"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
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
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
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
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.”