During hunters\’ week in Wisconsin, Sports Illustrated issues this fantastic article about the costs to humans and the ecosystem when the number of hunters drops:
But over the last decade the North American ecosystem has also seen an unanticipated trend upsetting the always delicate relationship between man and wildlife: The hunters have been going away.
Surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate hunting in general has tumbled precipitously, down 10% in the past decade alone. Bird hunting has dropped by a quarter during that time, and small-game hunting by 31%.
The news of hunting\’s decline will no doubt cheer those who see it as a cruel pastime. But what the critics do not realize is that as the hunters have stepped back, the animals (especially predators) have come forward-with potentially disastrous consequences for all.
Valerius Geist, a professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary and an expert on the behavior of large mammals, calls what is happening \”the recolonization by wildlife.\” The first sign, he says, \”was when the herbivores returned,\” a reference to the overabundance of deer, moose and elk in North America. After the herbivores, Geist says, the carnivores are never far behind. \”We are just now beginning to experience that phase,\” he says. As recently as 1994 there were about 50 wolves left in the Yellowstone region (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming), but the population there now stands at more than 1,500; in Minnesota wolves climbed from about 500 in the 1950s to more than 3,000 today.
In Brookhaven, N.Y., officials are pondering how to handle the deer carcasses scattered across the town\’s roadways. In 2006 they removed 265 deer hit by cars. Last year they found 282. This year they\’re on track to remove at least 370 deer, and the cost-at $400 per animal-is straining the town\’s budget. (Across the U.S. deer-car collisions rose 15% over the past five years, costing annually more than a billion dollars in property damage and 150 human lives.)
At the same time Lyme disease-the crippling illness borne by deer ticks-has gripped the Hamptons. Suffolk County reported an estimated 585 cases last year, up from 190 two years ago. In response, some town leaders across the area turned to what they saw as the only practical solution: They contracted licensed hunters to stalk and kill deer in the tony beach towns along the Island\’s North and South Forks. Some residents ask that men like Walker do their work discreetly, so that their neighbors, or even their spouses, remain unaware of exactly what\’s going on in their backyards. But few protests are heard, in part because the deer, which eat expensive shrubbery and virtually everything else in sight, are often butchered for venison and donated to local soup kitchens.
\”I could shoot a deer every night,\” says Walker, as he stares out at the tree line, waiting for a deer to emerge. He is not complaining. He learned bow hunting from his father and his uncle, and he enjoys his night job, to the point of performing it as a free \”friendly customer service.\”
To all the boys up north: Be safe, and bring home a big one. It\’s for the good of all of us.