By Cody Atkinson.
Originally published in the Missouri Independent
With its trophy hunt on black bears in the state set to begin in a few days, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has taken a reckless and irresponsible turn. A turn against science. A turn against ecology. A turn against public values.
Like many wildlife agencies around the country, and driven by its governor-appointed commission, the MDC is trapped in a century-old mindset, one that assumes we must kill bears to conserve them.
That’s not right, and a trophy hunt is not what we need. We need a new approach to the management of bears and other wildlife, one that respects public sentiment concerning charismatic species, takes account of the best scientific knowledge about their population dynamics and places the non-lethal mitigation of human-animal conflict above the demands of trophy hunters and their lobbyists.
It says something about the hasty nature of Missouri’s first trophy hunt of bears that the commission unanimously approved it with blithe disregard and without bothering to show Missourians a proper baseline population estimate for bears. Who doesn’t think that a clear grasp of their numbers and distribution should precede any discussion of managing bears, let alone killing them?
It’s worth remembering how fortunate we are that bears, having survived several centuries of persecution, are in our state at all. What’s more, they are a primary attraction for millions of people who visit the Ozarks in hope of catching a glimpse of them.
Trophy hunting, by disrupting their population dynamics, cheats Missourians and others of the chance to enjoy the experience of seeing them alive. In a fundamental way, too, the killing of bears undermines a growing ecotourism industry that brings more dollars into the state than a hundred bear hunts could ever do.
Trophy hunting is particularly dangerous for black bears and their social structure because they reproduce slowly and provide extended care to their young. When a trophy hunter kills an adult breeding male, other males may come into that territory and kill his cubs. In other words, for each bear killed by a trophy hunter, there are more bears at risk.
Sadly, the MDC has compounded this threat by authorizing the killing of unaccompanied bear cubs.
Given the bum rush that accompanies most trophy hunts in the United States, and at the least, our citizenry has a right to expect prompt action by the MDC in the likely scenario of a quota overrun like that which occurred during the outrageous Wisconsin wolf hunt last February.
The failure of Wisconsin officials to halt that hunt once trophy hunters had exhausted the quota produced an embarrassing carnage that put the lie to any claims of wise management. Similarly, Florida’s first bear hunt in 2015 was promptly shut down after only one season after trophy hunters slaughtered more than 300 bears – including 36 mother bears who were still nursing cubs – in just two days of what was supposed to be a week-long season.
To be fair, the MDC has shown its willingness to strengthen its bear-awareness and conflict mitigation programs. That’s good, because Missourians have made clear how they feel about the wanton killing of bears for trophies. A March 2019 Remington Research Group poll found that 67% of Missourians do not support black bear trophy hunting and believe that the state should prioritize non-lethal methods to reduce human-bear conflict.
Humane management is our future, and this is the mandate for action that the agency should embrace from now on. There should be no more pandering to a small faction seeking to foist a trophy hunt on a state where the majority of citizens don’t want to see it happen at all.
[Cody Atkinson is a lifelong Missourian who grown up in Odessa and currently lives in Kansas City. He is now the state director for the Humane Society of the United States. He holds his Bachelor’s Degree from Rockhurst University in both economics and psychology as well as a Master’s Degree in public administration from Arkansas State University.]