To the editor:
I find it frustrating how the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GF) is able to use its multiple news media outlets and seemly unlimited financial resources to manipulate public opinion on controversial matters while opposing options from the general public are very limited. Much of the information provided by the GF is without supporting evidence and/or is dramatized as illustrated below.
Seven months after the massive starvation losses of deer and antelope, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GF) continues its attempts to justify their lack of effort to reduce the unprecedented losses. These efforts can be seen in the Wyoming Wildlife magazine, newspapers, and newsletters. Information found in these releases is often faulty and appears to create “doubt” in the minds of the readers.
An example appeared in an article in the Cowboy State Daily (Nov 14) and was an attempt to justify the massive starvation losses of deer as being proper game management by providing misleading information to the public. If the excuse that deer cannot digest anything but native plants cannot be used, then other excuses need to be used.
That entire article was filled with quotes from the GF using the words “CAN, COULD, and MIGHT”. This terminology indicates speculation without supporting evidence. It allows the GF to influence the public without being held accountable for their statements.
The following are taken from the article; “CAN have devastating effect”, “CAN introduce other challenges that negatively impact the long-term conservation of deer”, “CAN cause a host of long-term problems”, “COULD cause long-term population decline”, “CAN increase roadkill losses”, “CAN disrupt a herd’s migratory patterns”, “COULD also make them impractical”, “COULD help address some of the most important challenges”, “they MIGHT be drawn back there instead of following their usual migratory routes”, and “MIGHT save a few over the short term”.
All of these statements are designed to create doubt in the minds of readers about the value of feeding deer and provide the GF an escape for not implementing emergency feeding. Where was the word WILL? It only tells me that they do not know or else the word “WILL” would be used. Where is the supporting information for these comments? They want to manipulate public thinking to accept the starvation loss of 25,000 deer as proper game management without alternatives.
Appearing in the GF newsletter of November 20 was the statement “feeding deer often causes more harm than good for some big game species like mule deer and does not increase their chances of survival”.
While the GF continues to base comments on speculation, ACTUAL FACTUAL information appeared in a report provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in conjunction with faculty from the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences at Brigham Young University.
Information contained in that report indicated approximately 5,800 deer were fed in northern Utah last winter. Shown below is a portion of that report showing survival rates at feeding sites where information was gathered from GPS collars.
The GF indicated that if fawns are fed at a specific location, migration routes are lost and they may not return to native summer ranges. Daniel Richens of Henefer, UT has been active in feeding deer for more than 20 years.
He stated that fawns follow adult deer from feeding areas to summer ranges. Again, observation versus speculation. There is one thing for certain, dead fawns do not migrate.
As opposed to the CAN, COULD, etc arguments presented by the GF, the information from Utah is data driven and shows that deer can be fed and lives saved.
There is no attempt in this document to infer that these animals should be fed in coming winters, only that the GF’s effort to influence the public should be based on facts, not speculation. I understand game losses can be high during some winters, which is normal, but to stand by while 25,000 deer starve to death seems irresponsible to me. If I let my horse starve, I would be fined or jailed or both.
Another example of the GF attempting to manipulate the public concerning a controversial matter appeared in Oil City News (November 11). It referenced hoof rot that happened on an elk feedground last winter.
Was the article merely informing the public of a situation or was it sensationalized and dramatized with the intention to influence public opinion in an effort to eliminate elk feeding?
The latter seems to be the case. Why was it necessary to show 5 pictures of dead or dying calves? Why was the situation referred to as “historic losses”? Further dramatization appeared when they asked the question, “Is that the largest hoof rot die-off documented in the nearly century-long history of Wyoming’s elk-feeding program west of the Continental Divide?”
It would seem that if the situation was as significant as indicated then this information would have been provided to the public last spring following the winter.
The article stated that as many as 45 percent of the calves died. It indicated that this level of loss is highly significant and threatens the future of the herd as shown in the statement “It’s sad to say, but one population management tool is not even a tool, What’s managing the population now is calf mortality.”
Yet the loss of 100 % of the fawns (25,000 total deer) in the Wyoming Range deer herd drew very little media coverage and was presented as an acceptable option for game management (Cowboy State Daily, November 11). The media bias continued when feeding alfalfa was presented as a problem even though it has been successfully fed to hundreds of thousands of elk for 100 plus years without problems.
The timing of this article and its message is not about informing the public about a situation; it is to develop an attitude within the public to support reduced elk feeding.
The question is; are they setting the stage to begin their effort to have the public support reduce elk numbers en route to being able to perhaps eliminate elk feedgrounds. If the public can be convinced that the loss of 25,000 deer is acceptable, then the path to eliminating elk feedgrounds would be much easier.
It is a huge frustration how the GF uses their multiple media outlets to manipulate public thinking when often times there are hidden agendas. It is time for the public to stop believing everything they are told/see and begin observing what is being done.
Ron Dean lives in Etna and is retired from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, he ran the agency’s elk feeding program for 33 years.