Is Antelope Island Fair Hunting?

Scott Grange: Pro - Hunt It to Maintain It

dueling duowise man, I think his name was something like Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “If you want to save a species from extinction, make it a game animal.” These prophetic words were uttered at a time when many animals such as the bison, antelope and whitetail deer had been market hunted to such insignificant levels that their future existence, at best, looked grim. 

Enter the modern sportsman. Led by men like Roosevelt, who was a strong advocate of science not to mention a man of tremendous vision, along with Aldo Leopold, organizations such as the Boone and Crocket Club were established shortly after the turn of the century. These groups helped usher in wildlife conservation as we know it today. Laws were established and sustainable use models created to protect our most precious resource…wildlife.

Today, wildlife faces many challenges our forefathers couldn’t have fathomed.  Loss of habitat and limited budgets within agencies overseeing this resource make it near impossible to manage properly. And when things hit critical mass, who are the ones to step in and save the day? Sportsmen and women, that’s who, just like it’s always been. Since the turn of the century, these folks have been raising money and giving their time and energy wherever it’s needed to make sure wildlife needs are met so that all, not just hunters, can enjoy God’s creations for generations to come.

Antelope Island is a 28,000 acre state park located in the Great Salt Lake in Davis County, Utah. If you’ve never visited the island, you should. It’s an archeological and geological treasure, however, it is most known for its abundant wildlife. Bison, antelope, big horn sheep and an array of small game inhabit the island. But in recent years, it’s been the world class mule deer that has caused the hearts of many visitors to skip a beat with bucks in the 200 inch class commonly encountered. 

As with many government run entities, Antelope Island has struggled through the years to maintain its infrastructure, not to mention its precious habitat. The harsh environment demands constant attention to roads, bike trails and picnic sites. In addition, Mother Nature can be brutal whether it be drought, lightning caused fires or paralyzing snow levels, all of which can decimate wildlife if gone unchecked. Needless to say, it requires a ton of money to manage the park and with limited budgets, Jeremy Shaw, manager of the island, is faced with an impossible task.

“Hey, let’s conduct a couple of hunts on the island for deer and big horn sheep,” was a suggestion. After all, bison hunts have been going on for years out there and thoughts were that an easy $200K or more a year could be generated by these two hunts, all of which would remain on the island for habitat and infrastructure improvements or whatever management felt was necessary. 

As you can imagine, the bleeding hearts, most of whom had never visited the island, screamed bloody murder. And sorry to say, a hand full of sportsmen did the same. Chat rooms and newspapers lit up with chatter for and against the idea. Funny thing though, none of those doing the complaining offered any viable alternative solutions to the budget woes. Their only concern, whether for sheer anti-hunting reasons or ethics concerns was to prevent the hunts from happening.

Thank heavens there are still a few level headed folks in decision making positions as the hunts were conducted and close to $300K was raised the first year. Nonetheless, the screamers continue to do what they do best…nothing but make noise. Whether or not hunts will continue will be an annual battle between those who are smart enough to see the benefits and those whose selfish desires spew forth like the sewer into Farmington Bay. Conducting limited hunts on Antelope Island to generate revenue is the right thing to do.

Ron Spomer: Pro - Grange Isn't Going Far Enough

I’m sorry. I can’t do it. 

I’m supposed to oppose Mr. Grange in these pages. I’m supposed to foment dissent and rage, play devil’s advocate and make his position appear ridiculous. But this time it’s not. 

Grange, it pains me to admit, is right. (Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.) 

But he doesn’t go far enough. 

Not only is controlled, limited hunting on Antelope Island – or any other island with a self sustaining, free-range population of game animals – acceptable, it’s inevitable and essential to the survival of the wild. Herbivores eat vegetation. Carnivores eat herbivores. Vegetation, herbivores and carnivores all survive, even thrive. Someone once called this the balance of nature. It’s a fluctuating balance, but it works. 

This is the part that galls me: humans continually mistake emotional attachments for sensible management. This leads to waste and destruction. 

Case in point:  Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau deer refuge in the first quarter of the 20th Century. People wanted more mule deer, so in 1906 president Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve. No hunting. But government agents hammered wolves, lions, bobcats and coyotes. By 1924 mule deer had increased from less than 4,000 to an estimated 100,000. They had highlined every tree and wiped out every shrub. Biologists recommended hunting to thin the ranks. The deer were eating themselves into oblivion. But people were emotional. You can’t hunt deer on a refuge! Unsportsmanlike. Poor deer. Some brilliant animal lovers came up with the idea of driving excess deer across the Grand Canyon to the empty south side. A bit of harassment was better than murdering the poor things. 

Of course, the deer ran through the lines of cowboys, biologists, do-gooders and Indians back to the overgrazed rangelands that were their lifelong sanctuaries – and would soon become their graves. By 1930 some 80,000 mule deer had starved to death. Yeah. That was kind, loving and responsible wildlife management. 

Here’s another quick example of the failure of emotional management: Smoky Bear, manifestation of our fear, loathing and misunderstanding of fire, Nature’s pruning tool. Historically, lightning and Native Americans had torched much of North America for centuries. Fire removed dead vegetation, fertilized the ground and opened it to new growth, which benefited herbivores. Forest were described by 19th century pioneers as open and park-like. But fire was bad. It destroyed trees and threatened Bambi. With Smoky Bear leading the way, we put the lid on wildfires. Our legacy? Some of history’s biggest, hottest, most destructive fires in recorded history have been raging in recent years, blackening millions of acres.  

I can’t pretend to make arguments against well organized, carefully managed, biologically sound deer, bison or sheep hunting on Antelope Island – because there are none. There’s only emotion. It’s patently obvious that ungulates cannot breed and increase infinitely anywhere. It’s historically proven that humans, along with coyotes, lions, eagles and diseases, can kill a significant percent of wild animal populations annually without significantly reducing overall numbers. It’s equally true that managed, regulated, limited hunting has maintained and often increased game numbers across the country despite ever decreasing habitat. And, as Mr. Grange points out, the money human hunters are willing to pay to hunt Antelope Island goes a long way to assuring they’ll have habitat, a place on which to continue thriving. They can pay their own way with no threat to their long term survival. 

Those who argue that hunting “park deer” is unfair, like shooting fish in a barrel, etc. are again responding to emotion. If you think it’s unfair, then don’t do it. Some people think it’s unfair to hunt anything, anytime, anywhere. Some think rifles are unfair. Some think arrows are inefficient. Some think poisoned grain should be allowed. They are entitled to believe what they want and act accordingly, but that doesn’t give them the right to force their beliefs on everyone else. 

If the wildlife on Antelope Island – bison, coyotes, mule deer, sheep, turkeys or elephants – can pay its own way, it should. Ultimately every living thing pays its own way by dying to feed something else. The trick is to balance the dying and the living. And controlled hunting achieves that. Even if some disgusting, ruthless, ugly, unappreciative hunter who you personally hate shoots the big, friendly, loving buck you photographed last summer, mule deer will continue to live on Antelope Island. They reproduce. Other bucks will grow old and massive and pose for pictures. They live and die all the time, every one of them. Whether they die from cold, starvation, disease, arrow, bullet, car or coyote doesn’t change reality. So long as habitat is maintained, wildlife will thrive. 

Conducting limited hunts on Antelope Island is the right thing to do not just to generate revenue, but to function within the natural laws of eat and be eaten, to be an integral, necessary participant in the real world where humans are not some sort of isolated gods watching from afar.