T he hunting industry doesn’t have the guts to face the deep and serious poaching problem in the United States.
At least I haven’t seen anything of the sort.
Last year we spoke of the dark trend in Texas of youth poaching endangered and protected species such as bald eagles, whooping cranes and dolphins.
And it’s not just in Texas. It’s a national trend.
Groups such as Operation Game Thief do a great job of helping as do our brave game wardens, park rangers and biologists in the field.
We have a real problem with how millennials view wildlife and the wise use of our resources. It can best be summed up with a statement made during news coverage of Hurricane Irma as it hit Florida.
“I’ve always wanted to kill a manatee.”
That statement was among the first comments on the photo of a manatee stranded in Tampa Bay as Hurricane Irma sucked water out of that vast ecosystem.
Oh yes, this was just after teens in Florida smuggled endangered key deer out of that island chain in their car.
It would be easy to pass that off as a typical Internet idiot stirring trouble. However, when you look at the profile and see it was an adult male who made the comment, followed up with other disturbing quotes you see something is very wrong here.
This was not a non-indigenous feral hog that displaces native wildlife. Or a game animal such as a whitetail deer or wild turkey that are hunted and eaten by licensed hunters. It was a manatee-a gentle giant of the seagrass flats.
It was a manatee— a highly protected species.
The “kill the manatee” comments (and others like it circulating on the Web) are reminiscent of the dolphin shooting referenced earlier in this story and covered in on these pages in 2015.
Two teenage boys actually shot a dolphin with a fishing arrow, a dolphin that was disoriented after wandering into freshwater.
That killing probably made some of the people happy ,whom I dealt with in the Texas flounder regulation debate back in 2008.
This is an actual regulatory suggestion I got from someone and my reply:
“They are always out there in the passes flipping those flounders out of the water and eating them. The dolphins are getting more populous and they eat more flounders than we ever kill, so we should enact some dolphin population control.”
“So, you’re saying we should shoot Flipper to save the flounder?” I asked.
“Yes, pretty much.”
Somehow the idea of setting up dolphin sharpshooters in our bays and passes did not seem like it would fly with, not only the public, but wildlife managers.
“Come to the Texas coast where we blew away 500 dolphins last year!”
Not exactly good Chamber of Commerce material, is it?
Soon however, the tide turned away from dolphin eradication to redfish annihilation
“There are just too many redfish. They are eating all of the baby flounders. That is why flounder numbers are down.”
This is reminiscent of the late 1990s when commercial fishermen in Louisiana tried to get gill and strike nets legalized for redfish once again because the reds were “wiping out the crabs.”
A decline in blue crab numbers could not possibly have been related to the insane number of crab traps set in Bayou State waters, but had to have been redfish, which as far as we know have been co-existing with crabs forever.
At the end of the day those who kill protected animals (or fantasize about doing so) do it because they want to.
But I wonder what contributing factors are at play.
Is it a rural version of the mall fights and other random violence we have seen in larger cities or some kind of other pent up anger? Is it the hardened stance against anything labeled “green” or “environmental” or “endangered” that is pervasive in sectors of the hunting community?
I can’t tell you how many people have told me jokes about spotted owl and whooping crane gumbo I have been told over the years.
There is probably no way to tell, but it needs to stop and a true respect for all wildlife needs to be front and center.
We need as a community of outdoor lovers to rebuild the platform by which we teach conservation to the young and instill pride in the fact that we have incredible wildlife resources here and that taking beyond what the law offers depletes them.
We need to use these shameful moments as teachable moments and talk about consequences.
I have swum with manatees in the Crystal River in Florida three times, and these experiences were some of the most amazing of my life.
I also grew up deer, duck and hog hunting. Yet somehow I have never wanted to kill a manatee or a bald eagle or a dolphin.
It is because I was brought up to respect the resource and only take what I could eat. The idea of someone chuckling at the plight of a manatee sickens me. Part of it is because I love these great animals. However, I am even more troubled over a public where comments like that end up turning to actions like the aforementioned dolphin shot by Texas teens.
We have to move forward with conservation and a deep respect for wildlife, and shame those who want to destroy it.
Wise stewardship should be celebrated whether it’s enacted by Ducks Unlimited or the Save the Manatee group. Yes, all of you who are so “right wing” you can’t respect good stewardship action if the person is not a hunter—need to get with it. The keyboard warrior who wanted to kill a manatee was probably too busy surfing the Web in his mother’s basement, living the kind of pathetic life trolls live.
Wildlife needs our help. I am thankful the stranded manatee got it.
In this case, the manatee won.
Now we need to find a way to address this youth poaching thing.
Email Chester Moore at [email protected]