Late one evening I was wondering to myself, “what would our wildlife be like without the controls of the department of natural resources?” The easy answer, of course, is to say that nature will take care of itself and everything would be just great. That, however, is not true for at least one major reason; mankind.
Since the time Christopher Columbus discovered America, our country has changed drastically and the habitat of wild animals has changed just as much. People are able to adapt quickly, especially to changes created by them, but that’s not the same with animals, and as history has shown, man has not been kind to animals. In the mid-1800’s buffalo herds consisting of thousands of animals roamed a better part of the Midwestern plains. The demand for buffalo hides for clothing resulted in excessive hunting by large groups of men in an effort to make money quickly. It wasn’t long before the thundering herds of buffalo were almost extinct.
Wolves became the enemy of mankind as the population rapidly settled the wilderness because the wolves found the domesticated farm animals, cows, sheep, chickens, and the like an easy meal. Because this meant lost money to the farmers and ranchers, they shot wolves on site. Like the buffalo, the number of wolves declined quickly and the wolf became close to extinction as well.
There was no consideration of the harvestable surplus until individual states developed departments of natural resources and those governmental entities worked hard to preserve animal populations to sustainable populations of all species. This was done through both wildlife conservation, the wise use of natural resources, as well as preservation, the non-use of natural resources. In limited terms as it relates to wild animals, this included setting limits on the number of certain animals, and prohibiting the shooting of other animals, all in an attempt to find a happy medium for each population of species that would ensure the survival of a species, as well as provide an excess of a species for the hunting sport.
In my lifetime, I have seen several wildlife “miracles” that are the direct result of wildlife management by the department of natural resources. When I was first allowed to deer hunt, the deer population in Minnesota had dwindled as a result of lost habitat and outdated wildlife management practices. Hunting methods was one such obsolete practice; deer season was four to seven days long and consisted of hunting “either sex,” meaning you could shoot either a buck or a doe. This was clearly poor management of the deer herd, but it was generally based on public demand, rather than conservation. A contrasting example of the time was that as the deer herd throughout Minnesota continued to decline annually, Wisconsin had implemented bucks only deer hunting. One quick trip across the St. Croix River and anyone could see the difference, as deer abounded in Wisconsin, while in Minnesota harvesting a deer during season was almost like winning a small lottery.
Minnesota eventually enacted a bucks only season and as a young hunter, it was a dismal time. Seeing a deer was a rarity during deer season, but then having to determine if it was a buck or a doe before shooting made it twice as difficult to be a successful hunter. But the results of this change in wildlife management reversed the decreasing deer herd quickly and within five years it was clearly obvious to any hunter that the bucks only policy was working. Since the late 1970’s, the Minnesota DNR has successfully increased the deer herd to a point where the harvestable surplus included lottery style “antlerless” licenses which allowed a hunter to purchase up to five antlerless tags in certain areas of the state.
While being a successful deer hunter today is still a challenge requiring skill and patience, the deer herd remains healthy and not a hunter wonders in July if there is going to be a deer hunting season in the fall, or not.
Another grand example of successful wildlife management is the flourishing wild turkey population in Minnesota. Again, as a youth, I never even considered seeing a wild turkey in the woods or fields. Through extensive wildlife studies and effective management, the DNR worked with local people who would raise turkey chicks (actually called poults) and release them into the wild after caring for them for two or three months. Much more slowly than the deer population flourished, turkeys established a range and through preservation, the DNR was able to open a very limited season at first and now boast of providing a spring and fall season across the southern two-thirds of the state, harvesting roughly 15,000 male turkeys (Toms).
It is worth noting that the wild turkey really wasn’t native to Minnesota, but generally the eastern part of the United States. However, as woods and forests were cut away to make room for human development in the east, the turkey population of the country fell dramatically. At first, it was thought that the lower portion of Minnesota would make ideal habitat for the wild turkey and so the DNR started it’s management program to help restore overall populations of the turkey. The wild turkeys have shown formidable and resilient adaptation ability to the central portions of the state and the population continues to slowly expand northward.
While these are positive results of workable wildlife management programs, it is sad to think at times that without a regulating agency such as the DNR, mankind in its own selfish way would more than likely, destroy the balance of wildlife.