Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Why don't they just shoot them?"

The title of this post is what my co-worker (a vegetarian and self-described "bleeding heart") said when I showed her the label for this new pesticide product:

deer contraceptive
Click to enlarge. Sorry for the blurriness. This is a screen grab of a scan of a photocopy. Thanks, EPA. You can access the original by going here and searching for EPA registration number 56228-40 or by going to regulations.gov and searching for docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0776

You may have heard the rumors that USDA was considering contraception as population control for deer (and wild horses and goats). They're apparently moving forward with this plan if they bothered to go through the process of registering a product with EPA (which confuses me - vaccines are NEVER registered as pesticides, they fall under FDA's jurisdiction. Why the exception for this one?)

Note that this vaccine can only be applied by hand. That means the animal first has to be trapped or snared, leading to great stress on the animal. Not to mention being extremely expensive.

It's only guaranteed to last for a year. Depending on life expectancy, it's safe to estimate that you'd have to treat the same individuals at least several times in their life.

USDA cites "great public interest" for their reason for pursuing this form of population control. I believe it. "Great public interest" was also the reason USDA pursued and eventually implemented the incredibly flawed National Organic Standards. I appreciate a government agency that's willing to listen to the public. But this is just ridiculous.

Hunting is known to be very effective for deer population control. Not only does it NOT require state or federal money to implement (and in fact generates money through purchase of licenses and tags), it is arguably more humane than trapping/snaring/tranquilizing. It's certainly more humane than starvation, and gives the hunter and his/her family a source of environmentally friendly protein to eat. This sounds like win-win to me.

NPR ran a story recently about this type of special hunt in Connecticut where deer had reached densities of up to 60 per square mile. (Also, do you notice that many wildlife biologists are also hunters/pro-hunting? I thought it was just an Oregon thing, but apparently not).

I do understand people's concern about risks. Some of these parks are very close to houses. Maybe contraception could be useful in small, isolated areas where there's no safe way to discharge a firearm. But, forgive me for being so blunt, if you're going to go to the trouble of trapping or tranqing an animal, why not just kill it right there? Why submit them to multiple trapping and handling and then releasing them back into habitat where they'll still be at risk of starvation?

I've worked for USDA. They can't even afford to maintain their Forest Service roads or rest areas even with fees and even in high traffic areas. Where are they going to get the money to implement contraceptive-based population control program that actually works?

One way or the other, whether it's cruelty through neglect because we removed their natural predators, or hitting them with cars, or trapping and vaccinating or relocating or hunting, humans are going to intervene in these animals lives. We have to choose the most humane way to do so. I have a feeling that hunting is still under-utilized for population control simply because so many people are thoughtlessly anti-hunting.

Dear USDA: Spend some of the money going toward this whole program on educating the public about hunting. Maybe show some ribby, tick-infested deer and their dying fawns staggering through the park they've denuded of vegetation and getting hit by cars during their desperate search for food. Maybe it will get through to some people that hunting is not necessarily evil.

10 comments:

Retrieverman said...

Very good post.

Viral immunocontraception is probably not something to play with.

http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/products/journals/freepdf/jpe591.pdf

One little point of disagreement.

Hunting is not a "necessary evil."

It is a necessity. It is natural.

It is good.

CyborgSuzy said...

I'm always hedging my bets with my language.

I don't think the act of hunting is evil, either (I should hope not since I am a hunter, after all).

But if I was going to get all philosophical about it, I would prefer living in a universe where killing wasn't required to keep me alive or keep things balanced. It is, so I'd rather do it myself than pawn it off on someone else.

Like any other action, it depends on the person performing it. Hunting gets a bad rap not just because it involved killing bambi, but also because some of the people doing it ARE jackasses. The hunters I associate with aren't, so I have a net positive view of hunters. Maybe I have a skewed view of how prevalent this jackassery is.

Retrieverman said...

LOL

You know what kind of people I deal with....

Everyone knows I'm a bleeding heart-- probably the biggest bleeding heart in West Virginia.

And there are jack ass hunters.

But there are also jack asses on the other side.

If you want to see some examples of jack asses, just keeping reading the comments on all of my dominance posts!

I'm actually kind of surprised at who comes out on which side on this one. There's on guy who trains hunting spaniels-- hates liberals and all that stuff. I had no idea he'd be anti-Milan.

These culture wars are so bizarre.

I now see that folk ethology and carefully selected video clips are appearing on a certain blog today.

Holly said...

we have a self contained area in NW Pa. It's called Presque Isle and they have a limited license shoot each year.

HOLY COW did that generate some comments from people the first year.

I actually had one woman tell me it was better to just let nature take its course and let them starve.

???!!!

Of course she has never been hungry a day in her life.

KG said...

Hi! Just found your blog via Retrieverman via Rinalia, and am gobbling up your posts. It's interesting I found this one, because I was just thinking about deer population control last night.

And I have a very very (very!) stupid question: Why doesn't the lack of resources (i.e. food) lead to natural population control? For example, shouldn't the population that the natural vegetation is unable to support die off within 3 or 4 winters, because there's just not enough to eat? Why isn't there a natural stabilization of the population here?

I'm from WI, where hunting season is a holiday second only to Christmas, and I have no problem with hunting. I agree that it's a good form of population control and people eat the meat, etc. etc. I was just thinking about this the other night and wondering. (Probably because I have to drive back to Chicago later this week and my biggest stress is always at dusk when I worry about hitting deer and I started thinking, rather morbidly, "Hmm, when does hunting season start again?")

I know deer end up finding "non-natural" sources of food such as eating from backyard gardens and we've removed their natural predators and etc., but I guess I was wondering why there's such an overpopulation problem and that the starvation issue doesn't have more of a permanent impact.

CyborgSuzy said...

KG, starvation is a type of natural population control - it just takes much longer, is less predicable, leads to greater environmental damage, and is much more excruciating for the animal than predation/hunting.

CyborgSuzy said...

Holly, I've also heard people say that starvation is OK because it's natural. And this from someone who prided themselves on being a compassionate animal lover.

KG said...

Thanks for the answer, that makes sense! The poor things certainly do plenty of damage to themselves and our cars (and people) here in WI. Getting the population under even more control seems like it would be better for humans and deer alike.

And yikes @ Holly - what a thing for that woman to say. Perhaps she hadn't really thought it through, but I think most reasonable people can agree that starvation is far more excruciating and "inhumane" than death by hunter.

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