Seeing the Forest for the Trees

While conducting research on Twitter this week in regards to a story idea about the cooperation of conservation organizations towards a common goal, the focus on one article continued to resurface from multiple users.  The article, “Decline In Hunters Threatens How U.S. Pays For Conservation,” by Nathan Rott for National Public Radio, was actually the subject of a tweet from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership I had retweeted and posted to my Facebook page a week earlier.  The compelling article gives a gloomy forecast for the future of hunter participation as the average hunter is aging to the point of retirement from the tradition with less interest from younger generations, and, because of that fact, details an even more troubling uncertainty for the future of conservation in this country.  However, what grabbed my attention this time around was the wide range of opinions I was finding from Twitter users as their tweeted lead argumentation into the link for the article.

I began to bookmark the tweets, and soon I was so intrigued by the arguments I found that I ran a search for links to the article and began to gather an even larger sample.  What I found presented a stunning array of ethos, pathos, and logos in the discourse.  Each of these rhetors provided their own set of suppositions and reasoning.  I didn’t look past their tweets into any specific responses – I didn’t have to – the tweets themselves provided the commentary on the subject of the article at the first level of interpretation and argumentation.  After reviewing and analyzing my sample, and taking another step back, I began to ask myself how all these opinions could possibly be digested.  This led me to relate this to the overwhelming amount of data thrust at us daily, not only through the genre of Twitter, but exponentially across all forms of media in this age of information overload.  Indeed, by the assemblage of this sample, one could gather an extensive interpretation of the original article without ever having to bother to click on the link to the original argument.  Therefore, I wondered if all the rhetors in my sample had actually taken the time to read the article, or if, in the interest of time, they had formulated their opinion based on their own set of suppositions and then tried to further their argument supposing their followers would do the same.

The rhetors who seemed the least argumentative as a whole were the news organizations, conservation organizations, and state agencies that seemed to exude the supposition that their followers were already painfully aware of the facts in the article, or they would just let the article speak for itself.  Other conservationists and journalists seemed to ask what the article was asking, or expand on the alternative funding methods suggested in the article.  Hunting and outdoors business oriented rhetors used it to either bolster their cause or to seemingly argue for support from other outdoors enthusiasts.  From there, specific agendas from common individual users flared out to sprawl over a diverse set of arguments.  This is where the analysis became almost baffling to me.  Here was a large set of first level interpretations of the article that now began to spew out like vomit hitting the floor, or, if you prefer, envision the spread of the mushroom cloud as it enters the upper reaches of the atmosphere.  The polarization of opinions seemed like a microcosm of the world we live in today.  Some chose thoughtfully to stipulate there own personal plea along the lines of the original rhetor’s argument.  Others chose to quote powerful statements from the original rhetor to reiterate the argument.  Others chose to relate details in the original argument to their own local or even international concerns.  Others chose to relate the facts of the article to their own personal agendas in extremely loose relationship to the original argument.  And still others appeared to gather the entire basis for their argument simply from the headline of the original rhetor’s article.

I felt compelled to gather them all in one place, and present them as a whole in a mosaic of opinions as inspired by the original argument for our dwindling support for the stewardship of wilderness.  Below you will find the large sample I collected.  In order to present a uniform sample that could be quickly distinguished by an identifying trait, I chose to only include tweets that used the lead image from the original article.  In order to attempt to maintain an objectively balanced presentation of the following gallery while attempting to present it in the most appealing display, it is set up as a random order tiled mosaic which will randomly bring different images of the tweets to the forefront each time the page is refreshed.  Therefore, I would encourage you to refresh the page several times in order to illuminate and gather the diverse range of opinions from the individual rhetors.

Grizzly bear on elk carcass from Yellowstone National Park

Predators vs. Prey

Two similar ongoing success stories of wildlife conservation taking place in two different ecosystems involving two different species recently moved into the public spotlight through two very different perspectives on conservation.  If you caught my most recent post here, you are aware that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently announced that “after more than 22 years of elk reintroduction efforts, 2018 will mark Wisconsin’s first managed elk hunt in state history.”  Meanwhile, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has announced a proposed grizzly bear hunting season for the fall of 2018.  Both Wisconsin’s elk reintroduction management and Wyoming’s grizzly bear recovery management, as part of the greater Yellowstone-Grand Teton National Parks Idaho/Montana/Wyoming Demographic Monitoring Area, are conservation success stories, and the state agencies are now moving towards one of the greatest conservation management tools at their disposal – hunting.  However, the controversy surrounding these two conservation debates are as diverse as the battle between predator and prey.

According to the introduction for the Wyoming GFD YouTube video Yellowstone Grizzly Bears: A Success Story, published on May 14, 2013:

Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem are thriving. The once-dwindling population of bears occupying areas of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming has been steadily increasing since 1981, when recovery efforts under the Endangered Species Act began. Managers are prepared with protections and practices in place to sustain a healthy Yellowstone grizzly bear population into the future. Years of collaboration and cooperation by multiple state and federal agencies — as well as public participation — contributed to the success of the species’ recovery. For more information on Yellowstone grizzly bears visit: Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee

Hunting as part of our outdoors heritage enables conservation management through humane population control while providing significant economic impact through hunt related expenses and hunter supported conservation programs.  Sportsmen and women have traditionally been the most significant supporters of conservation for wildlife and wildlife habitat throughout American history.  However, hunting as a conservation management tool remains as controversial as conservation management itself as demonstrated by tweets from the following conservation organizations and agencies:

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Population control, coexistence, and economic impact are all realities of conservation management.  Boundaries must be established and maintained without being compromised to preserve our last bastions of wilderness.  Conservation requires a balance of management practices to sustain, nurture, and strengthen a population.  Conservation is only made possible through cooperation.

A Bull elk taking a "selfie' near Clam Lake - Wisconsin DNR.

Conservation Progress

This is conservation progress:

First managed elk hunt in Wisconsin history is result of over 22 years of conservation efforts by DNR staff and partners.

Following more than 22 years of elk management and reintroduction efforts, 2018 will mark Wisconsin’s first managed elk hunt in state history.

  • For more information and background on the Wisconsin elk herd, click here.
  • To see the Wisconsin DNR news release as posted on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation site, click here.


The Outdoors Needs Hunters

Stewardship of wilderness is in peril.  The most significant contributors to wilderness conservation are hunters, and their numbers continue to dwindle.  Hunters flip the bill for wildlife and habitat conservation management through state and federal licensing fees, federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment under the Pittman-Robertson Act (which becomes funding for state management agencies), and through donations to wildlife conservation organizations such as Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation, and Pheasants Forever.

The ongoing attacks on public lands and gun control coupled with the uneducated public perception of the ethical hunter as anything other than an invaluable management tool further threatens the future of our outdoors heritageAn ongoing and growing concern for hunters is access – access to public lands, access to hunting opportunities, access which would provide mentoring to future generations of wilderness stewardsAccess which also provides opportunities to a vast array of outdoors enthusiasts as well as hunters.

The Outdoor Industry Association claims “outdoor recreation is the economy of the future,” but where are our future stewards, our future hunters, going to come from?

The statistics to consider:

A male moose takes a rest in a field during a light rainshower. By Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Advocating for the Moose

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) recently published the results of the 2018 Aerial Moose Survey.  Results of the survey state:

After adjusting for sampling and sightability, we estimated the population in northeastern Minnesota at 3,030 [or somewhere in the range of] 2,320–4,140 [based on a] 90% confidence interval [given several] statistical uncertaint[ies] inherent in aerial wildlife surveys … Past aerial survey and research results have indicated that the long-term trend of the population in northeastern Minnesota has been declining since 2006.  The current population estimate is 65% less than the estimate in 2006 and the declining linear trend during the past decade remains statistically significant.  However, the leveling since 2012 persists, and … the trend from 2012 to 2018 is not declining.  While this recent short-term trend (7-year) is noteworthy, it applies only to the existing survey estimates, and does not forecast the future trajectory of the population.

While it appears the population has stabilized in the short-term, the long-term decline of the moose in Minnesota continues to make this a race against time.

Minnesota’s moose population has been drastically declining over the past three decades.  While population estimates remained relatively stable in the northeastern range during the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, the population in the northwestern range virtually disappeared.  Now it is the remaining population in the northeastern range that is under assault.  The MN DNR implemented a massive research project under the Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan in December 2011 in hopes of learning what is causing the decline and how to better manage the moose and its habitat in relationship to environmental and social concerns. The moose was finally listed as an animal of special concern in Minnesota since another dramatic drop in the population from 2012 to 2013.  This also caused the MN DNR to discontinue offering a moose hunting season in association with managing the herd until population estimates have recovered – even though the hunt was shown to only contribute a 2% reduction in the population as a restricted once-in-a-lifetime style hunt starting in 1991 and further restricted to a bulls-only hunt in 2007.  What researchers are discovering through the project involves a complex mix of environmental influences and social pressures.

MN DNR research results show contributors to the moose decline include, but may not be limited to, the environmental influences of: wolf and white-tail deer populations, parasites (such as winter ticks and brainworm), less frequent forest fires and logging on public lands, and climate change.  Factors best laid out by this February 7, 2016, Minneapolis Star Tribune article by Josephine Marcotty.  However, implementing management practices that would promote a healthier moose herd are also subject to, but not limited to, the social pressures from local landowners, wildlife enthusiasts, hunters, private business, and local economies and cultures.  Further elaboration on these factors can found in a February 16, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio News article by Dan Kraker.  Indeed, this struggle goes much deeper than simply saving the moose.  This permeates all facets of Northern Minnesota culture.

We recently received a survey from Colorado State University on behalf of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies requesting feedback “about public perceptions of issues concerning the management of fish and wildlife in your state.”  While the correspondence states it is “part of a national survey effort,” several questions in the survey itself are directed at specific concerns within Minnesota.  And, while it is obvious that surveys were customized to address specific issues within each state, one specific set of questions made me take special notice of this particular survey:

The interactions between wolves, moose, and deer are complex.  Moose are known to die from diseases that white-tail deer carry, and wolves prey on both species.  Please let us know how you feel about management of these three species in Minnesota….

Who is advocating for the moose in Minnesota?  Where does support for the Minnesota moose come from?  How is our society and culture promoting the practice of stewardship of wilderness for the preservation and conservation of the moose for the generations to come?  While there are organizations dedicated to most of the other large mammals in Minnesota, such as the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the International Wolf Center, the American Bear Association, the North American Bear Center, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  There appears to be no organization, foundation, association, federation, unlimited, or forever dedicated to the moose.  My search did lead me to the North American Moose Foundation, but that organization seems to have ceased operation sometime after their last scheduled annual banquet was cancelled, ironically intended to take place in Roseville, Minnesota, in February 2014.  The University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Zoo, and The Nature Conservancy, along with other conservation organizations, conduct or support research and conservation for the moose, but there appears to be no dedicated organization to support one of the largest mammals in North America.  In fact, a University of Minnesota researcher has resorted to crowd funding in order to raise money for her research!

To continue your own research into the story of the moose in Minnesota, follow these additional links:

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA, by USDA Forest Service
Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA, by USDA Forest Service