Our Place in the Natural World


Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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35 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Great post Mike. Sadly to many hunters make all hunters look bad with their Kill all the Predators talk. People still very invested in wolf kills here. The stated justification is always straightforward that wolves kill moose and people like to hunt moose. Its still a common feeling that killing the competition for game is fine. As an old Alaskan Gov once said “we can’t let nature run wild.”Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Is Alaska in danger of running out of moose?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        sigh…no not even close to running out of free range Bullwinkles. However hunters want to take a lot of moose and there are only so many to go around. While Alaska is huge it is harsh so the land has a limited carrying capacity. A lot of people in the outlying areas of AK rely on game to get by and also treasure the ability to live off the land. More and more people have moved out of wilderness areas. With advances in snowmachine/ 4-wheeller tech people can get to all sorts of places to live and hunt. There are fewer places animals can get to that people can’t access. Many people feel they should be able to take as much game as they wish so they can live out their frontiersman fantasies.

        There aren’t actually enough moose for bears, wolves, wolverines and people to all have what they need. For all of the deeply held Alaskan Libertarian beliefs many folk completely believe in the gov controlling and regulating animals for the benefit of hunters and fishermen. We have a continuing struggle over how many moose can be hunted and how many fish commercial, recreational and Native people can take.

        There was just a survey of wolf populations in Denali National Park. There are only 57 wolves in 6 million acres of wilderness. Partly that is due to the hardness of the land. But there is also wolf hunting all around the park so some of the wolves have been killed when they ventured over park boundaries.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Thanks, that was a really informative response that anticipated what could have been a series of follow up questions.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          I had a bull moose in my driveway this morning. Made me late for my Dr’s appt. If the snow isn’t deep, I’d put money on the moose over the wolf in a fair/unfair fight. One kick and the wolf is in a bad way. Deep snow, whole other story.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            Burt since I had your email address, sent you a pic from my cell phone.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              I hope this works: This is Ward’s Moose.

              I’ve had deer in my yard before but never anything quite this massive. I rather expect my dog would bark at it until she realized how big this fella pretty young lady really is and then tuck her tail between her legs and hide behind me.

              Very cool, thanks for sharing it!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                It’s a chocolate moose!Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Last winter i pulled out of our garage and quickly stopped. I called The Wife telling her there was a mom moose and calf in our yard. The dumb dogs hadn’t made a sound. She took a bunch of pix.

                We see moose here frequently. They can be scary. I’ve been charged by an adolescent moose, which was no fun at all, while i was xc skiing. They usually don’t do anything when you pass but still require caution.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                This isn’t my first moose in the yard, in fact this is likely the colt from several years ago. One time the cow brought her two calves and they hung out every single day until she took off and ditched them in my yard. The calves (male and female) kept coming back for a few more days looking for mom but she and poppa had hit the bricks. Probably wanted to show them a safe place to hang out until they got bigger. Coyotes bothered them a bit, but once they hit their full size nothing in the woods around here wants to mess with them, and that includes the cougar.

                Around my house I’ve had racoons, skunk, porcupine, deer, moose, coyote, cougar, bald eagle, great horned owl, lots of critters. The coyotes used to run back and forth outside my fence while my border collies ran back and forth on the inside. The coyotes would run with three legs acting like they were injured but the border collies are too smart to go chasing after them (yes they could easily get out of the yard, the fence is only 4 feet tall).

                Coyotes around here are well fed, there’s a cougar that only eats the best parts of the deer it kills and the coyotes eat the rest. When the cougar gets bored with venison it eats a coyote or two. I’ve found all the kills and plenty of tracks, but haven’t seen the cougar, although I’ve found its tracks less than 100 yards from my property. Fortunately it seems to prefer coyote to collie.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                You’ll never see those things, cougars are crazy-stealthy.

                Coyotes are sneaky bastards, aren’t they? “Come, chase me, I’m hurrrrrt.””Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I was in Death Valley a couple weeks ago and saw a coyote. Very cool.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                cougars will fucking stalk you. for miles upon miles. letting you see them out of the corner of your eye.
                Damn cats.Report

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The only two legitimate reasons I can think of to apply attrition to a predator population is when the natural limits on the predator population have been removed, or the predator represents a significant threat to life or property. The first is almost always a case of an imported predator.

    The second is what most people think they’re talking about when they talk about coyotes: “they’re a significant threat to my sheep/pets/cows/whatever.”

    But that usually doesn’t stand up to further investigation. A small pack of coyotes is going to eat far more in the way of rodents and pests, which is usually fairly advantageous, than it is going to eat your sheep.

    Sure, they might eat one of your sheep. Well, uh… get a dog? Problem mostly solved?

    In the meantime, they’re eating tons of rats and ground squirrels and other critters that carry parasites that can infect your sheep, or carry disease, or eat your crops, or whatever.

    If you’re shooting coyotes to keep them from taking 1 lamb per season and you’re putting gobs of rat poison around your barn, which occasionally causes you to lose a chicken, you’re digging a hole and filling it up. Especially if you’re spending more to eradicate the pests than you’re losing in the occasional lamb death.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      I agree with this, mostly. It depends on how large the coyote population. Where I lived as a kid, the population got large enough to mostly eliminate the population of rats, squirrels, and other rodents in the area.

      Then they started going after family dogs, getting into trash, getting way too comfortable around relatively stupid humans who looked at them with a mindset of “oh look, a cute doggie.”

      What happened next was that their trash-foraging got them into fights with possums and with raccoons, which led to rabies outbreaks in the local coyote population. Wasn’t pretty when that started spreading. County authorities had to put out a pretty strong response with authorized trappers and hunters to cull the coyote population significantly as a public health threat.

      Now, admittedly, that is in a suburban area that was only somewhat marginally closer to being rural than to being urban. And my calculations for the barely-populated stretches of, say, Montana would probably be quite different. No need to cull the predators of a national park, or semi-wild area, unless it came to a similar health-related issue where the infected animals needed to be identified and put down for the good of the larger population (including, in the case of a rabies outbreak among pack animals, perhaps the good of the predator population itself).Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        We have a problem similar to that (although not to that scale) in Pasadena.

        Coyotes come down from the hills, especially when we’ve had a dry spell. This is a legitimate problem, and should be addressed.Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          That got me to thinking.
          We have two packs of coyotes around where I live. One pack is fairly big. Sometimes they come in to the edge of town.
          This is farming country; corn & soybean. A few orchards around; apples, I think.
          Between the next towns east and west is a 36 miles span; and from north to south, 27.
          I grew up in the desert; ranch country, horses mostly. A lot of oil wells. Some peanut farming up north, and pecans.
          Between the next towns east to west is a span of 99 miles, and 43 from those north to south.
          The desert country was settled in the late 1600’s, and this place in the early 1800’s.
          I’m sure it has to do with the availability of water; the sort of crops that are grown, the nearness of the towns, the packs of coyotes coming up in to the edge of town.
          Back in NM, you don’t have to worry so much about coyotes. They tend to keep their distance from humans, and they don’t take cattle or horses unless they’re small and sickly anyway, and if the coyotes are really, really hungry.
          A lot more lizards in NM, which tend to support birds; a lot more small mammals here.
          I’m sure it’s the water.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            It’s definitely the water in the Pasadena area (although closer to the hills up in Altadena they sometimes come down for the garbage, like the bears who show up from time to time in the foothill communities).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The controversies on this point I’ve heard of are about wolves, not coyotes. A pack of wolves can indeed take down a steer, which represents a significant asset loss for a rancher. So yes, I can understand ranchers being upset at wild wolf introduction programs. But at the end of the day, I also say, “That’s what insurance is for.” So far as I know, livestock can be insured against a risk like this and when it’s announced that wolves will be introduced into an environment that seems like a pretty clear signal to consider buying that insurance.

      And reintroduction of apex predators, particularly wolves, can have significant and non-obvious effects on the environment. While it may not always be easy to get along with other participants in the environment, I suspect that on the whole, we’re better off for doing so.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


      Personally I think most of the coyote hunters just use it as an excuse that doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny. They like to kill coyotes because predator hunting is exciting. They respond well to calling and a lot of people like to use high-powered rifles and test their sniping skills. It bothers me a LOT.

      Every year I attend the townhall meetings our state Fish & Wildlife folks hold and every year I ask them if they are willing to say coyotes need management through hunting. In five years they have never been willing to go on the record with an affirmative. They simply say the population can support hunting.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Right, this matches my reading of both the coyote stories (when I hear them) and the wolf control stories.

        It appears to mostly be about “getting your gun off”. I’m not married to this stance, but I haven’t yet seen much of a call to change it.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Can’t speak to coyotes (I assume you’re right), but wolves up here have materially represented a threat to livestock. There was a big to-do in this county where a pack did a real number on the local sheep population.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I know wolves can bring down sheep and cows which certainly affects ranchers. But people want to kill wolves for taking down wild animals like moose and caribou. I’ve heard people passionately assert that wolves are vermin and should be almost completely removed. There is a threat to livelihood and then there is just crazed fear and plain old fun of shooting wolves from airplanes.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Out here, at least the going attitude is “Hunt them, trap them, I don’t care” and more than a little bit of frustration that the government reintroduced them and let them repopulate to the extent that they have in the first place. Less “Oh, boy, wolves, lemme hunt!” and more “I wish they weren’t here.”

          The hunting tourism angle, though, is not entirely lost the local community. That being said, last winter was a disappointment as far as that goes and that did not deter local sentiment.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Nice post, Mike.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    Good points all. When you introduce man into an environment, you pretty much have to manage everything else, and him. In my area, the deer are out of control because of lack of predators. They local predators, foxes, bears, etc. are very diminished and the coyote is slowing making in roads east from the west.

    And as mentioned, coyotes will take cats and other small domesticated animals. (i’m not a big fan of letter your cat wander outside either) so they can pose a problem. I think the key is that you have to manage the resources so ALL have an opportunity. Otherwise, the system gets even more out of balance.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      the deer are out of control because of lack of predators.

      Also because we’ve created ideal deer habitat, lots of “edge” environments. They’re less fond of either strictly open space or deep woods. Essentially, at least in the midwest, we inadvertently went out and build perfect deer neighborhoods.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Yes. Back in good ol NJ the white tale’s love the medians on the big N-S highway, the Garden State Parkway. They have open spaces for grass to grow with trees nearby for cover. Parks, the kind people like to take walks in, are also often great places for deer.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          Yep, and with all the green spaces that are connected, the deer have corridors to move into suburban areas. Unintended consecquences are a bitch.Report

          • Indeed – it is only a slight exaggeration for me to say that I pass as many deer carcasses on a given morning’s commute via suburban and exurban back roads as I pass homes. For some stretches, it’s not even an exagerration at all.Report

  5. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    Damon sez: ” (i’m not a big fan of letter your cat wander outside either)”

    Oh, this, yes, particularly in the city.

    In a rural area, it’s slightly different, but in my neighborhood the outdoor cats are serial killers on the bird population. They also crap in my yard and pee on my lawn furniture and in the kids’ sandbox.

    If I put my dog in your yard to do his business and pee on your lawn furniture, you’d rightly want to shoot my dog and/or me. In fact, you want to get people up in arms in any neighborhood, take a dog for a walk without cleaning up his mess (rightly so).

    And yet cat owners don’t even consider this.Report

  6. Avatar Maribou says:

    This was an excellent post, Mike, thanks for pulling it from your archives.Report

  7. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Modern hunters often find ourselves justifying our sport.

    It’s a function of population pressure, I think. Human population. There just aren’t that many places left where a hunter can go, into the wilds so to speak, and feel like his behavior in that area is negligible. But I hear what you say in the rest of the paragraph. As the perhaps overly elaborate justifications for killing wild animals continues to increase – because the range of wild animals continues to decrease – hunters will continue to find themselves looking for the right language to express the value (subjective, I think) of what they’re doing.Report

  8. Avatar Matty says:

    This is brilliant, I have found myself arguing a mirror case to environmentalists. That human hunters are part of the system we have to deal with rather than an external problem to be removed so it is fascinating to see a hunter argue the same for wild predators.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    Great stuff Mike. Couldn’t agree more.Report