By: Bruce Speidel
I recently had a reader write to me a message along the lines of, “Why kill bears? There aren't that many; most are endangered.”
The answer I gave is one I believe most hunters and even many conservationists and wildlife lovers will agree with. Here’s what I said:
I will assume that you are asking this question as a reasonable person. I will assume that you love bears and have legitimate questions as to "why would you kill bears.” I will assume that you are open to an honest conversation about this, not a name-calling battle, but an honest conversation. I will assume that you read my article in Gunpowder Magazine?
I believe some things about wildlife that you believe. I believe wildlife is very beautiful. I believe in taking care of our world and the nature that God created for us to enjoy. I believe in leaving the land better than you found it. I believe in maintaining healthy populations of wildlife for you and me to enjoy and leaving it better so that our children can enjoy the land better than we had it. I believe these things very much and live my life in a way that follows these beliefs.
So, you may still wonder – why would I shoot a beautiful bear?
Let me explain a little before we get to that particular question. The North American Conservation model of wildlife management had its beginning with Teddy Roosevelt and others when they founded things like the Boone and Crockett Club and set up policies for wildlife management. They started with great laws like banning the sale and trade of wild animals. They saw the decimation of wildlife with free market shooting of wildlife and the over-harvest that was destroying our wildlife. By selling licenses and restricting the harvest and by only killing old, mature males, they boosted wildlife populations while still providing meat in the freezer. By harvesting mature males that were past their breeding prime, this meant more grass and habitat for the young and healthier breeding population. This method brought herds back to what we see today – the healthiest wildlife populations in the world are found here in North America.
Now, in many deer and elk herds, game biologist who are managing the wildlife populations are issuing many licenses for doe deer and cow elk to reduce the population because we have such a healthy herd in many places.
Hunting bears, though, you might ask. Why? Game biologists, whose entire job encompasses the management of wildlife, set a number of harvest to ensure the healthiest population of bears and deer and elk..... These biologists look at the carrying capacity of land. They look at the number of deer, the number of acres, and the number of bears that land can support. They set the season and the harvest numbers so there is enough deer, elk, and grass to keep the bears healthy and happy. Too many bears, and they are hungry and underfed, leading to misbehaving bears that are dangerous to people and livestock. Healthy, well-fed bears don't bother anyone most of the time, but where there is overpopulation of bears, they misbehave.
I am not the one setting the population goals. Biologists with much education and much love for the bears and land they live in are setting the harvest quotas so that the land is as healthy as possible. So, I do kill bears. I help ensure that the population is healthy. I love bears. I enjoy watching them. Many times when I hunt, I don't kill, I just enjoy observing nature. I enjoy watching a sow bear with cubs play around. I don't kill them. I only harvest what the biologists managing the bears requested. I want to see healthy bears. The place where I hunt bears has too many. In one valley, I observed nine different bears. Nine bears in one valley?! That makes it almost impossible for a baby moose calf or elk or deer baby to survive! Well, I love those animals, too! If I harvest bears in a healthy manner, people will be able to enjoy BOTH deer and bears.
I don't get my meat from cows ranched. I get my meat from deer and elk and bears. The only difference is I don't pay someone else at a meat locker to do my dirty work. I don't derive great pleasure in killing a beautiful animal. I go through great lengths to make sure I shoot accurately to guarantee a kind and merciful death that is quick. Have you ever seen a bear or wolf rip apart a deer or elk while it is still alive? They are not as humane as I am. Sure, that's nature and part of it. But so am I part of nature. I can eat a cow or I can eat a healthy, lean deer or elk. I prefer to feed my family and friends wild game that is healthier.
What have you done to help wildlife? What have you done for wildlife habitat? Are you part of the groups that sue fish and wildlife departments, the very departments helping the wildlife because you are ignorant about wildlife populations? Black bears are NOT endangered. Black bears live nationwide, and healthy populations exist in most states. How much time have you spent in the field working hard to better the land for wildlife? How many weeds have you sprayed so there is healthy grass is in the fields for wildlife to eat? How many meadows have you cleared so that healthy grass grows? How many dollars have you contributed to the betterment of land? I would venture to bet you have done much less than I have to contribute to the natural world and betterment of it. Maybe I'm wrong. But I doubt it.
I love the land and the wildlife in it. I go about managing the land differently, but it doesn't make me any less caring or compassionate about wildlife. You might not hunt, but if you eat meat, you are contributing to someone killing an animal for you. I don't take great pleasure in killing animals – as I said, I love them, but something has to die for someone to live. You cannot eat rocks and dirt; you must eat something that was once living. Hunting is a way to provide meat for my family.
Maybe you will understand where I am coming from, maybe not. I wish we could have this dialog in person. I bet we would find more common ground than by tapping on a keyboard.
Bruce Speidel is a professional artist and hunting guide writing from Sundance, Wyoming. Contact him at email@example.com or at www.brucespeidel.com.