the Piceance Basin, is having a deleterious impact on deer habitat.  Other suggest that the burgeoning coyote population is to blame.  Studies are currently probing the impact of both phenomena.

The story closes with Hilandras expressing regret that his young children won't know the hunting he enjoyed.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported from Iowa under the headline, "As Pheasants Disappear, Hunters in Iowa Follow."  John Eligon's story pits hunting squarely against the state's economic engine--farming--noting that Iowa has in the last 20 years lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat that pheasants and small game use; that is "the equivalent of a nine-mile strip of land stretching practically the width of the state." The pheasant habitat is being put to use in farming, as commodity prices rise, creating incentives for farmers to maximize agricultural outputs.    

And pheasants, "once king of Iowa's nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry," are vanishing as a result of this decline in habitat.  The pheasant "population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades." And the number of pheasant hunters is dropping, too, down about 800,000 over two decades, to just 1.4 million now.
The loss, pheasant hunters say, is both economic and cultural.  
* * * 
 “We’re at a tipping point, and we have to decide how important it is to keep traditions for upland bird hunting alive and into the future,” said David E. Nomsen, the vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever.
As for the economic slice, federal officials report that hunters spent about $33.7 billion on hunting in 2011.  That includes $2.5 billion on small game like pheasants.   The story also includes figures regarding the economic value of hunting in the state of Iowa.  

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