Sunday, April 11, 2021

The science of wildlife management

| March 25, 2021 12:00 AM

Sunday’s edition of the Daily Inter Lake had two interesting letters to the editor about wildlife management.

The first was titled, “Wildlife policy should be science based.” That letter was signed by a couple dozen wildlife biologists with 1,561 years of total wildlife management experience.

Wow! This letter voiced an opinion that some current proposed pieces of wolf and bear legislation are biologically flawed. The thrust of that letter was that the pending legislation was not based on wildlife science, but only legislative or citizen driven.

I know many of the signers of this opinion letter and respect their professional biology education and experience.

But let me say that most of the current issues involving wolf and grizzly management are mostly social or environmental issues, not biological issues.

According to the Montana Constitution, wildlife belongs to the people of Montana, not Fish, Wildlife and Parks or biologists. It is hard to gauge the varied desires of a million Montana citizens, so broad wildlife management decisions have to be made by the people’s elected representatives, our legislators.

If we don’t like what our legislators are doing, in the next election we can throw the rascals out.

Let me state that I believe the overall science of wildlife biology is paper thin. Let me digress to human biology to illustrate my point. I will use the ongoing pandemic as an example.

Scientific research for human medicine is thousands of years old. Humans have spent trillions of dollars doing medical research on human health issues. Human medical science deals with just one animal species, homo sapiens or humans.

In January of 2020, our country’s leading scientific pandemic expert said, on national TV, that Americans did not have to worry about the Chinese virus.

Now ask the families of the 500,000 Americans that have died from this disease, if the virus was not worrisome. That same scientific expert, on national TV in February of 2020, said there was no need to wear masks. Now we are supposed to wear double or triple masks!

Again, the nation’s foremost scientific expert on human health was dead wrong. So much for blind adherence to science.

I am a bigger fan of common sense than science.

So, wildlife biologists, whose profession is less than 100 years old and who are trying to manage hundreds of different wildlife species are trying to convince us that they always know what is best for wildlife and the public.

Their input is important, but should not be controlling.

Almost all valid new wildlife studies raise many more new questions than are answered.

Again, I believe that most wildlife management issues, especially for controversial species such as wolves and grizzlies, are primarily social issues. The number of wolves on the landscape is mostly a social issue. How many of our deer and elk should be eaten by a large wolf population and how many should be reserved for human consumption through hunting?

In my opinion, the voices of a plumber or school teacher are just as valid as biologist views for social wildlife issues.

As a hunter, I have been involved in many FWP discussions about deer and elk management.

But I have never been invited to comment on mountain goat management. Mountain goat management seems to have been 100% the purview of FWP biologists. So how have these scientific wildlife professionals done when unfettered by common citizen input?

I’ve saved almost all of the annual big game regulations since moving to Montana in 1972, so I have printed proof of the numbers quoted in the next paragraph.

In 1981, FWP biologists issued 42 mountain goat permits in the Swan Mountains from Columbia Mountain on the north to the Blackfoot on the south.

How many goat hunting permits were issued in 2020? None!

When asked what happened to the goat population in the Swan Mountains, the standard FWP answer is, “we don’t know”!

I don’t wish to imply that biologists are dumb, they just don’t have the time or money to gather the answers. Is the Swan Mountains mountain goat issue a wildlife management abnormality?


For many years I hunted mountain goats in the West Fork of the Bitterroot Mountains, Hunting District 250. In the 1970s, FWP issued 20 goat hunting permits each year for this hunting district. Now there are no goat hunting permits. Zero! So much for scientific mountain goat management!

Whitetail deer in Northwest Montana are our bread and butter big-game species. In 1982 we had a five-week hunting season for whitetail bucks. In 1988, 1998 and through 2021 we still have the identical five week buck hunting seasons.

So, where is the science in buck deer management?

For me, there is very little true “biological science” in the management of most game species.

Good game management decisions are mostly based on past experience, social considerations and common sense, not rocket science wildlife biology.

The science of wildlife management is still in its infancy. FWP needs more folks with good social and communication skills.

The second letter to the editor in Sunday’s paper was critical of FWP’s management of elk.

So, I am not the only citizen that has concerns about FWP wildlife management. But elk management is another topic for another column.

Don’t forget that you have only until April 1 to apply for special deer, antelope and elk licenses and permits.

Don’t procrastinate and miss out on great hunting opportunities.