National Geographic : 1992 Feb
the majestic Canada goose sends its melan choly echo through the autumn twilight. Though its voice summons hunters who help boost the local economy, the goose means trouble to farmers. Migrating flocks pause to feast on crops of grass, corn, and wheat. Gross annual revenues from hunt ing in Kent County, Maryland, soar into millions of dollars, but farmers feel as if they're under attack as well. HUNTING is an important factor in the success of wildlife management programs. In fact, the fate of large animals is intimately related to their status as game. Unre strained hunting decimated populations decades ago, and laws to control hunting have enabled recovery. The Lacey Act for bids the transportation of illegally taken game across state lines. The Pittman Robertson Act levies an excise tax on arms and ammunition that over 50 years has raised more than two billion dollars, most of it disbursed to state wildlife agencies for population studies, improving habitat, and other uses. The money has also purchased four million acres of wildlife habitat and gone toward the management of fifty mil lion additional acres. Yet of all the money spent on wildlife development in 1990, less than 20 percent was devoted to nongame species. In the eyes of most federal and state agencies those species that are not hunted are second-class citizens. Actually, even more animals could live in the East if they were allowed to; they're not overloading the habitat, just our toler ance. It would appear that, as one biologist put it, "Wildlife management today is really people management." Florida condo owners get angry at alligators that menace Ear-tagged for identification, a black bear cub waits to be returned to its mother's den. their pets and children. But alligators have been around for more than 20 million years. "People complain that alligators have moved into their backyards," mused a wildlife officer, "when the opposite is true." "There are no natural checks," explains Bill Palmer, a Pennsylvania biologist. "We have altered nature, and most predators are gone." The planet is really burdened, not with too many of a species like deer but with too many people. In characterizing wild animals as pests we do an injustice to their tenacity, intelligence, and adaptabil ity. Wildlife-management terms- "the resource," "the harvest" -dull our appre ciation of these superb creatures and skew our vision of their place in the world. The Miller family from Maryland's East ern Shore is willing to live with these con tradictions. In 1990, Canada geese inflicted about $15,000 worth of crop damage on their farm. "The funny thing is," Gary Miller told me thoughtfully, "even though they cost us money, we like having the geese around." Dangerous but no longer endangered, an alligator guards its hatchling.