Duh. That was my reaction to the column “Ask Marilyn” in yesterday’s edition of Parade magazine (April 19, 2009, page 12), the popular newspaper insert. Her “Know it All” sidebar talks about the effects of hunting and fishing on wildlife populations. American and Canadian researchers have apparently determined that hunting the largest and fittest specimens, and keeping only the biggest fish, is detrimental to the breeding success of animal populations. No kidding.
It does not take a genius to figure out that human hunters are a poor facsimile of natural predators like cougars, wolves, and bears that take mostly weak, sickened animals, and also cull calves and the young of other prey species. That is pretty basic knowledge, and it follows that purging the elite from the gene pool is going to have an adverse effect on the collective health and fitness of game animals.
Unfortunately, Homo sapiens has backed itself into a corner. We have largely eliminated natural predators from ecosystems, in part because we do not wish to become prey ourselves. We also graze herds of livestock that represent an economic investment for which we try to limit losses as best we can. The absence of large predators has meant a corresponding increase in prey animal populations that we then treat as “competition” for “our” resources, be it forage for cattle and sheep, or the vegetable garden we planted for our family’s needs. Well, folks, we can’t have it all.
Three things must change. First, we have to re-configure our hunting and fishing regulations. Second, we have to learn to accept some risks, like losing livestock to predators now and then. Taking simple precautions, and continuing to invent non-lethal predator deterrents can solve this second problem. Lastly, we have to look at what we think we own, and realize most of it is a shared resource with other organisms. There is no business model in nature, and the sooner we learn this, the better. After all, we can change our mindset much easier than a predator can change its diet.