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RICHARD MASON: Aussies, quails, turkeys, and Bradford pear trees

by RICHARD MASON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | May 19, 2019 at 1:44 a.m.

To the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:

Gentlemen: I wish I could say ladies and gentlemen, but evidently our governor doesn't think ladies hunt, fish, or enjoy the outdoors.

The comments below are based on studies made in Australia focusing on efforts to control feral hogs brought into the country by early settlers. They brought 49 hogs there in the 1790s, and today they have up to 24 million. The huge increase, according to Australian studies, is because without any predators, the hog population can increase by 80 percent per year.

According to those studies, the millions of feral hogs are threatening to send numerous endangered birds and mammals to extinction. These hogs are destroying Australia's unique wildlife, and the studies confirm that where feral hogs are abundant, ground-nesting birds disappear. Habitat is not a factor in the loss of ground-nesting birds in Australia.

Australians are desperate to restore their broken ecosystem, and here's a quote from Wolves of Abaddon: The New Apex Predators: "A new study shows Australia's biodiversity is diminishing as native species are threatened by introduced animals, and suggests the reintroduction of 'apex predators' including dingoes and the Tasmanian tiger across the country could help restore order."

Here in Arkansas, since we have the same problem--the loss of ground-nesting quail and turkey--increasing numbers of feral hogs are the reason for our loss.

Sure, we have seen huge amounts of habitat disappear, but there are still millions of acres of quail habitat without a single quail. So, Commissioners, why do you keep harping on habitat? If you admit a broken ecosystem is the real reason our quail are gone, you would be faced with the task of restoring the ecosystem that produced an abundance of quail.

It is easier to point at habitat while scattering a little grass seed over a clear-cut timber harvest than it is to restore the ecosystem that has been altered until it is ideal for ground scavengers such as feral hogs, raccoons, possums, and armadillos, and it's easy to understand why these scavenger species have expanded. They all reproduce with abundance without human or animal predators to keep them under control, and their population has mushroomed. That is exactly what happened in Australia.

Here in Arkansas, since feral hogs' natural predators have been reduced to near extinction, and without any hunter incentive to make a significant reduction in their population, they have overrun the state.

Feral hogs and other scavengers have virtually eliminated the quail in our state, and wild turkeys seem to be following the quail out the door. Just recently in a report on turkey hunting, the writer noted that he was hunting in a "perfect turkey habitat, but the turkey were almost absent." With several million feral hogs roaming the Arkansas woods, a few thousand turkey nests provided snacks for some of those hogs.

Commissioners, it is time to do the obvious: forget habitat, put a bounty on feral hogs, and restock the apex predators, and our ground nesting quail, turkey, and killdeer will return. A good friend, who is a prominent member of a number of Arkansas commissions and chairman of several, offers this solution, which I think is brilliant.

"Make it a Game and Fish Commission regulation that to purchase a new hunting license, you must present proof you have killed a feral hog during the prior hunting season, by showing an ear or tail."

Wow, that would send an army of hundreds of thousands into the woods to kill feral hogs, and the main beneficiaries would be the hunters. You can't beat that solution, Commissioners; put it on the books.

With Fayetteville trying to eliminate the Bradford pear tree, I guess El Dorado, the Bradford pear tree capital of Arkansas, needs to declare, "Keep your hands off of our Bradford pear trees!" I planted at least 500 of them in and around our award-winning downtown. We have just passed the blooming time for Bradford pears and this year, after the biblical pains, they were overwhelmingly beautiful. Their leafy foliage throughout the spring and summer adds immeasurably to the ambiance and helps to reduce summer air conditioning bills, and in the fall we always marvel as our Bradford pears turn a brilliant red.

Our Bradford pear trees are sturdy and mature. Most of them were planted in the 1980s, and have been properly trimmed. We learned you just don't plant them and walk away, but must prune and shape the trees to keep the widely spreading limbs from splitting off from the trunk. It seems the arborists in Fayetteville could use some instructions on how to maintain their trees. I'm at a loss as to how the smell of those flowering trees could be repulsive.

El Dorado's downtown is a good example of how an urban tree canopy can enhance a downtown or, for that matter, any piece of property. Of all the improvements that have been made in downtown El Dorado, the 1,000-plus trees top the list in its comeback. Along with Bradford pear, they include cypress, sweet gum, pin oak, ginkgo, and crape myrtle.

For the money spent in any town, the planting of trees gives the greatest return per dollar. Numerous studies have shown retail sales increase, businesses have more foot traffic, and the overall ambiance with trees increases the appraised value of any property.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 05/19/2019

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