April 2014
Our Outdoor Heritage

Cherry Picking

Oddly enough, the fish and wildlife realm, based in the scientific approach, is occasionally fraught with "cherry picking." Cherry picking is the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. According to Wikipedia, "It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, and may be committed intentionally or unintentionally."

Even though sound science - and good sense - demand that one objectively consider all the available facts, sometimes the facts are ignored, selectively used or twisted in order to advance this agenda or that agenda.

According to Nate Dickenson, author of "Common Sense Wildlife Management" and highly-respected wildlife biologist, "Wildlife management can, and of course should, be conducted in an objective, common sensical manner and be recognized as a noble, professional and scientific field. If not, the spoilers who generally have little respect for objectivity and the scientific method, who may feel the best use of data is to manipulate it, who tend to become strictly political animals, who are unwilling to stand up for what they know is right and who at times beat on those who are professionally successful, will prevail."

Through the years, even some people in the field of wildlife science have cherry picked from none other than the father of modern wildlife management Aldo Leopold. Leopold taught that disturbances in the forest, be they timber harvest, fire or major weather events benefit wildlife habitats and populations. Yet, some have chosen to ignore this basic premise, especially as it applies to timber harvest.

Leopold also stressed the importance of managing wildlife resources through the people, and acknowledged the difficulty of doing so.

He wrote, "The deer are the easy part. The hunters are the difficult part."

In the forestry profession, Gifford Pinchot, the acclaimed father of professional forestry, taught his fledgling students at the Cradle of Forestry near Asheville, N.C., that, in order to manage the forest, they must engage the people. To this day, there are some who refuse to acknowledge this basic precept, ignoring the fact that most of the forestland and wildlife habitat in our part of the world is owned by small, non-industrial forest landowners.

The whole business of turkey seasons is a recent, close-to-home example of cherry picking. The accepted body of science on the topic says that gobbler-only fall seasons have no appreciable impact on turkey populations or on spring hunting opportunity. Yet, proponents of closing Alabama’s fall season claimed there was not sufficient data to support continuing the fall season.

To quote preeminent turkey biologist Dr. James Earl Kennamer, Chief Conservation Officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation, "There is no scientific basis for this action since hunters can choose to kill their gobblers in the fall or spring. It is their choice. Given that this will change a half century or more of tradition, I feel the public should have had an opportunity to provide input. Eliminating a season like this takes away from the opportunity to hunt. If our hunters don’t protect our traditions, who will?"

The unnecessary elimination or reduction of fall turkey hunting opportunity not only erodes this tradition but has a negative economic impact in the affected areas. Thankfully, legions of fall turkey hunters, as well as county commissioners and other public officials, weighed in on the issue to prevent total loss of fall seasons.

The worst form of cherry picking ignores established, proven science, attempting instead to reinvent the wheel to suit a given agenda. Claims that the State of Alabama lacked sufficient data one way or the other to support continuation of fall seasons in the remaining six counties fall squarely in this category. For an entertaining and incisive account of this, read Tom Kelly’s chapter "Et Up with the Dumbs" in his latest book, "A Matter of Context."

More often than not, cherry picking like this results in dividing groups of hunters into competing factions, pitting one against the other. This is exactly the opposite direction from where we should be going. During this era of relative abundance, we should all be doing all we can to promote unity and harmony among the community of hunters.

The setting of seasons and methods regulations based on what the majority of hunters do is particularly dangerous. The potential implications for minorities like archery deer hunters, small game hunters of all kinds, those who choose to hunt with shotguns instead of rifles and others are catastrophic. This narrower and narrower tunnel bodes poorly for the future of hunting.

As an avid spring turkey hunter, it is easy to fall into the logic of, "If a turkey is killed in the fall, the one absolute certainty is he ain’t going to be there to gobble in the spring."

However, this is the kind of gross over-simplification that ignores the far more complex set of variables affecting turkey populations and hunting opportunity.

According to Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ publication "The Wild Turkey in Alabama," "Fall hunting for gobblers is scheduled in a few counties with a historical fall hunting tradition. Interestingly, the first established legal turkey seasons in the nation were in the fall season only. Alabama was the first state to experiment with a spring season in the 1950s, which, since implemented, has surpassed the fall season in hunting popularity in the state."

Steve Barnett, one of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ 45 or so excellent wildlife biologists, is co-author of "The Wild Turkey in Alabama." As the State’s top turkey biologist, Barnett combines impressive educational credentials with many years of on-the-ground experience in hands-on wildlife management. His book is available for free download at www.outdooralabama.com. For landholders, turkey managers and hunters, it is a highly-valuable reference.

For more about Tom Kelly’s book "A Matter of Context," go to www.tomkellyinc.net.

Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

The Hunting Heritage Foundation is an Alabama non-profit organization established in 2011. To see what HHF stands for, go to the website at huntingheritagefoundation.com. You can write to us at P. O. Box 242064, Montgomery, AL 36124, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..