Friday, November 29, 2013

More Thoughts About SNP Whitetail Study

Today I would like to thank those who made comments on the blog and on Facebook about the last blog post", "Whitetail Photography at Shenandoah National Park -Destroyed For Now".

Most seemed to agree that the collars are unsightly and are likely to cause the animals a lot of distress, while one reader wants to know if the condition of the animal was reported to SNP officials.

Buck Was Standing Near Visitor Center When Photographed by Billie G. Cromwell

My Response: I spoke with Billie Cromwell who took the photographs and he said he felt no need to report this as the animal was in the lawn right beside the visitor center and was easily visible to maintenance workers and rangers.  As much time as this buck spends between there and the Big Meadows campground makes it extremely unlikely that officials are not  aware of the situation.

Fellow wildlife photographer, Dan Gomola raised the question:"Is there a any way people could band together against animal cruelty of these herds".

My Response:  I have no good answer to this question.  All I know to do is contribute what little I can by trying to draw awareness to the problem.  One should also write letters to officials and attend public meetings.  It would be nice if a large organization with a lot of political clout would take this up but it never seems to happen.  As it is, it seems that the National Park Service has its' way regardless of public input.

Bill, who is an avid hunter and photographer, said, "Those appear to be the most intrusive tacking devices I've ever seen. Monitoring animals for study is fine I suppose but do it in a way that isn't a burden on the animal. With the technology available today those are a little more than over-the-top and ridiculous."

My Response: I agree completely.


Over-The-Top and Ridiculous Collar
Alyssa Johnson who is involved with big game management (as a student in New York State) wrote, " I feel like there must be more to this story than we, and possibly you know. I feel for the animal, of course, because I'm human. But, perhaps there would be more damage done than good to try and remedy this defunct collar. Unfortunately, many people seem to suggest "with today's technology... _________" fill in the blank. Why can't there be a smaller collar, something less obtrusive, microchip, nothing at all, etc. I would like to believe, as someone who is involved with the big game management in my state, that the managers in charge WOULD utilize something less obtrusive, if it was available. I just attended the 2013 TWS National Conference, and was able to handle and examine all kinds of remote-monitoring equipment at the trade show. You lose battery life, distance of signal transmission, type of transmission, and amount of stored data when you make the device smaller. The severity and scope of CWD, for example, is so large and potentially dangerous to our deer herds, that these measures of using hardcore collars, with big packs on them, is so necessary. Without this monitoring, "we" wouldn't be able to manage the deer herds for hunters, photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts. I'm glad I got to see this pictures, thanks for sharing."

My Response: I will approach the issue by first discussing the Pennsylvania elk herd which I am quite familiar with.  I do not like to see collars on these animals either.  It seems possible that some elk have had problems because of wearing collars, but I have never personally seen an elk's neck severely damaged by a collar.  At one time many of the elk were fitted with brown collars with large yellow side plates attached on which the number of the animal was displayed.  This is shown in the photo of bull 2D below.

Bull 2D-Old Style Collar
This type of collar really became a problem once Pennsylvania elk  became hunted animals again in 2001, as the bright yellow collar made the animal stand out to hunters.  As a result the PGC discontinued their use, but  they did not remove the collars from elk already fitted with them.  From a certain point going forward elk were fitted with brown radio collars. These collars are not numbered like the yellow ones.  The PGC gave up the ability to easily identify individual animals by visual means and must now rely on radio tracking-GPS equipment to do so. I do not like to see these collars on elk any more than I like to see them on deer, but at least they are not causing problems for the animal in most cases.

Brown Collar Currently Used by PGC
In comparing the use of collars on elk and deer one must realize that a deer is a much smaller animal and as such has less space to fit a collar.  This may be part of the problem but it is not all of it. If one looks at the old elk collars closely the numbered panels were not larger than the collar band, but the number panels on the deer collars extend well beyond the collar band.

Numbered Tag Is Larger Than Collar
In addition they appear to be made of a hard material.  It seems likely that this is at least partially responsible for the damage.  Also the brown part of the collar is broken in the photo above, which would contribute to the chafing on this particular animal.  I suspect that these collars were designed so that animals could be visually  identified from a distance without relying entirely on radio transmitters, but if this is the case, does the supposed benefit of this outweigh the damage done to the animal?  Speaking off the record, a  wildlife professional employed by a state conservation agency, said that it could be as simple as the NPS already having that type of collar on hands and using them without giving the matter further thought.

At this point I would like to take a closer look at two portions of Ms. Johnson's comments and respond to them.

Ms Johnson, " I would like to believe, as someone who is involved with the big game management in my state, that the managers in charge WOULD utilize something less ,if it was available."

My response: " I would like to think that too, but unfortunately after working most of my adult life for a state conservation agency,  I wouldn't put too much stock in this. What is proposed and implemented  can be mind boggling at times, in spite of the competence and good intentions of most agency personnel.

Ms Johnson, "The severity and scope of CWD, for example, is so large and potentially dangerous to our deer herds, that these measures of using hardcore collars, with big packs on them, is so necessary. Without this monitoring, "we" wouldn't be able to manage the deer herds for hunters, photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts."

My response:  I am aware of the statistics on the severity and scope of CWD, but it is not in the least bit clear to me how that measures such as this or drastic herd reduction are going to save the day.  I may live to see the day that I regret this statement, but at this point I think that conservation agency and NPS reaction to the disease has the potential to have a far worse impact on the herd than the disease itself.

In closing, I will mention that I still list a blog or two in my side bar that are no longer updated on a regular basis.  One of these is Larry Thorngren's . "The Wild Photographer".   His last post about radio collars was "Abused Radio-Collared Bison-Yellowstone National Park" on Nov. 6, 2011.  If you are interested in reading more about this type of thing, it may be worth your while to browse through his older posts.

Also check the comments section of this post to read more input from Larry W. Brown and follow the links to see photos of deer in winter that show severe hair loss from the collars.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

13 comments:

Steve Ferendo said...

Willard,
It has been shown many times in the past that when the Federal Government has a bad idea, and hires contractors to prove it, they can rarely be shown the error of their ways. Take the health care system rollout as one recent example. At least they are trying to fix that!

It is sad that the people who think these abusive collar tags are humane...I would challenge anyone to wear a similar one and then declare it "humane". Thanks for your efforts to bring this travesty to light. Keep up the good fight.
Regards-Steve

Dan Gomola said...

There is animal abuse everywhere and I feel so small when it comes to making a difference. I believe this outcome wasn't intentional; it probably wasn't even considered when they put the collars on the animals. Knowing government, fixing the problem would cost more than creating the problem so it may go unchanged. Would it make a difference to educate larger groups such as PETA about the injury to these animals?

Larry W. Brown said...

I am posting a copy of my 2 comments from your previous post, Willard - I was not aware until now that you had posted this new one.

In regards to Ms. Johnson's comment(s):

1. Yes there is more to this than a so-called CWD study. This is government bullshit at its very best - cover up the freakin' real truth by diverting the general public with another process, and if there's any money pot to dip the hands into (grants), hell that's even better! I'm not go into the specific details, but their real motive is to start herd reductions due to overpopulation, which many of us believe already began last Winter, hence the lower numbers of Whitetails in the area. If you really want to know the details, I have all the collected data stored in one central location: click here. The problem with a majority of modern day biologists (not all) are all the toys at their disposal - they like to exercise the title of being 'top dog in the chain'.

Some so-called nature loving biologist always thinks he can do a better job at controlling nature. When in reality all they do, is screw it up. If they want to control animals, then buy a freakin domesticated animal. For example, look at what happened when "man" intervened with the wolves in Yellowstone. Hunting, natural predators and natural circumstances has always been enough to keep wildlife populations in check. Wildlife has managed its own for millions of years without the help of "man" - nature has a way of taking care of itself, it is a far more superior process than "man" will ever be or even understand.

And keep in mind that there is something called an 'ecosystem' which is always greatly influenced when "man' forces his influence upon nature. Let mother nature handle her own, she's done a damn fine job of it since the beginning.

2. Obviously, you are not looking at the buck photos above very carefully. THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS AVAILABLE to utilize something less obtrusive than what SNP is using. I invite you to do an image search for radio collared deer or radio collared elk - do you see any from anywhere that are as obtrusive as the ones worn by the SNP deer, Ms. Johnson? Or do you see any that are as tight during the rut? Do you see a need for the over-sized green number plates? They claim that it helps in their efforts to identify the animals at long range - what the hell is the location tracking for then? Makes no sense! And let's not forget about the danger the animals face with these large plates - does the above Buck's neck hardware look normal to you? Let me share one such issue which this Buck is bound to face also: click here.

I want to share 2 photos that clearly depict what the SNP Buck's necks look like in the dead of Winter:

Image 1

Image 2

So I must ask, how you think that feels with the bare skin exposed to the cold harsh temps in the high elevations?

There are collars used by MANY wildlife researchers that are joined with a piece of surgical tubing that allow the collar to disengage when the buck's neck swells up too much or if he gets into a lock-up or other crisis. It should be mandatory. Period. A lot of animals are wasted in these studies, often because of incompetent or inexperienced researchers. Those number tags they are using on these bucks are not necessary and are much larger and unwieldy than they need to be and are obviously causing problems for the animals. But I'm assuming that since that kind of data isn't in a college book, then it isn't so.

Larry W. Brown said...

There are collars used by MANY wildlife researchers that are joined with a piece of surgical tubing that allow the collar to disengage when the buck's neck swells up too much or if he gets into a lock-up or other crisis. It should be mandatory. Period. A lot of animals are wasted in these studies, often because of incompetent or inexperienced researchers. Those number tags they are using on these bucks are not necessary and are much larger and unwieldy than they need to be and are obviously causing problems for the animals. But I'm assuming that since that kind of data isn't in a college book, then it isn't so.

3. CWD - 5 deer in Virginia have tested CWD positive (out of 7000) between 2009 and 2012 - and none of those 5 were inhabitants of Shenandoah National Park. Furthermore, there are many diseases that free ranging and captive whitetail deer have that are much more devastating to their populations. The number of reported deer deaths due to CWD is miniscule compared to EHD and Bluetongue, both of which are acute, often fatal, viral diseases. There seems to be quite a few *biologists* that like to make the public think that CWD "is so large and potentially dangerous to our deer herds". Have you actually interpreted the 'numbers' Ms. Johnson? Let me point you in the right direction: click here. But again I'm assuming that since that kind of data isn't in a college book, then it isn't so.

Willard said...

Larry,
Thanks so much for your input and for your work in focusing attention on this problem. It is deeply appreciated.

I think about what they did to the SNP herd every day. Looking back over photos from past years, it still seems I should be able to drive there and experience that type of whitetail watching and photography and I shake my head in stunned disbelief at how quickly they ruined it.

Willard said...

I just now looked at the winter photos and I don't see how an agency can defend using a collar that causes that kind of damage. It is beyond ridiculous and absurd.

Willard said...

Also thanks to Steve and Dan for their comments and to Steve for his efforts to draw attention to the herd reduction planned for Maryland battlefields such as Antietam, Manassas, and Monocacy.

In regards to Dan's question, I don't know--it may be worth trying. I have always been the type to write about something or even make films about a problem in a case where I have sufficient footage to do so such as Pennsylvania elk, but I have never been good at public speaking or approaching an organization to try and sell them an idea. It is more my goal to motivate someone more suited to those type of things to come forward and lead the charge so as to speak.

Larry W. Brown said...

Willard I don't believe we will ever see SNP whitetails get back to the status we once enjoyed. I have a gut feeling that once they get the numbers where they want them in Big Meadows, they will control it at that. I feel the same disbelief as you, and I will never get over the fact as to how many Bucks came up missing after it all started. We all know what happened to those Bucks, it wasn't coincidence. And the fact that they closed the park for so many weeks at a time last Winter (when there was no inclement weather) and the deer numbers dropped afterwards. We can do the math on that also.

Lindsjö taxar said...

Glad you are discussing this. There are collars with small microchip.
Hope they can change the collas. Interesting Reading in post and comments.
Majsan//

Abraham Lincoln said...

I wonder what happens if somebody cuts all the collars off?

Larry W. Brown said...

I like Abe's suggestion :-)

Alyssa Johnson said...

Oh my gosh, am I internet (in)famous yet or what?!

I'm laughing, really. This blogging experience has been great for me over the past few years. There have been times when I've commented back and forth with bloggers...but never been featured!

I appreciate all the hard work and research that you, and all other commenters have put into this. I suppose I A) Don't know enough about management outside of my homestate, and about CWD history to keep commenting back. and B) I got my hackles raised because as I am associated with big game management (although VERY peripherally) within NY, I feel for my boss and a prof of mine (who were both boots on the ground in '06 when CWD broke out, I was a mere pup trying to figure out life post high school). I feel defensive whenever I hear critique of a gov't agency trying to do it's best. Perhaps I'm too "green" for this field yet and need to wisen up to how things really are. For now though, I'll continue to blog away and read yours (when I'm supposed to be studying Waterfowl Ecology & Management for a final tomorrow).

Thanks for being polite, and for fostering a great conversation. I promise, I do read your blog regularly, just have never piped up before!

Willard said...

Alyssa,

Thanks for your comments. They are appreciated and always welcome. I hope to express my point of view in a bit more depth in the near future, but for now I will say I have been involved in situations where one was told what to do and given very poor equipment to do the job. Sometimes speaking up resulted in a better solution, but at other times you were told to be quiet and do the job, so you shrugged and complained in private, but did what you were told.that I do not know if this is the case in the SNP situation, but I can't help but think it may be.