Don Mallicoat

Wildlife Out of Balance

Summer Lake-resized for feature image

By Don Mallicoat-Several recent news articles and the reaction to the problem in the article got me to thinking: the vast majority of people in this country really don’t understand the balance of nature. In local news lately we have seen articles about the closing of both Lake Powhatan and Biltmore Lake to swimming due to fecal contamination. That contamination is from an over-population of geese on those waters.

While travelling recently I picked up a copy of the Chattanooga paper and there was an article about an upcoming meeting to discuss hunting of Sandhill cranes on two Wildlife Refuges in western Tennessee. The cranes are taking over and running away other migratory birds and destroying the habitat. Several groups were coming out against the permit hunts.

So what I want to write about is wildlife habitat, carrying capacity, and the role hunters play in maintaining a balance in nature. Every habitat, ecosystem if you prefer, has certain requirements to support wildlife populations. Those needs include food, water, cover for nesting and hiding, and those items need to be in a certain arrangement. If all of those criteria are met it will support a certain number of animals of different species. This is referred to as carrying capacity.

Think of a bucket as the habitat and water that you pour into it as wildlife. At some point the water overflows the bucket and bad things start to happen. Typically when any given species gets out of balance one of two things happens. Either disease is passed from animal to animal and you see a population crash, or they destroy their habitat and typically die of starvation. So when a wildlife habitat gets out of balance how do we handle it?

Quite frankly the best way to handle an over-population situation is through legal hunting. We have done it throughout the history of this country and it has been done for centuries in Europe. When I hunted in Germany certain animals were harvested based on estimated populations. Wild boars were hunted not for the trophy quality but we hunted the young piglets to reduce the breeding population.

We have learned through our history what can happen when wildlife populations get out of control. In the early part of the last century wildlife biologists stopped hunting mule deer in the Kalmath region of Arizona because of the low population. They increased predator hunting to improve deer survival. Within a few years the mule deer population had rebounded to the point they were over browsing the food source and animals were dying of starvation. Hunting was used to bring the deer herd back within its carrying capacity.

Currently snow goose populations are so large that hunting seasons are allowed both in the winter as they migrate south and spring as they return north. Why? Biological science shows that there are so many snow geese they are destroying their nesting habitat in Canada. Snow geese don’t just eat grass, they pull it up by the roots. We have an over-population of Canada geese in North Carolina and because of it we have a very liberal bag limit of 15 geese daily during September. Again, hunting being used as a management tool to maintain a balance in nature.

That is why in the three cases I mentioned in the beginning hunting is the most viable option to control the wildlife population. A friend of mine approached the Biltmore Lake board to propose a legal, short-term hunt to reduce the goose population. They were not well received. Lake Powhatan is in the National Forests and should be easily hunted to reduce the goose/duck population. I’ve not heard of anyone proposing it.

Here is what someone said about the Tennessee situation, “More money can be made by people coming to watch the birds than by shooting them.” These do-gooders who don’t want the geese/ducks/cranes hunted do not understand the role of hunting in maintaining the balance of nature. I wonder if it was proposed to them as an either/or option what they would choose. Either hunt the birds or watch them die from starvation or disease, which would you prefer? Because that is what it will come down to.

Hunting has always been a primary tool to maintain wildlife populations in balance. We, as a human population, need to understand that among the options it is the best one. Most importantly, hunters need to be able to articulate that argument to those who do not understand.

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