Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Parker Heinlein
Outdoors columnist 

If it were based on Science


January 30, 2019

Among the many bills to be considered during this legislative session is one that would require decisions related to fish and game be based solely on facts and science.

HB 161, sponsored by Brad Tschida (R), Missoula, would not allow the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the FWP Commission to “use social science, human dimensions, people’s attitudes, opinions or preferences during the decision-making process related to fish and wildlife.”

That would be different, using science and facts instead of emotion and anecdotal evidence. Tschida must be a bird hunter.

The daily bag limit for mountain grouse used to be five birds. It was reduced to three in the 1990s at the request of Errol Galt, a fish and game commissioner who hadn’t seen many blue grouse on his ranch near Martinsdale the previous season.

At the time I was told that the bag limit would return to five birds when the population rebounded. Apparently it never has, although I doubt anyone – including FWP -- has a handle on wild bird populations.

Over the ensuing years FWP changed the name of blue grouse to dusky grouse, but the limit on them remains three.

I’m not complaining about the number of birds I can keep. I’ve just never gotten over the way the decision to reduce the limit was made. In no way was it based on science. It was good ol’ boy logic.

I doubt Tschida’s legislation will pass. Too often these days facts and science take a backseat to what a lot of folks like to call common sense.

Our language now even includes the term “alternative facts.”

Basing wildlife decisions on science only works if we trust the scientists. Unfortunately we’ve grown suspicious of those who are smarter than us. We prefer a dumbed-down version of the truth especially if it’s not what we want to hear.

It would be swell if all wildlife decisions were based on science. Science, however, isn’t cheap. A study of mountain grouse numbers before reducing the bag limit would have made sense, but FWP never considered it. Instead, they based their decision on the casual observations of a well-connected landowner.

We don’t shoot hen pheasants, grizzly bears or five dusky grouse a day for social reasons, not for scientific ones.

If all the decisions we made were based on facts and science we’d no doubt be better off, but too often the science and facts don’t jive with what we want the truth to be.

Parker Heinlein is at [email protected]


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