It’s time to protect Iowa’s rare, but returning, native carnivores

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Last December, a dead mountain lion was discovered by a group of deer hunters in Poweshiek County. He had been caught and killed in a snare — a cruel type of trap that features a wire or cable loop that tightens around an animal and causes extreme suffering. Snares are designed to kill through strangulation, but the animal can suffer for hours or even days if the snare is incorrectly deployed or if the snare is irregularly checked. The snare that caught this mountain lion was broken, so we have no idea how long the poor cat had been suffering before he died.

It was a tragic situation, but unfortunately one that is perfectly legal in Iowa. That’s because mountain lions have absolutely no legal protections in our state. They can basically be shot on sight, trapped or killed using any other legal hunting method, such as being chased down by packs of dogs. The same holds true for black bears and even for gray wolves who have recently lost their federal protections. None of these species have established breeding populations in Iowa, but individual animals do occasionally wander in from nearby bordering states.

I believe most Iowans would agree with me that these rare animals should be protected from needless killing, not shot or trapped as trophies. To that end, I have introduced HF 2118 which would grant basic protections to mountain lions, black bears, and wolves — animals that were once native to Iowa’s wild ecosystems but were wiped out from extreme trophy hunting and trapping.

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Sightings of these incredibly rare species are reported in the media every few months. And while news of their sightings are typically met with excitement by Iowans, the stories always end on a sad note, with the animal dying soon after, often by being shot for no reason.

Enacting these necessary protections is a win-win for Iowans and wildlife alike. Mountain lions, gray wolves, and black bears provide enormous ecosystem contributions, including increasing biological diversity. Studies have also shown that native carnivores like wolves and mountain lions target deer infected with chronic wasting disease, which helps keep our wild herds healthier. CWD has been slowly spreading throughout our state, and natural predators could help keep this deadly disease in check.

In addition to the ecosystem benefits that carnivores bring, humans also greatly benefit from keeping these creatures protected. By preying on deer, carnivores reduce deadly and expensive vehicle-deer collisions, saving countless lives. A recent study in neighboring Wisconsin showed that the presence of wolves reduced deer-vehicle collisions by an astonishing 24 percent. According to State Farm Insurance, Iowa is ranked seventh in the country for vehicle-animal collisions. And naturally managing the deer herds can also help reduce the spread of Lyme disease.

The numerous benefits that these iconic species bring are well documented, yet large carnivores in the U.S. are often heavily persecuted. This is mainly due to gross misunderstandings, often fueled by fearmongering. In reality, conflicts with native carnivores are actually exceedingly rare. These species, and all carnivores together, including domestic dogs, account for less than 1 percent of all cattle and sheep deaths in the country.

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In the rare instances of conflict, however, it’s important to note that HF 2118 would still allow for the lethal removal of individual animals that do pose a risk to people, pets, or livestock. HF 2118 will allow Iowans to take common-sense precautions to protect their livestock and pets from immediate danger, while preventing the unnecessary killing of these critical native species.

I’m calling on my fellow Iowans — legislators and everyday citizens alike — to start thinking about doing things differently when it comes to how we interact with our natural resources. This bill is a great start to that conversation, and I’m sincerely hoping it is just the start. To my colleagues, please work with me to bring more bills protecting our natural resources and wildlife to the floor. To our constituents, you’re already making voices heard with your wallets and choice of activities … but we need you to call the Capitol and tell us why you believe in these efforts, and why you support HF 2118.

State Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, represents House District 68.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>