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SCOTT SHALAWAY Can you believe it? A squirrel-eating hawk!



Published: Sun, February 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The world would be a better and more productive place if we all concentrated on doing what we do best. Yet, with distressing regularity, local bureaucrats step outside their areas of expertise.

When this happens in the realm of wildlife conservation, I call it "vigilante wildlife management." The latest example occurred in Charleston, West Virginia.

The grounds of the Capitol Complex in Charleston are lined with tall, mature oak trees, which produce lots of acorns. Consequently, the Capitol Complex also harbors a healthy population of gray squirrels. They are well-fed, fat, and sassy.

And to any predator that ventures onto the Capitol Complex, they are delicious and nutritious. Just ask the red-tailed hawk that has had the audacity to feast on the tasty bushytails. Sounds like a great place to teach kids about energy flow through a food chain.

But a group of squirrel lovers objected to the natural order of things. They complained about the hawk killing the squirrels.

Misguided: This is where the misguided bureaucrat stepped in. According to a story in the Charleston Gazette, General Services Director David Pentz decided to take care of the "problem." But instead of consulting wildlife biologists who have offices on the very same Capitol Complex, and who no doubt enjoy the squirrels as much as anyone, Pentz made independent arrangements to have the hawk removed.

Had he elected to respect the limits of his own knowledge and consulted with state wildlife biologists, Pentz would have learned some very basic and important information. Hawks, like all native birds, are protected by federal law, and the feds don't take kindly to people removing birds arbitrarily. That's one reason we have these laws in the first place. Furthermore, state wildlife officials would also have to approve the removal.

I also suspect that had Pentz consulted with state biologists, he would have been encouraged to use this widely viewed interaction of predator and prey as an educational opportunity. Predators kill and eat prey every day. That's what drives energy flow in any ecosystem. Usually predation goes unseen.

Most of us rely on televised nature programs to see how nature works, and even then we're often warned that the program, "contains images that might disturb some viewers."

But if you love nature, you've got to appreciate the whole package. It's not just singing warblers, fluttering butterflies, and beautiful wildflowers. It's also hawks eating squirrels, robins eating earthworms, and ticks sucking blood from deer. It's not all pretty, and we needn't revel in the blood and gore. But neither should we be revolted by it. We may not enjoy all of nature's drama, but we should acknowledge and appreciate all of its processes.

Message: That's the message Mr. Pentz should have delivered to those upset by the squirrel-killing hawk. But he probably didn't know any better. He simply overstepped the limits of his knowledge.

Fortunately, over a period of several days, Pentz came to understand that the red-tailed hawk was simply doing what red-tailed hawks do, and plans to remove the bird were wisely dropped.

Unfortunately, public servants and private citizens, sometimes motivated by ignorance and sometimes by arrogance, often feel unencumbered by federal and state law when it comes to dealing with wildlife.

In recent years, for example, city officials in Bethany, Ok., received permits to kill 500 cattle egrets that were deemed a public nuisance and then proceeded to kill 200 great egrets, the symbol of the National Audubon Society.

In Carrollton, Texas city employees, acting without any permits, killed more than 400 nesting birds by bulldozing a heron rookery. And on a small island in Lake Ontario, a fishing boat captain shot more than 800 nesting double-crested cormorants because he felt they ate too many game fish. (They don't.)

Finally, if you think this is much ado about nothing, consider this. If birds had enjoyed federal protection 100 years sooner, maybe passenger pigeons, once the most abundant bird in North America, would not be extinct.

sshalaway @aol.com




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