Hope youre not tired of columns about relying on science, not fiction, for wildlife management, because Ill never tire of writing them.
If we are going to enjoy hunting and fishing deep into the future, we ultimately have to embrace facts and the people who gather them.
Sensible and timeless as that principle may seem, it remains foreign to a staggering number of consumptive outdoors enthusiasts. Among us still walk far too many folks who can ignore and dismiss 20, 40 or more years of work performed by unbiased professionals. Instead, they are comfortable siding blindly and perpetually with dreamers and fools.
"It" should be this way, theyll say, because thats how the guys at the bait camp or the barber shop said it was when they were growing up in the Rolling Stone ages. Or its that way, because thats the way it is every time MeeMaws bursitis acts up.
Truth is, bait-camp bull sessions have nothing to do with sound wildlife or fisheries management. Theyre great places to tell stories and get mud minnows, even to express displeasure in the status quo, but cleaning-table judgment sometimes is clouded by long days of heavy sun and light beer.
Your results or mine over the past 20 years can be quite accurately indicative of how weve done and what weve observed as hunters or fishermen, but theyre not reflections of an entire, statewide resource or its general health. Our records are snapshots, single entries in an enormous album of data. Theyre pieces of a puzzle - and deserve recognition as such - but theyre small pieces.
It isnt until you put all those pieces together, then replace them annually for decades and study all those new pieces and their relationships to the old ones, that you can begin to craft any sort of valid management strategy.
The validity of that strategy has to be measured also against the managers stake in the game. As recreational anglers, each of us has done our share of finger pointing at commercial fishermen over the years.
They get too many, goes the timeworn hew and cry, and we get too few. Give us more, and take some from them. Trouble with that line of thinking is that it never addresses the correct total of a particular fish that can be taken sustainably. Its greed-driven, and thats a natural byproduct of letting emotion get in the way of fact.
I prefer my rules and regulations to be generated by people who study natural resources professionally and without care for where that study leads. If theyre fishermen and hunters, as well, all the better. And if theyll listen to fishermen and hunters, if theyll allow data collected by hunters and fishermen be legitimate parts of the equation, better still.
The trouble with trusting scientists is theyre not all working at the same level of dedication or expertise. I like good science collected without prejudice. I abhor sloppy and incomplete science, which shouldnt form the foundation for so much as a single line in any management plan.
And, dare I say it, some of the biologists entering wildlife- management careers these days quietly intend to reduce or eliminate consumptive outdoor recreation. That ugly truth is tucked away for another time and space.
Carefully collected and generated science is the only legitimate path to successful wildlife management. When its otherwise, science becomes a hopeless pit of a mess that leaves all sides angry and frustrated and swapping fantastic stories about the shortcomings of the other side. (See: red snapper.)
The cure for bad science isnt to gather up the catch logs of 10 or 20 salty captains, or to look at the numbers of ducks or deer taken by a couple dozen guides on as many ranches. Neither is it to do as has been done in the past and count empty slips in coastal marina and them extrapolate that information somehow into angler success. Thats like counting bugs on the windshield and using that number to determine statewide insect populations.
Texas is a big state, and the Gulf of Mexico is a big water body. We need big information to set management criteria for their big resources.
If any of us contends that the science behind a rule is bad - and it has been in several cases over the years - the first step toward a better plan or policy is to respect the process flaws and all. Call the program a total wreck if you like, but dont automatically condemn the people who made the counts or submitted the management plans.
Better wildlife and fisheries management starts with our continued vigilance over the sometimes downright silly methodology applied to the task. But it isnt enough anymore to simply declare something broken and demand that someone else fix it. Its time we, as primary stakeholders, bring more than pounding fists to the table.
Step back, recognize this as a long process with no overnight solutions. Think, independently, then offer logical, fact-based solutions of your own. Good scientists seeking good science will welcome the help.