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Goodwill Hunting (Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?)

Gandhi said that “a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” The USFWS remains wedded to the idea that they will find these spirits in the past. As for me, I place my faith and trust in the future generations of Kaufman-toting, Leica-packing, monkey-wrentching birders.

Upland moa. Great auk. Labrador duck. Ivory-billed woodpecker. Carolina parakeet. Passenger pigeon. Dodo. Red rail. Rodrigues rail (and a slew of other bird species from that island, as well as Madagascar, Reunion, and Mauritius).  Atitilan grebe. Cozumel thrasher. Houston Henslow's sparrow. Eskimo curlew. Imperial woodpecker. Bachman's warbler.

House Republicans and a handful of John Wayneish western governors would like to remove the gray wolf from endangered species protections. Hunting organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have joined the effort. RMEF head David Allen and the Foundation support Rep. Denny Rehberg's House Resolution 509, which would specifically remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Rehberg's bill has backing from a long list of groups, including the Mule Deer Foundation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Rifle Association, and Safari Club International. 

Congressional appropriations bill H.R. 1 has passed the House and awaits Senate action. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, included language in the continuing resolution that would delist gray wolves. Federal Judge Donald Molloy's ruling overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision last year that kept federal protections in place in Wyoming, where state law is considered hostile to the animals' survival, but turned over to Montana and Idaho wolf management responsibilities within their borders.


In 1890 two dealers [in Boston] received 20 barrels of birds and each of them contained one-third American golden plover and two-thirds Bartramian sandpipers (now called upland sandpipers),eight barrels of just Eskimo curlews, and 12 barrels each containing Eskimo curlew and American golden plover.There were 25 dozen (300) Eskimo curlews and 60 dozen (720) American golden plovers in a barrel. My guess is that there were 75 dozen upland sandpipers in a barrel.These game dealers received about 4,000 Eskimo curlews and 9,360 American golden plovers in a single season. MacKay could only speculate how many were killed if other large cities were similarly supplied…Bob Zink

Why the fuss? Is this wolves gone wild? Who's afraid of the big, bad, wolves?

There are records of six fatal wolf attacks in the U.S. since 1900. In that 110-year period there were two fatalities in the early 1900s, one in Alaska in 2010, and three children were killed in separate incidents by wolves kept as pets. In comparison, the CDC reported that in a twenty-year period between 1979 and 1998 there were 327 people killed by dogs in the U.S. Wasps, yellow jackets, bees, and fire ants kill more Americans annually than wolves have killed in a century.  

Elk (2) Wichita Mountains, OK 6 Mar 2003 If not public safety, what's the beef? Beef is the beef, farmed or wild. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, "the primary prey species for wolves in Montana are deer, elk, and moose. As a keystone species, wolves have the potential to influence big game populations and their habitats. This may affect big game hunting." The Montana Cattlemen's Association website leads with "Montana ranchers are suffering more losses every year!"

Predator's compete over what they perceive to be scarce resources. Hunters want more elk and deer. Cattlemen (With A Steak In Montana's Future!) want more beef. Wolves want to eat. 


Moa-nalo, O'ahu Petrel, Nēnē-nui, Giant Amakihi, Stout-legged Finch, Kauaʻi Finch, Maui Nui Finch, Maui Finch, Pila's Palila, Scissor-billed Koa-finch, Primitive Koa-finch, Oʻahu Grosbeak, Laysan Crake, Hawaiian Crake, Wake Island Rail, Laysan Millerbird, Kama'O, ʻĀmaui, Kona Grosbeak, Greater Koa-Finch, Lesser Koa-Finch, Oahu 'Akialoa, Maui Nui 'Akialoa, Wood Harrier, Kauai 'Akialoa, Hawaiʻi ʻAkialoa, Kioea, Ula-'ai-hawane, Black Mamo, ,Hawai'i Mamo, Lana'i Hookbill, Oahu Nukupu'u, Greater 'Amakihi, Laysan Honeycreeper, Oahu 'Akepa, Molokai Creeper, Lana'i Creeper, ʻUla-ʻai-Hawane, Kaua'i Palila, O‘ahu ‘Ō‘ō, Moloka‘i ‘Ō‘ō, Kaua'i 'Ō'ō, Hawai'i 'Ō'ō.

Yet there is something else working here, and a nagging doubt that this is only about one predator against another. Poachers have shot six gray wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so far this year, not exactly big beef country. And how do we explain the five whooping cranes shot this year in Alabama and Georgia? Whose livestock did they threaten?

33579_dodobird Yes, extinction is a natural process, a vital step in the evolutionary journey. Yet most of the species listed above were obliterated by the hand of man. Herman Daly, the American ecological economist, said that "there is something fundamentally wrong with treating the earth as if it were a business in liquidation."

I understand greed. I understand gluttony. But why are both invariably practiced as a zero-sum game? Are there really not enough elk to share a few with the wolves? 

In the late 1800s Teddy Roosevelt and the Boone and Crockett Club began to bring some semblance of order to what had been an uncontrolled hunting orgy. Both Carolina parakeet and passenger pigeon were clinging to the ropes. Roosevelt want to civilize hunting as the Marquess of Queensberry wanted to civilize boxing. At the core, though, both were (and are still) steeped in violence, the kill. 

Of course hunters contribute to conservation. They contribute like travelers contribute to the construction of new airports through an excise tax on airline tickets, and drivers contribute to new roads through an excise tax on gasoline. I grudgingly accept hunting, but I see no reason to enshrine it. 


Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and esthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one…Edward Abbey

Early European sailors and settlers did not prize the dodo, the over-sized flightless pigeon from Mauritius, for its meat. Dodos were gamey and tough. Dodos were killed for fun, out of boredom. There is a short step between sport and fun. Game laws manage the sport, but no one can watch every slack-jawed moron who wants to have fun with a gun. The Endangered Species Act protects our shared natural heritage (not just the heritage of cattlemen and elk hunters) from both those looking for sport and those only interested in the  bloodlust, the fun of killing.

The moment hunters attack the ESA they cross that fine line between the two. Roosevelt understood the difference, and he valued the goodwill and common interests that tied hunters and birders together.  I hope that responsible hunters of his ilk will yank these nimwits back in line.


One of the most insidious invasions of wilderness is via predator control. It works thus: wolves and lions are cleaned out of a wilderness area in the interests of big-game management. The big-game herds (usually deer or elk) then increase to the point of overbrowsing the range. Hunters must then be encouraged to harvest the surplus, but modern hunters refuse to operate far from a car; hence a road must be built to provide access to the surplus game. Again and again, wilderness areas have been split by this process, but it still continues…Aldo Leopold

I wish that I could say that the story ends here. It doesn't. In late February Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced "a draft vision plan to guide the growth and management of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The draft document, developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Wildlife Refuge Association, articulates a 10-year vision for the Refuge System."

Key points in the draft include the following:

  • To engage youth in an array of work and volunteer programs;
  • To review the Appropriate Use Policy, so a wider variety of nature-based experiences may be possible;
  • Within the next 10 years, to increase the number of minorities and people with disabilities who work for the Refuge System, in part by reaching high school and college youth from diverse communities and exposing them to Service conservation careers;
  • To develop a five-year plan to “green” the Refuge System;
  • To encourage a ‘Friends’ group for every staffed refuge; there are now about 230 Friends groups;
  • To develop standards for credibility, efficiency and consistent application of science in planning and management;
  • Working with state fish and wildlife agencies, to prepare a strategy to double youth participation in hunting and fishing by 2020, paying special attention to individuals of all ages with disabilities.

Let me expand on that last bullet. The draft strategy has an entire section titled Connecting People with Nature. Here are the three recommendations from that section:

The Refuge System has a steadfast commitment to the long-standing conservation partnership with America’s hunters and anglers to expand and improve hunting and fishing opportunities for children and people with disabilities. 

Recommendation: Conduct an analytical review of and report on wildlife refuge hunting and fishing opportunities and rules and regulations, with special attention to opportunities offered for youth and people with disabilities. Guidance on expanding opportunities will accompany the report.

Recommendation: Work cooperatively with state fish and wildlife agencies to prepare a strategy for increasing quality hunting and fishing opportunities on national wildlife refuges with the goal of doubling youth participation in hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges by 2020.

Recommendation: Support outdoor recreation access and opportunities on national wildlife refuges by improving coordination, effectiveness and efficiency among federal agencies through close work with the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council, and other recreational entities.

Let's remind USFWS of their own research. According to their 2006 survey, 30.0 million American fished and 12.5 million hunted (8.5 million both fished and hunted). In the same year 71.1 million enjoyed observing, feeding, or photographing wildlife. Virtually all growth and most recruitment in wildife recreations came from watchers.


Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance…Theodore Roosevelt

Is the USFWS goal to nuture more hunters and anglers, or to connect more Americans with nature? If the later, they have chosen the wrong recreations. But these user groups have dominated the discourse within the agency for my 61 years, and I certainly see their footprints in this sand. There are no bold ideas in this draft strategy.

Criticizing hunting in the US is as popular as critizing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. I can think of nothing that will get you shunned more quickly. One does not have to be overtly anti-hunting. One only needs to offer a critique of hunting's disproportionate influence and hunters will immediately play the PETA card.

Yet this is precisely what I am doing. I believe that hunting's influence is hampering any meaningful advance in how state and federal wildlife agencies approach a modern, diverse constituency. Birders are far more diverse (particularly related to gender), but lack the bunker mentality that unites hunters. 

Here is a quote from the Hunting Heritage Action website:

With the support of hunters, current populations of game species have been restored to abundant levels. These populations now provide the foundation for millions of days of hunting recreation, millions of pounds of high quality food and billions of dollars in economic activity. But what about tomorrow? What will happen if hunters are no longer available to provide this vital support to long-term wildlife conservation?

Am I to believe that only hunters have contributed to conservation in America? Am I to ignore how their conservation contributions have restored what earlier hunters descimated? What if hunters are no longer available for support? Are we to believe that hunters hold the future of conservation in their hands? Shouldn't wildlife agencies be working to grow the next generation of conservationists regardless of their interests, rather than to continue to try to rally the troops to a lost cause?

Gandhi said that "a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history." The USFWS remains wedded to the idea that they will find these spirits in the past. As for me, I place my faith and trust in the future generations of Kaufman-toting, Leica-packing, monkey-wrentching birders.

If you wish to comment on the US Fish and Wildlife draft, you may do so at this link.



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Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks

Ted Lee Eubanks is president and CEO of Fermata Inc. an Austin-based global leader is sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation. Eubanks and Fermata were responsible for developing the first birding trails, in Texas, in the early 1990s. He has served on the national boards of Audubon and the CLO, and received the first ABA Chan Robbins Award in 2000. Eubanks writes extensively about birds, conservation, and sustainability, and has coauthored two books about birds (The Birdlife of Houston, Galveston, and the Upper Texas Coast, and Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail). To continue his work connecting people to places, birders to birds, Eubanks has formed a new company, Great American Trails, which is using new technologies to attract new constituents to the outdoors.
Ted Lee Eubanks

Latest posts by Ted Lee Eubanks (see all)

  • Hey Ted—

    You make some great points here. Birders do lack the unity that hunters and anglers have. I think one of the most important things the ABA can do is to provide a focal point for our very diverse community and a way for our voices to be amplified. I certainly respect that hunters and fishers have helped preserve wildlife and wild lands and I’d like to see us work alongside them. But I think it’s important for birders to stick to our metaphorical guns when demanding a place at the table where policies are set. Times, as you well point out, have changed.

    I’d also add that many, many people are finding their way into wildlife-based recreation behind the lens of a camera these days, far more than ever before. That’s an important group, perhaps especially so for birders, as there is so much crossover (and potential crossover) between us.

    So let’s do what we can to see that this FWS vision has room for a truly diverse audience of wildlife fans, whether they go into the field with a gun, a rod, a binocular, or a camera, or some combination thereof. The link you provided is an excellent place to start. Again, thanks.

  • As a native Montanan, I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments. The levels of greed and fear on display in this state are mystifying. Ranchers/hunters are instructed to hate something they do not understand, and they don’t even make an attempt to educate themselves about predators or endangered species. Groups like the Montana Cattlemen’s Association and the Rocky Elk Foundation have used the wolf debate to divide people and line the coffers with donations. Espousing conservative philosophy to a tee, they have no interest in the truth or creating a cooperative environment amongst all citizens. The mindset is win at all cost, and changing that paradigm is nearly impossible. Trust me, I have been trying for years and I will continue to attempt to influence as much as I can.

  • Ted Eubanks

    Here is what I posted on the USFWS website this evening.

    I finished reading the draft this evening. I am waiting for the bold ideas. In fact, I am waiting for any ideas at all. I am trying to recall which recommendations in the draft have not been enunciated (formally or not) before. What I fear is that the draft is, first and foremost, safe.

    Here is an example. I must disagree with my friend Paul Baicich about the inclusion of wildlife watching and birding. Given the size of that constituency, the specific recommendations are nonexistent. The birding initiative has produced little other than debate and discussion. When the opportunity comes to include specific recommendations for birding, wildlife watching, and photography, the draft is silent.

    The three recommendations concerning Connecting People with Nature only mention hunting and fishing. If you wish to truly connect more Americans to their natural heritage, wouldn’t you read your own research about which wildlife recreations are growing and which are not? You may double youth participation in hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges by 2020, but that will not stem the decline in hunting and fishing (particularly the former).

    Wildlife watching continues to be the only effective recruitment tool within the wildlife recreation tool chest, and yet you completely ignore it.

    Here is a bold idea. Rather than obsessing over the nation’s hunting heritage, why not focus on our wildlife heritage? Give our citizens an opportunity to connect with this heritage as they wish, rather than shoehorn them into a pastime that has no meaning for them. Set a priority to double visitation to the refuges by everyone by 2020, rather than one or two declining recreations.

    The recommendations regarding interpretation are excellent, except the training program already exists and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Use the NAI training program, and certify staff. In addition, budget reasonable funds for interpretive programs and enhancements. The general public is not experienced in natural history, and the conservation value of the refuge can be measured by those who leave a refuge better informed as to the challenges we face.

    Anthony Burgess wrote that “the country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent, experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it, if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

    Next version, try bold.

  • Barbara Volkle

    This points out how critical it is for birders to go to the vision site and participate in this process.

    The hunting and fishing community does have an historic link with the refuge system. What FWS must hear is what they are reluctant to acknowledge – that new constituancies will be the key to their success, and to public support in the future.

    While it is important for us to speak among ourselves, folks, if you want to be heard, comment on that site! Stop sitting on the sidelines and giving other interests the floor by failing to participate.

    Tell your friends about it! Wake up and smell the coffee!

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