Wildlife Biologist Cautions Against Turning “Wildlife” Into “Livestock”

The Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference kicked off in Alpine Wednesday night, with talks at the Granda Theater on deer management strategies, techniques and history.

Greg Simons, owner of the San Angelo-based hunting and wildlife management company “Wildlife Systems”, talked about the way deer breeding has evolved through the decades.

He described a “continuum” of methods deer producers use to develop the healthiest and highest-quality animals that ranges from less to more “artificial.”

Simons cautioned against some of the “mass production” techniques that have become more common in the last couple decades, noting that high-fenced ranches and supplemental feeding didn’t really come into vogue until the 1980’s and 90’s. The hunting industry’s modern focus on genetic enhancement in breeding didn’t become the norm until the 2000’s, he said.

Simons feels there’s a risk that some of the industry’s more modern methods are turning wildlife more into “livestock” when it comes to hunting, and that that could turn off future hunters.

“You take some of that mystery and magic out of hunting as we domesticate some of these animals, the appetite for people to want to continue to pursue hunting as a hobby and to spend money on hunting is gonna be diminished,” he said.

“It’s a very predictable pattern, and it’s a pattern that has accelerated in recent years as we have been domesticating deer in some cases.”

Essentially, he said, as bigger and better-quality bucks become increasingly available to hunters thanks to modern management techniques, those bucks become less attractive because they’re so easy to find.

As to whether those in the hunting industry agree with him, Simons said, it’s complicated.

“Most people are either too distant from it to see it, or they’re too close to it, in certain capacities, to want to admit it.”

Beyond the market effects, Simons also said it’s worth considering the long-term biological consequences of management practices that are too artificial.

“There are indeed certain unique values that we perceptively hold for livestock, and there are certain unique values that we perceptively hold for wildlife,” he said, “and when we blur the lines, you’re gonna have a compromised impact on one or the other.”

In his talk, Simons praised the conservation efforts of private landowners in Texas, saying the “success and future” of wildlife rests in their hands.

The Trans-Pecos Wildlife Conference continues today at Sul Ross in Alpine and wraps up with a tour of the CF Ranch between Alpine and Fort Davis on Friday.

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