June 21, 2019
Why our national wildlife refuges matter
Note: “Modern Conservationist” recently sought out McGraw’s Zach Lowe when seeking experts on hunter recruitment. The story follows.
By Alexandra Vollman/Modern Conservationist
Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie/flickr
When President Theodore Roosevelt created what would become the first in a system of national wildlife refuges at Florida’s  Pelican Island  in 1903, it was in response to consumers’ demand for the latest fashion trend. By the end of the 19th century, women’s desire for plume hats had led market hunters, hoping to cash in on the fad, to decimate many bird species — including herons, egrets, spoonbills and others — along Florida’s east coast.

A hunter himself, Roosevelt saw the need to establish places and regulations to protect birds and other species from this type of exploitation. During his presidency, he led the establishment of more than 50 national wildlife refuges in 17 states and territories.

“He recognized the importance of the hunter-conservationist and the key role of hunters in supporting the refuge system,” says Nick Wiley, chief operations officer at  Ducks Unlimited , a nonprofit organization focused on wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

Could CWD ultimately strike people, too?
By Jason Bittel/Washington Post
McGraw photo
Jeannine Fleegle reached into a black garbage bag, pulled out a severed deer head, and placed it on a folding table smeared with blood and fur.

“This is no one’s favorite time of year,” Fleegle said, picking up a scalpel.

It was a chilly morning, and Fleegle, a  wildlife biologist  for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was with a half-dozen other state scientists in a garage in the small town of Bolivar. Covered in head-to-toe white Tyvek suits, they were surgically extracting hundreds of brain stem samples from deer killed by hunters during the state’s rifle season. The samples would be analyzed for signs of a deadly pathogen.

The formal name of the ailment is chronic wasting disease, or CWD. But its effects on deer, elk and other cervids — weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and certain death — have inspired a creepier colloquial name: zombie deer disease.

How the Mississippi resists efforts to control it
By Tristan Baudrick/Times-Picayune
Photo by Jeff Schreifels/flickr
America’s greatest river begins in the still waters of a lake cradled in the dark woods of Minnesota. If left to its own devices, it would be a wild place, where a pristine lake turns into a free-running river.

But even at its very first inch, where Lake Itasca’s edge tips into a narrow stream, people have altered the Mississippi, making it conform to a practical, human purpose. With each successive alteration — millions of changes, large and small, over hundreds of years, along a winding 2,552-mile path through 10 states to the Gulf of Mexico — communities further downstream pay a price, none steeper than in Louisiana.

To better understand how manmade changes on one end of the river have literally changed the shape of the state on the other end, reporters traveled to the Mississippi’s northernmost point and followed it south through five states. Along the way they talked to scientists, engineers, historians, river enthusiasts and regular folks. They met people living with the river, and others who have declared war on it, and witnessed firsthand how the Mississippi has slowly, and devastatingly, exacted its revenge on those who dared try to control it.

Private landowners key to saving wildlife corridors
By Paul Tolme/National Wildlife
Photo by Mark Gunn/flickr
A frigid wind whips across the northeastern Montana prairie as a herd of pronghorn forage on a hillside.  Pronghorn  are America’s fastest land mammal, able to sprint at 60 miles per hour, but this group moves methodically, conserving energy. “They are just trying to make it through the winter,” says National Wildlife Federation biologist  Andrew Jakes , an expert on pronghorn migration.

As winter turns from spring to summer, pronghorn in this vast expanse of prairie will begin their move northward, seeking green waves of nutritious new grass. Jakes has discovered that it’s a surprisingly epic journey. In 2018 he published a  study  documenting the longest pronghorn migration ever recorded—more than 550 miles round-tip between winter and summer ranges within the transboundary grassland and  sagebrush landscapes  of Alberta, Saskatchewan and northern Montana.

About half the land in this region is private property, making landowners—especially ranchers—key allies in the effort to protect migration corridors. “The take-home message,” says Jakes, “is that wildlife don’t know borders or property lines, and they need space to move.”

The truth about African trophy hunting
Safari Club International
Photo by Di/flickr
CBS News Originals recently aired a segment titled “Trophy Hunting: Killing or Conservation” featuring a number of hunters and wildlife conservancy managers who detail the crucial role hunters and hunting revenue play in funding antipoaching efforts, conserving land for wildlife and managing animal populations. 

Pete Fick, who was interviewed extensively by CBS for this segment, is the wildlife guide in Zimbabwe’s Bubye Wildlife Conservancy and knows that “killing some animals so the rest of them can live is an absolute necessity out here.” As a defined area about the size of Rhode Island, Bubye conservancy has finite resources, so hunting manages the wildlife populations while also providing funding to keep the park open.

This segment goes on to discuss that the biggest threat to wildlife currently is not big game hunting, but rather habitat loss. By converting what was once a cattle farm into a lush preserve, Bubye stifled human encroachment and has become a sanctuary that is “teeming with wildlife, including several species listed as vulnerable.”

To their credit, CBS remained unflinching when confronting the truth that hunting dollars, not only in Bubye but in many conservancies across Africa that are crucial to combating poaching.

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  

- Henry James

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