The pressure to reach for a gun to help save one animal from another is stronger than ever. And it has triggered a conservation problem from hell.
We usually think conservation means saving animals. But its history is tinged with blood. John Audubon, a patron saint of the American conservation movement, killed hundreds of birds, partly for sport and partly for specimens to pose for his paintings. Aldo Leopold, a father of ecological science, endorsed killing wolves to increase deer populations.
Today, as climate change pushes animals into each other’s overlapping territories and humans drive ever more species to the brink of extinction, the pressure to reach for a gun to help save one animal from another is stronger than ever. In recent years, the federal government has shot Arctic foxes to guard the nests of rare Steller’s eider ducks. In Texas and Oklahoma, hunters blast cowbirds that take over the nests of endangered black-capped vireos. Sea lions have been put to death for the sake of salmon on the Northwest’s Columbia River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to kill 16,000 double-crested cormorants in 2015 to help those same salmon. But the most controversial case may prove to […]