If you have been to New York's Central Park, I am sure you marvel at how the city manages to keep such a large block of trees and vegetation intact. And if you sit on a bench late in the afternoon and hear a wolf howl, you better get up and head out of the park, because the real wolves left about the time the settlers bought Manhattan Island.
Central Park is a welcome relief from the high-rises, traffic, and hordes of shoppers. But not only is the park empty of buildings and other urban staples, it's also empty of wildlife. Oh, the lake in the park gets a few ducks occasionally, and a squirrel or a pigeon might check out your bench to see if you left anything edible, but overall it's more like a nice movie set. Some rocky outcrops, a lot of trees, plants, and a cute little lake.
Do you like it that way? If you do, you'll love the direction Arkansas seems to be taking when it comes to wildlife management, which is the Central Park direction. If the state keeps heading that way, our grandchildren will have little slivers of Arkansas that resemble what was once the Natural State. If you don't believe me, check out the loss of wetlands and just for a clue, think about why the Buffalo River was named.
We were once called the Bear State when we had bears in every county with an estimated population of 50,000. But I guess after we killed almost all of them we were too embarrassed to keep the slogan. I know we have restocked the black bear, and we even have a hunting season that allows baiting for bears. You put out bait, and when the bears get used to stopping by for a quick snack, you blast away with your AR-15 and get your picture in the paper. Kinda like a modern-day Davy Crockett.
Killing around 200 bears annually when the bear population has already had a 90-percent reduction makes it appear that we're heading for the Central Park look. How can we say we're restoring the state's ecology when we are adding with one hand and taking away with the other? What would be wrong with going back to having bears in every county again, and then getting rid of the baiting and going on an actual bear hunt?
It looks as if one day the Little Rock Zoo will have a drawing to cull the abundance of any part of the animals there. Something like: "The Little Rock Zoo announced today that a drawing will be held to reduce the over-abundance of antelope." Don't chuckle. I know some folks that would be standing in line for the drawing.
To have proper wildlife management we must have a goal, not an attempt to restock something like elk and keep them confined to a small acreage around the Buffalo River, then mow 'em down when they reproduce. What's wrong with having elk in south Arkansas instead of just restoring them in one tiny part of one county? Restoring the ecology in the entire state should be a priority, and not an effort to add something else to shoot at.
I've hunted and fished all my life, and the idea that I would kill something such as a black bear that is eating bait is not what I call hunting. Let's insist the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission take on, as a commitment to the state's ecology, a program to restore as much of natural Arkansas as possible and protect the few functionally extinct animals like mountain lions.
In over two centuries we have systematically destroyed much of our state's ecology by not having any controls on wildlife management. Our great-grandparents were part of a slaughter of animals and birds. There is a place on the lower Ouachita River called Pigeon Hill that once was a roosting place for passenger pigeons. Hundreds of thousands of birds could be found there until they were systemically slaughtered. We can't restore the passenger pigeon, but we can restore many of the other animals and birds that were once so plentiful. When you add to what was taken away from a perfect environment, the result will always surprise you in how much you improve the overall ecology.
We have the opportunity to do that by adding back the predators. If black bears can roam the woods in southeast Arkansas or north-central Arkansas and not gobble up little children or chickens or calves, why can't Union County or Pulaski County have the bears return? Vertis, my wife, spotted a black bear one morning about 5 a.m. near our house when we were going out for coffee and I went back in the house for my billfold. That's when a black bear ran across my neighbor's yard under a nightlight.
That same week on a road behind our house, two teenagers out parking reported a Bigfoot sighting, which I am sure was a bear standing upon its hind legs. It had wandered up from Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.
But back to the threat to turn Arkansas into Central Park West. It seems that trying to restore the ecology of the entire state should be a goal that would give us the ability to have not only a thriving and sustaining abundance of wildlife, but would give us varied numbers of game animals and in the process control the hordes of feral hogs and other out-of-control animals that filled the vacuum left when we made the predators essentially extinct.
The few places that have re introduced animals into their wildlife mix are examples of the benefits that arise when ecology is retuned toward what it once was. We can never go completely back to what the early settlers found when they arrived, but we still have millions of acres that are suitable habitat for the reintroduction of bears, wolves, and mountain lions. Let's move toward the goal of rewilding Arkansas instead of the rush to become Central Park West.
Email Richard Mason at email@example.com.
Editorial on 01/13/2019
Print Headline: Don't empty our state of wildlife