New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious. It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.
For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.
New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.
Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached. But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.
The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.
But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.
A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.
Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN. Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.
At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.
The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.
To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators. Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.
This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.
Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.” The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.
The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.
But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.
And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.
And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.
This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:
But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.
They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.
This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.
And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.
Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.
And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.
In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.
And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.
I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.
My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.
It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.
And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.
I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.
Mark your calendars for September 12, 2018!
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I caught these trout at Cooper’s Rock this evening.
The one on the bottom is a nice fat brook trout.
June marks the official start of summertime, and while it may be a season when “the livin’ is easy,” June has also been deemed the month for dog devotees to ready their four-legged…
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Sharing this happy, cheerful photo of Essley and me because (1) I haven’t always been this happy, and it’s a good reminder, and (2) Essley said something so inspiring and brilliant to me the other day that I share at the end of this post. Thank you for reading.
I don’t usually get “heavy” here on the blog. I never do, in fact. I like to think of this as a place that people can come to escape and feel inspired and happy. But even between the fun home and family and fashion posts, I like this space to feel authentic. And there is something I feel necessary to share today.
June has brought the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both by suicide. And 8 years ago tomorrow, June brought the death, also by suicide, of Jeff. Perhaps a few of you reading this know me in real life and know the story. But for those who are newer, I met Jeff when I moved to Colorado at age 22, we were married in my 20s, and even after the split, we remained very close and spoke almost daily (including a few hours before he passed). We did not work as a couple, but we did work as family, and he was my brother – even through some brutal times. We spoke almost everyday, and I watched closely, for years and in constant fear, the peaks and valleys of his mental and emotional states as he battled depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (My Robbie was by my side through these times, by the way, full of compassion despite the unusual and difficult nature of the situation.)
Jeff was a charismatic person who appeared full of joy, passion, and life to those who knew him. He was the life of the party. He was instantly popular. He seemed confident and happy. But to his family, myself, and his closest friends, Jeff went to incredibly dark spaces between the light. I won’t get into details here, but he felt and did things that were scary and heartbreaking. He did seek help. He got treatment. He also attempted suicide several times throughout his life, and on June 13, 2010, around 2 AM, it finally worked. The phone call I received shortly after it occurred was the worst of my life. And the days, weeks, and months that followed were horrific, both in terms of the logistics of helping Jeff’s family with his affairs and in terms of the emotional devastation.
But nothing I felt, or any of we “survivors” felt, was close to what Jeff felt. And like most people who suffer from mental illness, Jeff – even with therapy and medication – felt isolated and ashamed.
Reminding those suffering to seek help and to call suicide hotlines, etc., is important. But it’s not the solution. It’s not that simple. What we really need to do is evolve as a society and rid mental illness of the stigma attached to it. Period. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, or another illness, they (usually) don’t feel ashamed to share their diagnosis – which opens them up to the support they need. When someone is diagnosed with mental illness, very rarely do they feel comfortable sharing it. And after enough time of carrying around that “secret,” some really hefty damage is done.
I have generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve never mentioned that here, and it’s generally mild, but it’s real and it can be difficult, and maybe it’s something I should talk about more. And I hope anyone else suffering from anxiety or depression or other issues will feel comfortable sharing too. I am very lucky that things like breathing and exercise and healthy food and mindfulness (and occasionally, when I feel a true panic attack coming on, Xanax) allow me to keep it under control. But not everyone is that lucky. Mental illness is not something for which one should feel ashamed. It’s common and it’s dangerous to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I’ll leave you with something Essley said to me a few days ago: “We need to be kind friends to everyone, especially the sad people.” It’s time we all stop shaming those with mental illness, or pretending it doesn’t exist.
I love you all, and if you are suffering from mental health issues, I am here to talk to you. I promise.
I feel exactly the same way sometimes! Until next time, Good day, and good dog!
The Boone County, MO Sheriffs Department sadly announced late last week that K-9 Baron had died during a training exercise. The German Shepherd had faithfully served the department since 2012. He was 8.5 years old. Rest easy, Baron. Others will take the watch from here. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. Until next time, […]
Plush Paws Products has sponsored this post and the upcoming party, but all opinions are my own. Summer is synonymous with dog travel, whether that means swimming fun at the lake or beach, a dream…
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