"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Paid Killing Is Not A Good Tool For Wildlife Management
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

"Bounties Are Bunk!"

I wish I had originated that catchy little phrase.

To be honest--and give credit where credit is due--those words were penned nearly half a century ago by the late Roger M. Latham, whom I consider one of the best (if not the best) outdoor writers who ever hammered the keyboard of a typewriter.

He was Dr. Roger Latham, a member of the first graduating class of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) Ross Leffler School of Conservation. He served as a biologist for that agency for many years before going on to a distinguished career as chief of the PGC’s Division of Wildlife Research, and an outdoor writer for The Pittsburgh Press.

I can’t tell you what Dr. Latham’s arrangements may have been with the National Wildlife Federation, but in 1960 that organization published a booklet titled Bounties Are Bunk, which, as Dr. Latham wrote, carried “the express purpose of debunking bounties.”

Incidentally, I know of only one surviving copy of that publication. It sits on my desk--a monument to good wildlife-management thinking.

“If a man today (1960) made the profound statement, ‘The world is round,’ people would laugh and say, ‘Of course it is round.’ In the day of Christopher Columbus the same statement would have brought an entirely different response, probably something like: ‘The man’s lost his head.’

“Forty years ago, [this would have been some time around 1920] the wildlifer who might have dared to say ‘bounties are bunk’ would have found himself in the same classification. But today with a wealth of information all pointing in the same direction, game officials are responding with a chorus of  ‘amens.’ The science of wildlife management has come of age and barbershop biology is rapidly being replaced by true wildlife biology.”

The above-quoted material only scratches the surface of the bounty information contained in the 10-page booklet.

Although Dr. Latham’s thinking on bounties were attuned to the 1960s, and to Pennsylvania, wildlife management--and the control of nuisance birds and animals--have not changed that much. Nor do they vary much in the trip from the Keystone State to Hoosierland.

True, legitimate wildlife managers and conservationists now use bounties as a tool of control, but such programs are well planned and with definite objectives.

In Louisiana, I am told, there is--or may soon be--a bounty on nutria. The nutria, a South American cousin of the muskrat, is said to be a threat to Louisiana wetlands. Biologists of the state believe they know how great the reduction of nutria needs to be to lessen the threat to wetlands, and believe that a bounty can bring about a greater harvest of nutria by adding another source of income for those who harvest this animal. Fur and food values are the only monetary incentives for nutria there now.

 “And what, ” you may ask,” brings on this sudden spasm on the bounty concept?”

It is House Bill (HB) 1118, a bill in the Indiana General Assembly which would establish a bounty of $5 for each set of coyote ears.

As Dr. Latham so eloquently put it: “Bounties Are Bunk.”

There can be little doubt that coyote populations are burgeoning now and that they represent a great variety of problems for farmers, landowners and possibly for several wild animal species such as rabbits, and possibly foxes.

But having hunted through many years of Indiana bounties on foxes, crows, and who knows what other forms of wildlife, it is easy to see that paid killing is not a good tool for wildlife management.

I can remember talk of a bounty of 10 cents on crows and 25 cents on fox back in the ‘30s. But I never knew anyone who collected a bounty payment. And even if they had, crows and foxes are in pretty good shape, numbers-wise, today. I also seem to remember bounties on hawks and owls.

Frankly, I never collected a bounty, but with the old folks--armchair biologists--preaching the gospel that hawks, owls, foxes and crows skimmed the cream off the top of the wildlife crock, I grew up potting said “misfits” at every opportunity. Now I view my past as very poor judgement.

Incidentally, neither the DFW--or its daddy, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)--have taken a position on HB1118. Furthermore, contacts with the Indianapolis office of the former could not unearth any information on bounties of the past, when bounty laws of the ancient past were repealed, or if, indeed, they ever existed in our state.

I do not doubt that coyotes are overpopulated in some parts of the state. I live on the banks of White River’s West Fork with frontage on 116th Street west of Fishers. Occasionally I see a coyote in my front yard. Coyotes, deer, red fox and many other wildlife species like my front-yard jungle, which for several years was my lawn. Nor do I doubt that coyotes do some some unacceptable deeds, or that the authors of HB 1118 are sincere in their efforts to please (even help) their constituents. But having spent considerable time outdoors in the last half century, or so, I would have to believe that wild dogs--even Old Shep, the free-ranging farm or rural dog, does a lot of things for which coyotes are blamed. 

 There has been a Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) program in place for several years that will help farmers and landowners deal with offending animals. Dealing with offending animals--rather than trying to obliterate a species--seems the logical way to handle the coyote.

The program works several ways. In some cases a farmer or landowner may want to pay for the services of professionals. But the DFW also will assist landowners by putting them in touch with individuals who hunt or trap as a hobby, their only monetary gains being derived from the sale of fur.

Those who have problems with coyotes can avail themselves of this service by simply calling a DFW hotline (800-893-4116).

Dr. Latham’s concluding statement: “We should learn to live with them [predators], utilize them for sport; and manage them as we do our other wildlife. Then and only then will we have achieved maturity in our dealings with the predator problem.”

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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