At MeatEater, it’s no secret we believe science-based wildlife research to be a valuable tool for hunters and anglers. Steve has hunted and fished with wildlife biologists and spoken with them extensively on the MeatEater Podcast. We’ve also shared many of their studies on our website and social media pages. We have a great deal of respect for the work wildlife biologists do. We trust and appreciate wildlife and fisheries science because it makes us better hunters and anglers and allows us to understand our environment in a more nuanced way. All hunters and anglers can become better informed by delving into these studies, so we like to pass this information along to our fans.
Fish and game management in this country is incredibly difficult and complicated. Biologists and researchers are often tasked with studies that will help form future management policies. The statistics and data provided by biologists employed by state fish and game agencies are the foundations for effective wildlife management in the United States. If state fish and game agencies didn’t have access to the information gathered by wildlife biologists, hunting and angling opportunities in this country would inevitably decline in quality and quantity.
It is important to understand that wildlife biologists who are engaged in a research study are gathering information. They are not forwarding an opinion or trying to predict an outcome. Simply put, they collect and record facts. The information they gather in the form of data and statistics is used by wildlife managers as a tool to better understand and utilize various wildlife resources. Only then are regulations regarding bag limits, tag quotas and season dates implemented to manage for sustainable populations and to provide hunting and angling opportunities. These systems aren’t without their flaws but they are based on hard science gathered by researchers who spend countless hours in the field.
However, whenever we share a piece of science-based research there is a predictable outcry from some hunters and anglers who’ve developed a frustrating distrust of scientific data. The backlash from wildlife studies we share ranges from absurd conspiracy theories to secondhand anecdotal evidence that contradicts factual information. This portion of hunters and anglers who simply don’t believe scientific data to be useful instead feel there’s a hidden agenda behind every piece of research. But wildlife biologists aren’t in the business of cooking the books and state fish and game agencies are mandated to manage wildlife as a sustainable resource. They really do have the best interest of their customers and fish and game in mind when they make management decisions based on the results of wildlife research studies.
For instance, if wildlife biologists discover that an Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak decimated a certain whitetail deer herd in Kansas then it’s likely that wildlife managers will drastically reduce doe tag numbers in that area the following hunting season. That’s sound management, not a tricky ploy by the anti-hunting lobby to take away hunting opportunities. On the other hand, if biologists conducting winter aerial population surveys determine that an elk herd in Montana is larger than previously believed, despite the presence of wolves, then the following season may see more cow elk tags issued. This isn’t a devious scheme concocted by shady government officials to generate revenue by selling more hunting licenses. It’s a science-based decision to actively manage herd numbers by providing more hunter opportunity.
When we decide to share information pertinent to hunting and fishing, it is important to note that like wildlife biologists, we’re not pushing an agenda. We’re using that information to develop a richer understanding of the fish and game we pursue. We may weigh-in on a study based on personal experience because opinions based on years of boots-on-the-ground knowledge are valuable. But we’ll never outright ignore or refute scientific data because we feel that wildlife research only enhances our efficiency in the field. The next time we share a wildlife research study try to keep an open mind and use that information to your advantage.
Brody Henderson is a hunter, fly fishing guide, writer, wilderness production assistant for the MeatEater television show and MeatEater‘s editorial contributor