Tuesday, December 25, 2007

price is wrong...

Dan (and others, including Steve Bodio and Pat the Terrierman) have blogged on why pending legislation, AB 1634, in California is dumb. Bob Barker has recently joined the renewed campaign to have this mandatory spay-neuter legislation get through the State Senate... and while he may have kicked Happy Gilmore's butt, I am beginning to wonder whether he's lost his grasp on reality since retiring from popular television. There's a huge difference between ending every broadcast of 'The Price is Right' with an appeal to spay or neuter your pets and pursuing legislation that would mitigate Californians even having the opportunity to choose.

PetPAC is one of the organizations lined up squarely against AB 1634. And I leave these two pieces of evidence to demonstrate why, ultimately, I have to agree with Dan, Pat, and the folks at PetPAC: first, whether he uses this as an administrative or pedagogical technique for the future, I think Dave will get a kick out of 'how to make a phony graph'; second, myths and facts about spaying and neutering from the folks at the Humane Society of the United States (who endorse AB 1634 and appear to be perpetuating a few more of their own). Again, I think some of what these folks at HSUS are trying to do, ie. have folks be responsible owners, is well-intentioned and not all together incorrect. However, what I object to is:

* having statewide mandates to control the behavior of 5% of the human population
* mis-diagnosing either the problem or the root causes of the problem
* using bait-and-switch rhetorical techniques

But I didn't actually start this blog to add further to this particular debate. I actually wanted to say a few things about HSUS's wildlife programs. I hunt, I hunt with our dogs, and frankly only enjoy hunting with our dogs. I fully understand friends who hunt only with their dogs and a camera. And at least when I do take a gun with me, my blogs can adequately document that even with good dogs, hunting is still very much a 'sporting' activity for me -- even when going after stocked, preserve birds.

Wayne Pacelle at HSUS has written a piece about 'wasteful' pheasant stocking programs. He begins: "The pheasant hunt has, in many cases, devolved into a pathetic blend of factory farming and canned hunting: The birds are planted, the killing is all but guaranteed, and the "sport" is non-existent."

[The picture is courtesy of the Suisun Marsh Program in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.]

Again, Pacelle isn't entirely off-base: I have witnessed a preserve pheasant hunt where four guys, with a guide and a dog, essentially walked up a strip of managed bird-cover and beat birds into the air. Stacking the odds?... yes... 'sporting'?... not by my definition... Have I seen evidence of pick-up trucks lined up waiting for a State stocking truck to pull up to a Wilderness Management Area and heard stories of what is essentially a bi-weekly slaughter (because the stocking schedule is posted on the internet)? You betcha'. 'Sporting'?... again, not even close.

But my problems really begin here. "Wild pheasants aren't heading the way of the passenger pigeon, but their numbers are diminishing rapidly as chunks of farmland habitat are gobbled up by urban sprawl [and larger-scale mechanized farming etc.]." This is the kind of bait-and-switch that actually annoys me. As stated by Pacelle, this is the problem: a paucity of suitable habitat for wild pheasants to grow (and be hunted in a sporting fashion). And so the solution to decreasing wildlife habitat is to... stop pheasant stocking programs. Huh? And bearing in mind that pheasant are exotic to North America, when does a pheasant get to be 'wild'?

Again, do I find tower shoots or even traditional flighted bird shoots to be anywhere close to 'sporting'? or that live pigeon shoots are good 'sport'? No, I don't. This is not to claim a moral high-ground but simply to say that using these examples as typical of all (or even a majority) hunters is frankly insulting.

Pacelle goes on to say that: "A week after their release, according to Bird Dog & Retriever News, some 40% will have starved to death or been killed by predators. After a month, the mortality will reach 75%. By the end of the hunting season, only a small percentage will have fallen to a well-aimed wad of lead shot. By some estimates, only a scant 5% will make it through the winter." Hmmmm. Let's assume these numbers are correct -- although I suspect any language that relies on phrases like 'by some estimates'.

Using Michael Furtman's data from Ruffed Grouse: Woodland Drummer, he estimates that fewer than 40% make it from the egg to the first autumn, approximately 18% make it to the first winter, barely 8% make it to their second mating, and barely 4% make it to their third mating (pp. 71-2). So, an entirely native, wild bird has a maybe 8% chance of survival through the winter. And the impact of hunting by humans is "minimal, since to a large degree, this harvest is what biologists call 'compensatory' mortality -- a great portion of the birds taken by grouse hunters would have died anyway that fall or winter." (p. 79)

I realize I'm making a phony graph because I don't know what the mortality rates of farm-raised pheasants are from egg to field... although my inclination is that it's much higher than the 40% for ruffed grouse.

But my point is this: genuinely wild, native birds don't enjoy long lives. This is not to cheapen the lives of stocked pheasants, but it is to say that whether it's a ruffed grouse or a pen-raised pheasant, their first year is one rife with danger and likely death. The only real question to me is whether pen-raised pheasant suffer from non-compensatory mortality, ie. they die at a higher rate than if they were born and raised in the woods.

Pacelle says this about pen-raised birds: "Raised in intense confinement and habituated to humans who have fed them since hatching, the newly released pheasants can take up to three weeks to learn to forage—by which time they may have starved or become food for scavengers or predators such as foxes, raccoons, and raptors." Now, again, I have no inclination to even participate in a tower shoot, nor have I seen the kinds of game-farms that Pacelle actually describes. But I have been to several -- and I would make several observations -- that the pheasant I've seen were in far less intense confinement than any large-scale poultry farm operation and those birds were in fact protected from predators and were certainly wary of any human or canine proximity despite the presence of a real, physical barrier. (So now I doubt these mortality figures for grouse and pheasant are that far apart.) To be fair, HSUS is also sponsoring legislative action against factory-farms and large-scale poultry operations.

The challenge for me is that Pacelle seems ignorant as to where birds of most kinds fit on the food-chain and to how pheasants might actually become 'wild.' There's a reason that, with grouse, after the first year, the annual mortality rate drops by 50% per year. Because the birds learn more about avoiding predation, human and otherwise -- they get wilder. And so, in that regard, Pacelle does the very birds he thinks whose lives are being wasted a massive disservice.

Again, I have no problem with HSUS sponsoring anti-bear-baiting campaigns in Maine. But if, as National Geographic neatly equates -- "Human population grows. Habitat shrinks. -- the question is why is HSUS wasting legislative effort on mandatory spaying programs for pets when the much larger solution to the problem appears to be mandatory spaying programs for humans. And the HSUS has no apparent plans to pursue that particular line of humanity.

Because one can use numbers in a variety of ways to make any particular point, I understand that Pacelle's piece on what may be a somewhat sell-fulfilling financial prophecy -- on hunting licenses paying for the kinds of state stocking programs he abhors -- may have some accuracy. However, in that piece, he states:

"So while the financial contribution of hunters is hardly voluntary, the money still greases the engine of a circular system designed to ensure its perpetuation...The system must be changed to benefit wildlife rather than to promote its destruction, and to benefit the public, allowing people a meaningful voice in wildlife management and more than a fleeting glimpse of wildlife in nature."

Firstly, hunters do give money voluntarily to non-governmental organizations. Pheasants Forever has over 115,000 members, and an annual revenue of $26.8 million -- 89% of which is used directly to preserve habitat. What does political action by groups like Pheasants Forever translate into? As of last week, the US Senate passed its version of the Federal Farm Bill which contains several major conservation provisions that benefit farmers and wildlife alike. These include over 39 million acres of land set aside for wildlife habitat, 13.5 million additional pheasants, and over 170,000 miles stream habitats protected.

Secondly, what does 'wild' mean if people get "more than a fleeting glimpse in nature"? I find it ironic that Pacelle would seem to prefer mankind watching wolves or elk, or for that matter wolves killing elk, from discrete viewing platforms so that we can respect their lives rather than have us get used to the idea that 'wild' might actually mean something close to slippery, magical, and elusive.

Thirdly, a "circular system designed to ensure its perpetuation"? Hmmm. Sounds a lot like humane society shelter management to me. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.


Along the way of writing this I did discover a couple of great blogsaboutdogs I need to check out: Christie Keith's Dogged Blog and Vet Tech.


Dan & Margaret said...

Geez.. when I said to look up Pacelle quotes, I had something more like this http://www.animalscam.com/quotes.cfm in mind. Patrick had a great post last month about HSUS as strictly a direct mail money making machine. Matt Mullenix is the best voice on hunting, and the term sport hunting recently on Querencia.

Andrew Campbell said...

Dan -- well, the challenge for me with going to a site like animalscam.com is that these are all excerpts. Personally, I'd rather look at stuff that's got Wayne's name in the header and hoist him on his own petard.

If you look up HSUS on Charity Navigator (which seems to have more uptodate information and less of an obvious agenda than activistcash.com), you will see that HSUS has clearly streamlined its financial machine in the last two years. However, it was one of very few charities that had comments posted -- all three of which questioned how HSUS could be as financially efficient bearing in mind how much landfill material it keep sending out.

Thanks for the Mullenix reference. It is a nice piece which I'll blog about shortly.