August 21, 2019

Dr. Charles Kay: Longterm Vegetation Change in Utah’s Henry Mountain: A Study in Repeat Photography

KayMtHenryFrom Dr. Kay:

“The final report on my repeat photo research in Utah’s Henry Mountains has now been published by BLM. In all, I repeated 608 photographs and over 100 plates are included in the final report. As this is a BLM report, everyone is free to download it, print it off, or to send it on to others. As explained in the report, range conditions have improved markedly since the early 1900’s and riparian areas have recovered despite continued livestock grazing. Soil erosion also has declined and there is no evidence that current livestock grazing is having any major impact on plant communities. This is especially true of woody riparian vegetation along the Fremont River inside Capitol Reef National Park compared to native woody species from the park boundary all the way downstream to Hanksville. Moreover, there is no evidence in any of the earliest photos that large-scale crown fires historically occurred in either pinyon-juniper or coniferous forests in the Henry Mountain Study area——such as the 2003 Bulldog fire that charred 32,000A. Since aboriginal-set fires ceased ca. 1870, forest fuels, including P/J , conifers, and other woody species, have increased, setting the stage for future high-intensity burns.

In closing, I would like to thank Doug Page for providing the GIS maps that appear in the final report, as well as the photo mosaics of the panoramic photosets.”

ABSTRACT:

An extensive search was conducted of archival and other sources to locate as many historical photographs as possible for the Henry Mountains in south-central Utah. Those images were then taken into the field, the original camera stations relocated, and modern pictures made of the historical scenes to evaluate long-term vegetation change and land management activities. In all, 626 repeat-photosets were compiled – 608 by the author and 18 by Earl Hindley. As might be expected, most photosets contained more than one vegetation type. Grasslands were depicted in 152 photosets, sagebrush in 99, pinyon-juniper in 293, mountain brush in 72, aspen in 37, conifers in 145, blackbrush in 71, and woody riparian species in 142. In addition, all photosets were evaluated for plant cover and whether or not the sites showed accelerated soil erosion.

In general, grasslands, sagebrush and aspen have declined, while blackbrush, mountain brush, pinyon-juniper, and conifers increased. Utah’s rangelands are generally in much better condition today than they were during the early 1900s because plant cover has increased and soil erosion has declined. Repeat photos also show that woody riparian vegetation has significantly increased whether or not livestock have been excluded. Contrary to popular perception, coniferous trees and forests are more abundant today than at any point in the past. In fact, the overriding problem on most Utah rangelands has been a major increase in woody plants which, in turn, has dramatically reduced forage production for both livestock and wildlife. As conifers, including pinyon-juniper, have increased so have forest fuels setting the stage for large-scale, high-intensity crown fires, a type of fire behavior that seldom, if ever, occurred in the past. As judged by stand age and forest conditions seen in early photographs, large stand-clearing fires are outside the normal range of historical variability. Historically, frequent, low-intensity surface fires, most likely set by Native Americans, kept most conifers from increasing.

*To view and/or download a copy of this report follow this link.

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Bear Breaks Into Man’s Cabin. Man Fails to “Make Noises,” “Look Big”

A man eating breakfast in his cabin in Utah, watched as a black bear flipped the latch on his door and came into his house to eat a bucket of peanuts. He was not hurt…….neither was the man.

Perhaps if this man had taken the advice of officials in New York and around the country and “looked big,” “whistled,” or just made a bunch of noise, the bear would have been too damned scared to even attempt to open that door and get at a fresh bucket of peanuts.

Failure!

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Bighorn Sheep Transfer From Antelope Island in Utah

VIDEO:

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Law Suit: Company Was Negligent and Liable for Coyote Attack

coyotecemeteryFor awhile now I have reported on certain incidences of law suits against the government claiming they are liable when large predators attack people. Last month I put together an article highlighting some of the events that have occurred that have resulted in lawsuits being filed or the threat of such.

Perhaps the most prominent of all these stories happened in 2007 when Sam Ives, while camping with his parents in the Uinta National Forest. Ives was hauled from his tent in the middle of the night by a black bear [this was edited to correct an error stating the bear was a grizzly], dragged into the forest and was killed. See the details here.

As tragic as that story is of itself, perhaps the real tragedy came when officials did not alert this family that the campground had been closed due to the presence of this bear. The family has filed a lawsuit claiming that because of the circumstances, the employees of the government were negligent in doing their jobs.

There is a bit more to this than a mere claim of negligence. In a court appeal, Francis v. State of Utah, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that wildlife are not a “natural condition of the land.” What this essentially means is that most states have some kind of immunity clause or law that protects the governments from lawsuits of this kind. In Utah, that immunity clause happens to contain language dealing with “natural conditions of the land.” The immunity applies, according the Utah Supreme Court, on things that are considered “natural” and evidently grizzly bears and other wildlife are not considered “natural.” What is not clear is exactly why but the notion that wildlife is “managed” and/or “protected” probably has a lot to do with it.

If that be the case, then is their liability in existence when all wildlife is “managed” and “protected?”

The horrors for some people that have existed since the introduction of wolves into the Greater Yellowstone area, portions of Central Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona, have brought much debate about whether or not Government is liable for property damage, economic damage and personal injury or the dreaded revelation of a wolf attack resulting in the death of a human.

The Utah case may set a precedent in this regard. Simply that the Utah Supreme Court has determined that wildlife are not a “natural condition of the land,” is it stretching the truth at all to assume that human transplanted wildlife, i.e. vicious predators like wolves and grizzly bears, would qualify as an expansion of that liability?

In some cases for some people, it would seem this immunity issue and how it applies to wildlife, would be a good thing, but I’m not so sure it will for most. Take for example a woman in California who is suing the owners of cemetery plot because while she was visiting her mother’s grave, she was attacked by a coyote. She is claiming, “various severe and permanent injuries.” She claims the company was negligent and liable.

Is the company liable for a coyote attack? Not knowing all the laws governing a person’s right to protection, including the ability of the cemetery company to ensure coyotes won’t attack customers, it is difficult to understand where any liability might start in this case. What are all the extenuating circumstances leading up to the attack? If it were possible to bring suit against a private company for a wild animal attack, isn’t it just as plausible to claim that the government, whose responsibility it is to “manage” wildlife, is more responsible than the cemetery company? One would think so, but then we have to deal with these government immunity laws.

What a can of worms!

I am of the opinion that government immunity should not prevail when, in cases like Sam Ives, negligence appears to have played a role in the young man’s death. Outright negligence by any person or organization should never be protected. I have often wondered if the employees who knew Sam Ives and his family went into that campground after it had been closed and did nothing about it, would have acted and reacted differently if they knew they would be held liable?

It will be interesting to watch to see if this unfolds further and to see if it will have any impact on how wildlife is managed, species that are protected and further plans for introducing large predators into a landscape populated by humans.

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Fallout From Holding States Liable for Animal Attacks and Damages

Two days ago I wrote about how the state of Utah can be held liable for the death of an 11-year-old boy by a black bear, according to a ruling in the Utah Supreme Court. In that ruling the Supreme Court stated that bears are not part of the “natural condition” one expects to find in the forests and fields. In addition, the same ruling declared that the State of Utah established a “special relationship” with the family of the 11-year-old boy and campers in general because the state was carrying out several things in order to protect the campers from bears. However, the State of Utah can now be sued by the family and may be charged with negligence in carrying out their duties to keep campers safe.

I spoke of the precedent such a ruling may carry in that it raises the question as to how far the courts will go in holding states liable for attacks on humans by wild animals and the damages they can create. What I did not talk about in this article was the negative fallout that may result from this ruling.

There are at least two ways of looking at how states may choose to react to this ruling in Utah. The more obvious side would be to err on the side of caution, perhaps even to the extreme, and quickly move to shut down any and all campsites, for example, when any reports surface of the presence of bears or any other large predator. We may be seeing that now as one report out of Colorado today reveals that officials at the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park, have banned all campers from sleeping in tents because of a reported bear in the area. Officials are attempting to trap the bear and if not successful, the campground will be closed.

Another example, one that doesn’t involve large predators, comes to us from California, where three campgrounds have been closed because squirrels have been found to be carrying bubonic plague.

A less obvious repercussion of the Utah court ruling could begin to appear should states attempt to ensure they are not establishing a “special relationship” with tax payers. If you may recall, the Utah Supreme Court granted the family of Sam Ives, the boy attacked and killed by the bear, standing to sue the State of Utah holding them also responsible for the boy’s death. That ruling was based on two things: one, that a black bear was not a “natural condition”, or an object that gave the state immunity from liability, and two, that the state had established a “special relationship” with the family.

This “special relationship”, at least how I understood the majority opinion, resulted in the state taking on the responsibility to ensure the safety of the campers and that officials had taken several steps to warn other campers and had spent several hours attempting to locate the bear that attacked the boy. Does this mean the state will not be liable if they do not establish a “special relationship?” How would that change the landscape when it comes to campers, hikers, etc.?

And what is not talked about in relation to this Utah incident is what becomes of the liability issue when the states participate in the introduction, reintroduction of moving of dangerous wild animals?

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Are States Liable for “Dangerous” Wildlife?

The Utah Supreme Court has ruled in Francis v. State of Utah that wildlife are not a “natural condition on the land.” First, some brief history that led up to Francis v. State of Utah and then an explanation.

On June 16, 2007, one Jake Francom was camping with friends in Uinta National Forest when he was attacked by a black bear. He was not seriously injured. Consequently, officials from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) determined by employing established bear policy that the bear needed to be found and killed. Attempts to locate the bear failed immediately.

Officials did not close the campsite where Francom was attacked, nor did they put up signs. They intended to return the next morning and set up a trap. After a final inspection of the campsite, the two DWR employees drove away and on the way out met a car of campers coming in. They waived and made no attempt to stop or warn the campers.

In that car of campers was 11-year-old Sam Ives. Sam and family ended up camping at the same site where Francom had been attacked. The same bear returned to this campsite later that night, dragging Sam Ives from his tent and killing him. The family has successfully sued the Federal Government and are now in the process of suing the State of Utah. The latest ruling coming from the Utah Supreme Court.

At issue here is whether or not the State of Utah is immune from liability as was the ruling from a lower court. The Utah Supreme Court has overturned the lower ruling, essentially declaring that the family of Sam Ives can go ahead with suing the State of Utah. It will be up to a court to decide whether or not the State of Utah was negligent in the death of Sam Ives. My question becomes one of what precedent is being set in this ruling in Francis v. State of Utah.

The State of Utah claims it is immunized from liability due to Utah Governmental Immunity Act, Utah code section
63G-7-301(5)(c). The District Court ruled in favor of the State interpreting that the Immunity Act protected the State from liability in the Sam Ives’ death suit. The Utah Supreme Court has overturned that ruling.

According to the Immunity Act, the State of Utah claims immunity based upon the fact that they believe a wild black bear is a “natural condition on the land” or “any natural condition on publicly owned or controlled lands.” The Utah Supreme Court disagrees with that interpretation, stating in the majority opinion of Francis v. State of Utah, that wildlife is not a “natural condition on the land” and define this “natural condition on the land” as having to be “topographical”, i.e. rivers, mountains, landslides, etc. and not wildlife.

Does this ruling present a different playing field when it comes to liability to the governments over damages to property and attacks on humans? It may just do that, but in order for that to be considered here, I think one would have to look at the entire Supreme Court ruling on this issue because in the ruling it is taken as a whole as well.

Where it has been determined in Utah that wildlife is not a “natural condition” and doesn’t automatically immunize the State from liability, I think just as important is Part II of what the Supreme Court also overturned; whether or not the State had a “duty” to protect the family of Sam Ives or any other group or individual, such as campers.

While a blanket of liability to the State can’t be cast over every attack on a human by any wildlife species, consideration has to be given as to whether the state has a duty to perform that protection, according to the ruling in Francis v. State of Utah.

The Utah Supreme Court in this ruling determined that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources had a duty to protect Sam Ives due to the establishment of a “special relationship.” The court used the following criteria in making that determination:

(1) by a statute intended to protect a specific class of persons of which the plaintiff is a member from a
particular type of harm; (2) when a government agent undertakes specific action to protect a person or property; (3) by governmental actions that reasonably induce detrimental reliance by a member of the public; and (4) under certain circumstances, when the agency has actual custody of the plaintiff or of a third person who causes harm to the plaintiff.

In layman’s terms, the question should be asked, if the state knowingly has a dangerous wild animal, i.e. a bear, a wolf or coyote, etc. and is making the effort to do what they can to protect the public, or ranchers, campers, hikers, and serious injury or death occurs, as with Sam Ives, can the state be sued? It appears to me that they can and rightly should be especially when a government agency knowingly and purposefully places dangerous wildlife where humans travel and a person gets injured or killed.

It will be interesting to see how this ruling will affect others in their decision of whether or not to sue the State of Utah for wildlife encounters and how this applies now and in the future with other states.

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Coyotes Attack Deer, Deer Fight Back

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Utah Sheriffs Promise Obama They Will Defend Constitution

2ndAmendmentLetter_1

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DNA Studies – Smaller Native Wolves Existed in Northern Rockies before Canadian Wolf Transplant

By George Dovel (Republished with Permission)

In the Jan-Mar 2008 Outdoorsman Bulletin No. 26, the lead articled titled, “What They Didn’t Tell You about Wolf Recovery,” described the ongoing deception by federal and state biologists in their scheme to fill rural areas in the lower 48 states with wolves.

The article referred to 20 years of Dept. of Interior Solicitors (lawyers) changing the number of N. American wolf subspecies covered in the Endangered Species Act from 24, finally to two and back to four – and then to any or all wolves called “gray wolves” or “Canis lupus”. Then it told how FWS reclassified ESA-listed wolves as members of two “Distinct Population Segments”, which it later changed to three until a federal judge denounced the obvious attempt to circumvent the ESA.

The ongoing debate between wildlife scientists who classify species, concerns whether subspecies of elk (red deer), North American bison, grey wolves, etc., exist. Bona fide expert taxonomists include Dr. Valerius Geist who points out that changes in location, habitat, size and appearance alone do not necessarily change the genetic make-up to qualify an animal as a separate sub-specie.

However the Northern Rocky Mountains wolf subspecies – C. l. Irremotus – was documented by physical comparisons of skulls, etc., from larger wolves in 1959:

Page 2 of the 146-page FWS Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan dated August 3, 1987, contains the map showing the historical distribution of Canis lupus Irremotus in the lower 48 states, plus the 1987 distribution in black. It depicts immigration of Irremotus from southern British Columbia into Idaho and from B.C. or southern Alberta into the northwest corner of Montana.

It also shows the two 1987 Irremotus population areas in central Idaho, one of which included the three wolf pack territories mapped by Tim Kimmery between 1988 and 1991 (see Outdoorsman Bulletin No. 35).

Historical Impact on Wolf Subspecies

During the most recent (Pleistocene) ice age, water evaporating from the oceans became part of the glacial ice covering the land. Ocean levels dropped 300 feet or more and the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska dried up.
The exposed land bridge with little snow, later named Beringia, became a refuge for hardy Siberian animals and plants for several thousand years (see below).

Many scientists believe Beringia included a small human population from Siberia that was prevented from continuing into North America for 5,000 years by the North American ice sheets. Geologists report these continental ice sheets were 5,000-10,000 feet in depth and extended south in some places to the 40th Parallel below what is now the U.S.-Canadian border.

The artists’ three views of Beringia published by “Wikipedia” illustrate the changes that have occurred in the “Bering Land Bridge” during the last 18,000 years. But there is still disagreement among biologists about when, where and how several current mammal species first arrived on the North American Continent.

Subspecies Had Limited Opportunity to Crossbreed

Since 1995 a number of wildlife biologists have accepted the determination by Nowak that five subspecies of gray wolf (Canus lupus) inhabited North America during the early 20th Century. There is also agreement that Canis lupus occidentalis (the large gray wolf transplanted to Yellowstone and Central Idaho by FWS in 1995) had virtually no opportunity to influence the genetic make-up of coastal wolves in SE Alaska and Yukon and portions of five other Canadian Provinces where it existed.

For thousands of years the ice between interior Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia and the coastal area prevented the occidentalis wolves from mixing with the smaller wolves defined as C. lupis ligoni by Goldman in 1944. And the intensive efforts to kill all wolves in the early 1900s also left few of the large wolves alive in most areas where they might have mixed with the native wolves.

The map below in the study titled, “Legacy Lost: genetic variability and population size of extirpated U.S. gray wolves (Canis lupis),” published by Leonard et al in the 2005 Vol. 14 issue of Molecular Ecology, shows the five primary subspecies that existed in the early 1900s. The bold black line indicates the northern limit of gray wolf eradication that occurred in the 48 contiguous United States and Canada.

In 1995, C.l. nubilus, the primary subspecies common in the U.S. and Canada mainland included ligoni from the west coast of Canada, irremotus from the Northern Rocky Mountains and labradorius from Labrador. The “a” to “z” letters scattered on the map represent original locations of the various museum specimens whose DNA were recorded in the study.

A similar study titled, “Phylogeography of wolves (Canis lupus) in the Pacific Northwest”, by Weckworth et al (published in the 2010 (2) issue of the Journal of Mammology) used basically the same map, along with an expanded inset to illustrate locations of testing for the genetic difference between the smaller coastal wolves and the 30% larger occidentalis wolves from the Alaska and Yukon interiors.

Both of these DNA studies emphasize that the nubilus wolves migrated northward to populate Canada as the ice sheets and glaciers melted. They point out that the smaller wolves existed in the south before the larger wolves migrated into northern Canada, and the Weckworth study suggests the coastal wolves should be listed as a separate individual subspecies.

Court Allows Transplants – Then Orders Removal

Readers who actively opposed the FWS option to import Canadian wolves may recall the following events:
In 1994 the Farm Bureau, Audubon Society and other plaintiffs asked the Wyoming Federal District Court to halt wolf introduction because it could not legally occur where naturally occurring wolves already existed per the 10J Rule. But instead of issuing an injunction to halt the process while the arguments were presented, Judge Downes allowed FWS to go ahead and transplant Canadian wolves into Central Idaho and Yellowstone Park for three years until he issued his ruling in December of 1997.

Then after setting aside the final wolf introduction rules as unlawful, Judge Downes ordered FWS to remove all Canadian wolves and their progeny from both experimental population areas. This ruling was met with loud criticism by the wolf activists, including the state and federal wildlife agencies who apparently believed they could get by with ignoring both state and federal laws when it suited their agenda.

Judge “Passes the Buck” to Appeals Court

They quickly pointed out that it would not be possible to even locate most of the wolves – much less capture them. But even if that were possible, both Canadian Provinces refused to allow the wolves to return and there were not enough zoos willing to accept several hundred wild wolves so killing most was the only option.

Judge Downes could have prevented this disaster from occurring by simply putting wolf introduction on hold three years earlier until his decision was reached. But the second time he did essentially the same thing by later staying execution of his removal order pending an appeals decision by the 10th Circuit Court.

On January 13, 2000, five years after the first large Canadian wolves were introduced, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the December 1998 Wyoming District Court ruling that the reintroduction program was unlawful and should be revoked. The appeals court admitted that the evidence showed native irremotus wolves already existed when the larger Canadian wolves were introduced, but said FWS had the authority to determine what constituted a population.
The fact that the resident wolves coexisted with abundant big game populations and with negligible impact on livestock and human activity was already a matter of record in 1994. But on August 12, 1994, FWS Wolf Leader Ed Bangs sent a letter to Charles Lobdell telling him to stop issuing statements to the public advising that the number of reported resident wolves was increasing.

Bangs’ letter advised that FWS planned to introduce wolves from Canada and said: “From this day forward…confirmed wolf activity (will only include) individual wolves or members of packs that have been examined, radio-collared and monitored in the wild.” He also said he had transferred $9,000 to the FWS Boise Field Office to search for wolves and organize flights to locate any radio-collared wolves that might be in Idaho or the Yellowstone area during the summer and fall.

Bangs also included key issues to be presented to the public consistently by FWS:
“1. (I)t is likely that wolf populations would ultimately recover without reintroduction and breeding pairs of wolves would likely occur in Idaho before they would occur (in) Yellowstone.

4. Experimental populations will not knowingly contain a significant portion of the territory of any naturally occurring breeding pair that has successfully raised young. However once wolves are released all wolves in the area will be treated as experimental animals.”

Despite reported wolf sightings by more then 120 outfitters, trappers and others in less than two months, most in the same location where Kemery mapped three wolf pack areas from 1988-1991, and despite the USFS road closure to protect existing wolves (see Bulletin 35), Bangs dumped Canadian wolves halfway between the two known native wolf locations guaranteeing their extermination.

In February of 2012, I forwarded the Weckworth DNA study, without comment, to Dr. Valerius Geist. The following was his reply:

“Thank you, George, I have seen this study. To me it suggests that there was indeed a remnant of native wolves in Idaho that were finally done away with by introduced wolves from Canada. The native wolves would have been of the same clad as the coastal wolves. Anyway, that’s testable since some museum specimens of native Idaho wolves are still available for genetic analysis. However, somebody competent and trustworthy needs to do it. Cheers, Val Geist.”

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

*Editor’s Note* This article first appeared in the Northwoods Sporting Journal in Maine.

Last February, Maine’s brand new IFW commissioner released “Maine’s Game Plan for Deer”. This article is not about the Plan but instead about the commitment or lack thereof, to implement the plan and resolve the problems of a depleted whitetail deer population.

During the gubernatorial campaign of 2010, then candidate Paul LePage convinced hunters that he was committed to rebuilding the herd. LePage’s selection of Chandler Woodcock as IFW commissioner brought with it the promise that Maine was committed to saving the deer and thus keeping the industry itself part of Maine’s heritage.

If the governor and the commissioner have made this commitment, and some would question even that, where is the engagement in the effort from others?

My work puts me in touch with fish and game issues nationwide. Of late, I have been a party to events taking place in the state of Utah where they are attempting to rebuild a depleting mule deer herd. I read with comparative amazement the vast differences in the devotion to the two causes.

A recent email tells of plans to double the herd from 200,000 to 400,000 in Utah and that effort is “strong” from government and non government agencies alike. I read about the devotion by several in the Utah Legislature to increase deer numbers. I’m told deer recovery in Utah “has a high priority from powerful and influential people in Utah”.

I observe the communication between the governor’s office and that of U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch in conjunction with all sportsman’s groups. In one email exchange, I learned how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a neighboring state, assisted the contingencies in obtaining millions of dollars for habitat restoration along with predator control, etc.

Through the demands of Utah sportsmen, a study was finally done and paid for that determined the reason for a declining deer herd was a near non existent fawn recruitment. While the fish and game department, only one stakeholder in this statewide investment, dithers, all other efforts are directed at what can be done now, i.e. predator control and into the future habitat restoration and protection.

So, where is Maine’s commitment? What has IFW done? Are there studies that could be done with a commitment of money? Who is finding that money? What has the governor done? When was the last time that senators Snowe and Collins got involved in Maine’s commitment to restore the deer herd? If Sen. Reid can find millions of dollars, can we assume that Snowe and/or Collins could as well? Have all Maine’s hunters and trappers and outdoor sportsman’s groups anted up?

If the commitment is lacking, then perhaps there is also lacking a firm belief in the seriousness of the problem. Or, the belief exists but a poor job of selling and recruiting all influential people stands in the way. Perhaps consideration that inexperience and/or political savvy at many levels within the state presents a river with no means to cross.

Whatever it is, Maine’s effort to save a deer herd and a hunting industry, will fail miserably if there isn’t a stronger commitment at all levels.

It’s time for the Governor, the Commissioner, Sens. Snowe and Collins, Reps. Michaud and Pingree and all sportsmen and their organizations to get serious about the deer herd problem if they believe it is a problem.

Tom Remington

Tom Remington is an independent, well-published writer, researcher, syndicated columnist and public speaker, focusing on hunting, outdoor issues, rights and the environment. Much of his work can be found at his website http://www.tomremington.com

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