Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I try to forgive people, BUT...

Great gray owl killed by gunshot, January 2005, Pine County, Minnesota

These four men will have a long wait before that happens. Four men fined for shooting owls (Duluth News Tribune, Tuesday September 20th)

From the article:
Four Carlton County men have been fined after separate incidents of shooting owls that migrated into the region during last winter's owl irruption.

In the cases:

Jacob Line admitted to federal agent Brad Merill that he had shot an owl that was feeding near Cromwell in January. Line was fined $850.

Roy Line admitted to shooting and destroying an owl and also was fined $850.

Mlaskoch admitted to shooting four owls and will pay fines and restitution totaling $3,400.

Warner admitted to shooting eight owls with .22 and .22-250 caliber rifles. Warner later pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for his role in killing great gray owls and faces fines and restitution totaling up to $6,800. Warner will be sentenced Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, and his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges could be suspended for two years.

Anyone who has dug through the archives of my blog to its beginning last winter knows that I was utterly in awe of the spectacle of the great gray owl irruption that occurred in 2004-2005 in my county. I kept counts on my daily drive to work, sometimes logging up to fifteen individual owls in 30 miles. I had several near-misses as owls swooped in front of my car; I even came home one day to see an owl sitting on my mailbox. (Insert Harry Potter reference here) I hung onto the hope that some may have stayed around and nested. I never lost my sense of wonder and amazement; it made a long Minnesota winter somewhat more bearable.

So why would anyone willingly take the life of a great gray owl? I believe it is nothing more than ignorance, stupidity, and laziness, pure and simple. All of the shooters listed above made excuses and showed no remorse. They believed that these owls, which primarily feed on small voles and other rodents, posed a serious threat to penned pheasants, domestic chickens, and wild ruffed grouse.

"The owl killed a couple of pheasants; that's why he did it," Jacob Line's father, Roger Line, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He told that to the DNR, but the DNR wasn't very understanding, I guess."

In an interview Tuesday, Mlaskoch said he knew that the birds were protected but that he shot them because "there's no grouse around here anymore; I took it upon myself to address the problem."

--Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tuesday September 20, 2005
There are plenty of other predators that pose an even more serious threat to medium to large sized birds: great horned owls, goshawks, foxes, and coyotes to name a few. However, predators alone are not the problem nor can they be simply placed in the category of "enemy". They are just doing their jobs, filling their respective niches. As a somewhat novice caretaker of chickens, and having suffered some losses to unkown predators, I believe that some responsibility is mine. If I want to raise livestock such as pheasants or chickens, I should be mindful of the dangers posed by predators and build appropriate shelter. Even then, I can expect to lose a certain percentage of the flock as the "cost of doing business". It is simplistic to believe that the loss of domestic birds is necessarily worth the life of any predator.

That said, there is very little evidence to support the claim that great gray owls will more than very rarely take any prey larger than perhaps a squirrel. I've picked up the carcasses of dead great grays, including the one I photographed above. They are extremely light; mostly fluff and feathers. It is physically impossible for them to fly off with a chicken-sized animal.

As for the self-appointed protector of ruffed grouse, who lives not too far away from me: I suggest before taking things into your own hands, you learn a bit about their life history. Ruffed grouse populations have distinct cycles of abundance, which biologists are only beginning to understand. My husband did some undergraduate research with the late ruffed grouse researcher Gordon Gullion, and some of his work, which remains unpublished, suggests that the cycle is so complex it even involves cycles in the nutritive value of aspen catkins. Forest management practices also play a role in the carrying capacity of the land. So it's not as simple as shoot an owl=save a grouse. And why should any human be so arrogant as to play God and interfere with systems we don't understand? Yes, ruffed grouse populations are at a low point in their cycle. And that is the way it works.

No, these lowlife scum chose to shoot great gray owls for one reason. They are an easy target. You can walk right up to them. They have no innate fear of humans. It does not take a lot of effort to shoot and kill a great gray owl. You can even stay in the comfort of your heated pickup truck and knock off one or two without even spilling beer all over the dashboard or dropping your cigarette, because they often perch in trees next to cleared ditches and road right of ways. No, great gray owls are a lazy idiot's target.

What really bothers me is how this is just a symptom of how our society in general views Nature: as something to be subdued, overcome, controlled. Period. Owls are killed without any thought as to how they fit into the system as a whole; they are the enemy. There is a lot of discussion going on about this topic on the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv, and the consensus is you just cannot reach people like this through punishment or education. So have the conservation and environmental movements (they are two separate entities, although they share more in common that they would like to believe) failed to have any significant impacts on our society's ideas about how we value the land and all of its inhabitants? It would appear we have not come too far since Leopold's time.

I could write out pages and pages of Aldo Leopold quotes right now that would be relevant. Perhaps an edition of "A Sand County Almanac For Dummies" should be written for those who can't get through Leopold's eloquence, and be required reading for these criminals.


thedharma bum said...

Hear Hear!

Just like those who lobbied to open up mourning doves to hunting because they were a) too lazy to learn to hunt pheasants and grouse and b) they didn't want to make the effort to conserve the habitat necessary to maintain healthy game populations of pheasants and grouse.

Anyway, I saw this story the other day and should have said something at the time... Just stupid and sickening. And pathetic. And lots of other words like that.


lené said...

Makes me nauseated just thinking about it.

H. Stallard said...

I'm not familiar with the Minnesota game laws but if shooting the Great gray owl is illegal, I would most certainly turn them in to the game authorities. If it isn't illegal then I would write to my local paper in the letter to the editor section and put their names in print. To stop that kind of thing you have to bring it out into public scrutiny and try to hurt them in their pocketbooks(fine for illegal killing of a protected bird).

madcapmum said...

Infuriating! What the hell do you say to such boneheaded ignorance?

Laura said...

I begin to think the only way to "reach people like this" is through community, and perhaps ultimately, through friendship. I was befriended by a man with very different views from mine, who happened to admire some of my more neutral qualities (such as my music, and my appearance...ahem). To a large extent I let him talk, but eventually he became willing to listen to ideas from me that he would probably have shouted down from others.
I don't recommend going on a campaign to befriend people just to influence them. You have to be a part of a community, contributing to it, and living out your beliefs within it, before you will be asked for your opinion. But it may be worthwhile to be open-minded about how you define your community. Of all the people who disagree with you, the one who is a neighbour may be the one whom you can reach.

Deb said...

Laura-excellent points about community! That is one of our ongoing experiences since we moved here, trying to develop some sense of community and being open minded to others. I think you're right in that a neighbor, or someone you have developed an acquaintance with, will be more likely to listen to your opinions and perhaps be open to re-examining their own views. It's certainly better than confrontation, which I try to avoid at all costs. By the way, welcome and your blog looks interesting!

dharma bum--I agree on the mourning dove issue...just another target. I hate to say too much about that issue, though, because it hits too close to where I work.

Floridacracker said...

I remember gently educating my older neighbor about hawks when we first moved into our woods. He saw them all as evil chicken killers and I slowly slipped in pro hawk points during our fence conversations. He was a nice man with an incorrect view of hawks. I don't think I totally changed his view point, but I gave it a shot.

the dharma bum said...

Spot on, Laura (and Deb and Floridacracker). I think the environmental/conservation movements have failed (or been defeated) by the simple fact of alienation. In order to protect the wild that we value, we go to any length immediately necessary. Unfortunately, this alienates a lot of people who see us as elitists or snobs or intellectuals or whatever that are trying to force them to do things different. Perhaps this was really just a victory for the forces that have a real stake in the game on the other side (timber and oil companies, the NRA, ATV and powerboat lobbies, etc) and that have managed to convince the vast majority of people that conservationists are doing this. No matter what, what the conservation movement hasn't done is try to be part of American society, but an opposition force to it.

So Laura, I'm just really struck by your comments because it seems like such a plausible way to actually change some minds without forcing them to do things different, or by threatening them.

Am I making any sense?

Anonymous said...

Ya, so much for the myth that hunters/fishers/loggers know more about nature than the supposedly out-of-touch, big city experts. Nope. They know how to kill and destroy; that's their job, and they do it well. Grrrrr...

Anonymous said...

dharma bum -

I couldn't agree with you more, and am currently in deep thought aong these lines for an article I'd like to write.

How did the environment - something we all have to share - become a partisan/divisive issue? And what's to be done?

Girl Gone Gardening said...

I just started reading your blog today. Its great! Terrible about the owls :( We love our owls.

Sonia said...

I love owls and all animals! My heart is broken! Poor dear owl! This photo is moving and sad! How people can do such crime!

Dan Trabue said...

I certainly agree with all the above.

But, "famed ruffed grouse researcher"? So as to separate him from all the less well known ruffed grouse researchers?

Excellent and sad thoughts nonetheless.

Deb said...

Dan, you got me! Fame is relative.

Cindy M. said...

I take issue with the comment:

"so much for the myth that hunters/fishers/loggers know more about nature than the supposedly out-of-touch, big city experts. Nope. They know how to kill and destroy; that's their job, and they do it well."

To paint all hunters with such a wide brush does nothing but cause animosity towards ethical hunters (and there are plenty of them out there). The media zeroes in on stories like this, which only flames the anti-hunting fire. This scenario sadly happen all too often, and these are not HUNTERS who are wantonly shooting these magnificent animals. Respectful law-abiding hunters do not want to be associated with such craziness in any way shape or form. Many many years ago I hunted wild game- and I was taught to do so in a respectful/humane way. I would be offended to be compared to these law breakers that have no respect for laws.. or for life.
At any rate, this is a tragic loss- a senseless loss. It is next to impossible to make sense of a senseless act.