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Bambi factor, hunting & environmental perfection

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POSTED December 30, 2013 12:48 a.m.

There are feral pigs in San Jose.

Some 5.5 million wild pigs are estimated to roam the United States. That’s up 120 percent from 60 years ago.

Pigs are not native American animals yet there are do’s and don’ts about when and where you can hunt them.

That is slowly changing. It became legal in October to hunt wild pigs in San Jose. They are causing extensive damage to both the habitat that native California species depend upon as well as landscaping and such.

Wild pigs are a minor problem compared to deer. There are now 32 million nationwide, up 800 percent to the 1950s. Many people think of Bambi when they think of deer. But as their numbers have multiplied as emotion overruled science in governing hunting rules in many states they have turned into four-legged locust that strip vegetation not just from yards and crops but the ecological systems that countless other species depend upon for survival.

Each year 1.2 million vehicles strike wandering deer. Such encounters kill around 200 people annually. The damage they create in auto repair bills alone exceeds $4 billion according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Back in 1966, a plan to hunt deer on Angel Island in the middle of the Northern San Francisco Bay was squashed due to a public outcry about cruelty. By then the deer population on the square-mile island had hit 300. Not only were they destroying vegetation on the small ecological system but visitors were feeding them as well because they were starving. Disease was also growing among the deer.

A plan to introduce coyotes — another predator of deer besides hunters —  was also short-circuited due to the public concern that it was cruel.

After all, one must protect Bambi at all costs.

The problem with public sentiment in such cases is that it is not logical or pragmatic. It is driven by pure emotion. The deer were inflicting heavy damage on the environment. The numbers had gotten too big for the square mile island to support as there were no predators.

A restricted 50-a-year limit on hunting deer on Angel Island was advanced at the time by the Department of Fish & Game but a cry and hue quickly derailed it.

Back in 1997, California’s de facto overzealous protection of gophers by requiring extensive  environmental studies that takes years upon years in order to legally trap and kill the rodents that infest levees contributed to the death of three people in Arboga on the Yuba River between Wheatland and Olivehurst.

The reclamation district had been trying for years to gain environmental clearance to go after the gophers that were weakening a section of the levee. In 1997 during heavy run-off the levee failed where the gophers had weakened it killing three people, destroying 322 homes, causing major damage to another 407 homes, dislocating 23,600 people, and causing $300 million in damage.

It was the same flood season that caused $100 million in damages after 70 square miles between Manteca and Tracy flooded. In that instance, levees weakened by silt build-up from the 1950s that antidotal evidence indicated may have raised the river bottom five to seven feet in spots meant the channel was unable to handle a higher volume of water flow causing levees to fail.

State environmental laws — designed to protect the habitats of various species — had made it impossible for any dredging work to take place to alleviate the threat of floods.

Concern about the environment — especially since each species and ecological system are addressed in a vacuum — has led to wild imbalances.

No one advocates wanton hunting or wholesale land conversion. The problem is environmental protection has swung into the dangerous territory of environmental perfection.

The impact of environmental tunnel vision has been underscored in numerous examples.

Electric car s may burn cleaner on the road, but often they use electricity generated by fossil fuels. Wind turbines may produce clean power but they slaughter birds including the protected Bald Eagle. Ethanol fuel may burn cleaner but what is gained is lost when the pollution created in manufacturing it is factored into the equation. And as an added bonus, diverting much of the nation’s corn crop to ethanol use thanks to federal subsidies has created a grain shortage that has sent the price of corn used for human consumption and to feed livestock skyward.

Hunting, when properly regulated, plays a key role in creating an ecological balance.

But the Bambi factor is still creating situations of bad public policy.

Instead of completely embracing the Bambi sentiment and vilifying hunting, there needs to be a middle ground.

As things stand now, environmental perfection for one species or ecological system more often than not spells disaster for another.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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