From the Mailbag…

In the SJ Update mailbag this morning we find this letter from Steve Ulvi…

Running Down the Dream without Becoming Comfortably Numb

Along with about a hundred others I attended the library presentation on black-tailed deer by Ruth Milne, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife. It promised to be interesting given the obvious problems and the mish-mash of opinions and quirky notions here. Who doesn’t have an opinion about deer?

The central theme of the presentation was clear. From event ads, to her nice introduction by Boyd, to the child-friendly slides, her commentary was very careful and respectful of all views in setting the stage for what must, by nature, be a community decision. As an area management biologist, Milne hoped to focus audience comments on how to better deal with way too many deer. There can be no debate that we live with a significantly unhealthy overpopulation of deer adversely impacting the already pummeled ecosystems of this trans-border archipelago.

After a number of questions and the usual unfocused statements of personal values and pipe dreams (each painstakingly repeated and reflected upon by Milne), a few fellows who enjoy hunting deer and rightfully feel pride in continuing the island tradition of using natural resources for the family table broke their polite silence.

They spoke of frustrations regarding extremely limited areas to hunt (very little state land, etc.) and dealing with adversarial views toward hunters, as key parts of the overpopulation problem. Yet before they could finish their thoughts, the ugly genie of off-topic provocation and identity politics oozed out of the bottle. To some extent I hold Ms. Milne responsible for the cacophony of voices that ensued, in that she failed to delimit off-topic statements and keep the focus on dealing with too damned many deer.

The anti-hunting diatribe in Ms. Lance’s current column expands upon her scattershot views she shared with us at the library, with additional vitriol toward management biologists (“biostitute” I assume is a “biologist-prostitute”?) as well as those of us who treasure nature and embrace hunting as a legitimate use of public resources. Her screed is chock-full of imagined straw men to knock down in relaying what took place at the library. As well as the expected snarky innuendos. To be fair, perhaps she and her friends thought that they were attending a “Share your Extreme Dietary Preferences” seminar?

Harvest for the larder is a very deep, necessary tradition for some of us that makes us feel whole in a post-modern, overpopulated America, a substantial fund source for the greater public good through licensing and equipment taxes, and a viable population control tool in most circumstances.   Increasing hunter harvest is the one realistic tool compared to the ludicrous rigamarole of field sterilization, professional snipers, relocation (where to? Waldron?) or free condoms for local bucks. Or as Lance suggests; rewilding our island with turning loose large fanged predators and replanting existing private land pastures with trees. As much as I have lived a life of dreaming of “turning back the clock” that is a public planning meeting I would pay to see!

Of course, humans and their best management practices are imperfect, but hunter harvest is a proven tool with far fewer negative externalities than wasteful and messy vehicle slaughter, ecological collapse from over-browsing, or deer suffering through starvation/disease.

Sure, island biogeography exacerbates our local problem of deer populations without natural predators. Hand in hand with high private land ownership (85% of San Juan County), untethered exurban social values, declining interest in hunting, illegal feeding of wildlife and ignorance of the ecological damage we have wrought. It all favors ravens, expensive fencing contractors and local car repair shops though!

I, too, grieve daily for the excruciating demise of the richness and diversity of the natural world. I knew when we left interior Alaska after 33 years, my outdoor experiences here would be severely diminished in these un-wild and un-natural islands but I did not imagine how over only 12 years we could slide so much further down the slippery slope of ecosystem destruction. Yet, I still hope to make some small differences for the unfortunate future generations who will have to live with our actions today.

But in the few and far between opportunities that come around, most of us try to respect the sideboards in community forums and the personal dignity of other people who take the time to attend public meetings and express their feelings on the topic at hand. If I just can’t contain my inner demons on a particular community interest issue, perhaps I should just be smart enough to stay home or at least keep my mouth shut, rather than display a petulant need to rattle people’s cages and increase tension among neighbors.

I am going to continue to work toward expanding the allowance for hunting deer on larger Land Bank parcels, maybe does only, maybe bow only, and am personally exploring options for quietly importing a few breeding pairs of coyotes or bobcats next spring.

Posted on December 5, 2018 at 5:46 am by

Categories: Animals, Opinion, People, Wildlife


  1. Demographics have changed considerably in the last one hundred years. The islands have been heavily populated by the human species also. Domestic animals are numerous and a great number are pets enjoying the freedom of outdoor life. I don’t feel the introduction of coyotes and bobcats would be a wise solution; there will be many residents upset by such a development and further raise the ire of the community and more people arming themselves to shoot the wild critter threatening their pets.
    NO to coyotes and wildcats. San Juan Island is not large enough to accommodate these currently non-indigenous animals. Coyotes and bobcats are opportunists; taking out a deer is hard work, taking down a cat or small dog is a piece of cake.

    Comment by Judy Henley on December 5, 2018 at 10:41 am
  2. Ms. Milne, Ms. Lance or both? I don’t get it.

    Comment by Tori on December 5, 2018 at 4:42 pm

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