A forum at the University of Montana brought together hunters and wildlife conservationists to try to find some common ground.
Saturday’s workshops, called “The Role of Hunting in Modern Conservation Biology,” included a series of speakers and panels giving different viewpoints on where hunters and conservation intersect. Subjects ranged from the always controversial topic of wolf hunting to the changing demographics of the hunting community, including the rise in female hunters.
Scott Scherbinski, a wildlife health outreach coordinator at Pinnacles National Park in California, spoke about the potential dangers of using lead ammunition while hunting, with the specific example of its effects on the California condor. The birds, which rely almost entirely on scavenging dead animals, ingest lead in ammo from game that has been shot.
When Scherbinski and his team trap and X-ray condors, they can see the pellets of lead from shotguns, or the shards where a bullet splintered once it hit an animal. Some of these condors have died with lead toxin levels he called “off the charts.”
“There’s no plant or animal on the planet that uses lead in a beneficial way,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control says for people, the danger rate for lead toxin is five micrograms per deciliter in children, Scherbinski said.
“We’ve seen condors with 800 micrograms,” he said.
Scherbinski said the park works with other agencies to do outreach with hunters about using non-lead ammo. In the past three years, they’ve spent more than $45,000 and given away more than 35,000 rounds to get people more familiar with the idea.
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“Giving out the ammo reinforces that we are not anti-hunting,” he said.
He said hunters are still wary of changes. Some don’t believe there is a significant impact from using lead ammo, which is also harder to find and more expensive.
“We’re quick to get a new phone, but with hunting, really slow to adopt new technology,” Scherbinski said.
Another speaker talked about the difficulties California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has had dealing with non-native game populations on Catalina Island, just off the coast of Los Angeles. Bison, brought to the island for a movie shoot in the 1920s, took off with the lack of natural predators, as did mule deer, first brought in for hunting, which are now eating away local vegetation.
Workshop organizer Luke Macaulay said he put the event together in part because, while there has traditionally been a strong bond between hunters and conservationists, he has seen an influx of new people into the conservation movement with little background or understanding of hunting and its role.
Macaulay, who is studying for his doctorate in environmental science from Berkeley, said he wanted the talks to be a starting place for building bridges between hunters and non-hunters.
“We want to demystify it, make it less scary,” he said.
Apart from a few very public wedge issues, like wolves, hunters and conservationists should have a lot in common, Macaulay said. The taxes and fees they pay are an important part of funding for wildlife agencies, and hunters need to come back to the table and be a major part of wildland discussions, he said.
“The stakes are too high for our messages to be watered down,” Macaulay said.