In a stroke of very good news, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission announced last Friday that there would be no mountain lion hunting season in the state in 2016. Nebraska’s first and only mountain-lion-hunting season occurred in 2014, when hunters killed five lions, and it was the subject of a determined campaign by state Senator Ernie Chambers, the state’s leading animal advocate in the legislature, to end the hunt. Senator Chambers got a bill passed in the unicameral legislature, but outgoing Governor Dave Heineman – a huge ally of the factory farming and trophy hunting lobbies – vetoed it.
The turn-around in Nebraska follows an action by Washington Governor Jay Inslee to override a plan headed by the Washington Fish and Game Commission to expand mountain lion hunting in the state. And it also comes at the same time that Colorado Parks and Wildlife pulled back on a plan to allow houndsmen to kill up to 50 percent of the mountain lions in one part of the state, as part of a spurious “study,” to see if it could increase mule deer numbers for other hunters.
That’s a spate of welcome developments for big cats, but the situation is still very tough for them throughout so much of their range in the United States. New Mexico’s Game Commission recently authorized an expansion of mountain lion hunting there, including a trapping season on nine million acres of state trust lands. And Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission expanded killing in the state, including hammering mountain lions on more than 6,000 square miles of land, in what has been a relentless campaign to target the animals year after year by the hunting lobby.
There’s also been big news on the bear front – some exceptionally good and some perfectly horrible. In an extraordinary announcement, the National Park Service ended bear hounding and baiting (for black and brown bears) on 20 million acres of national preserves. This action by the federal government trumps the handiwork of the Alaska Game and Fish Commission, which thought it had primary management authority and authorized a wide variety of inhumane and unsporting hunting practices on federal lands that typically have the highest standards of wildlife protection. The physical land area affected by the NPS decision to ban hounding and baiting is about the size of the state of Maine, making this a major ruling.
In the worst news, however, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, after approving a hunt earlier this year, allowed more than 3,700 hunters in the forests and swamps to go after the state’s small, recovering population of 3,000 or so Florida black bears, a special subspecies. A final population study, critical to sound bear conservation, is yet to be completed. Trophy hunters killed about 300 bears in two days, which nearly tripled the set quota in some areas. The body count was so large that the state issued notice for all other hunters to stand down and not proceed with the final five planned hunt days. Those bears had not been hunted for two decades, after The HSUS and The Fund for Animals mounted a campaign in the early 1990s to end the hunt in Florida and to have the subspecies listed as a threatened species. The federal government never got around to listing the species as threatened, but the hunt was terminated by the state – only to come back this year with no good rationale for it. Some authorities argued it was done to control the bear population, but biologists say that Florida black bears need more conservation reserves and corridors and killing them for human safety reasons won’t work. I argued that randomly shooting bears in the forests as a way to stop the occasional bear-human conflict was like a crime control strategy grounded on shooting into a crowd.
As you can see from this news – good and bad – we are in a pitched battle over the issue of predator hunting in the United States. Thanks to two separate federal lawsuits we won, there’ll be no trophy hunting or trapping of wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Wyoming this year. But lawmakers in Congress are working to undo those gains and that fight will play out dramatically in the next few weeks. We’re also expecting a similar battle to play out over the trophy hunting of grizzly bears, who may soon be taken off of the list of federally protected species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It’s time to stand up now for America’s native carnivores, including wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Subjecting them to killing as a head-hunting practice is archaic, and the misery we inflict on these beleaguered creatures is compounded when we bait, trap, and hound them, or leave their orphaned young to die of starvation, dehydration, predation, or exposure. Carnivores deserve so much better than that. They provide all sorts of ecosystem services, they draw tourists to rural regions and parks, and they generally stay out of our way. I’ve written before on this blog about a reevaluation of our ethical relationship with carnivores and about a fuller accounting of the economic benefits they bring. It’s time for that to happen in the United States and abroad, and for us to recognize the rightful place for carnivores and end the trophy killing.