Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dumb and Dumber

At times it appears that some of Pennsylvania’s legislators – too often even a majority – just can’t pass up a chance to demonstrate how little they know or care about natural resources. Just two examples from the past few months –
The “Endangered Species Coordination Act” (House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047) which would require all species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, and insects now on the state list of rare, threatened or endangered species to be re-listed within two years or loose their designation. In addition the re-listings would have to go through a lengthy regulatory review process by an agency with no expertise in any biological science, and subject to the political machinations of the legislature.
Showy Ladys-slipper
Hundreds of species of concern, but not yet rare, threatened or endangered, would immediately be eliminated from any consideration in permit applications for mining, drilling or construction. Those are species that are rare in Pennsylvania, but may be more common elsewhere. Protecting uncommon species in the states is an excellent way to prevent them from becoming listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. But the proposed legislation would appear to protect only those species already on the Federal list.
Timber Rattlesnake
Another ridiculous provision of the bills would open the database, including the locations, of rare species to anyone who took the time to look. So, any unscrupulous collectors of rare plants, dealers in unusual reptiles, or developers who wanted to eliminate an impediment would have ready access.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has warned that the Game Commission (which oversees mammals and birds) and the Fish & Boat Commission (which has responsibility for fish, reptiles and amphibians, mollusks, and aquatic insects) would loose a total of $27,500,000 in Federal funding for wildlife programs if these bills are enacted.
Spotlighting the legislature’s ignorance is that one of the bills’ prime sponsors was prompted by the cost of mitigating the impacts of a project in his district on a Federally listed species, a requirement that wouldn’t change one iota if these bills were enacted. DUMB!
Balsam Poplar
As if dumb isn’t enough, here’s DUMBER. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has just passed legislation, the “Coyote Control Incentive Program” that would permit the Pennsylvania Game Commission to pay a bounty of $25 for each dead coyote and would authorize the use of up to $700,000 of the commission’s budget for the bounties. This is the first bounty the state would be paying in 50 years, and is rationalized as giving hunters an incentive to take more coyotes.

Currently, Pennsylvania allows coyote hunting year-round with no limit on how many coyotes an individual hunter may kill. The data is incomplete, but there are estimates that in 2013 hunters killed more than 40,000 coyotes in the state. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that $700,000 wouldn’t even be adequate to pay bounties on the number of coyotes already being killed. Of course that $700,000 would have to come out of productive wildlife management programs or wildlife law enforcement.

Bounties have been paid on coyotes in western states for decades without significantly reducing their population. Coyotes have such a high reproductive potential that 70 percent of the population would have to be removed each year to cause the population to decline. Nebraska’s coyote population kept rising throughout 68 years of paying bounties and Missouri had its highest coyote kill 31 years after beginning bounties. Only a fool would think that Pennsylvania would be any different.

It’s well known that coyotes have a compensatory response to population fluctuations – if their population is low and food plentiful more offspring survive and vice-versa. Bounties, indeed any hunting, tend to eliminate the young and dumb animals – and the smart, wary, more nocturnal and adaptable animals survive to breed a “super coyote”. 

Now it’s time to get off the soapbox and go back to photographing wildlife.

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