But a practical difficulty in effective control is that predators have their own high breeding rate and turnover. Recent work in Wisconsin shows that you would have to wash out around 75% of a fall population of foxes to reduce a spring breeding stock from 10,000 one year to 8,875 the next. And if you did, what then?
You're up against another reality. It's almost universally true that when you thin out a breeding stock of animals in favorable range, the survivors rise to the occasion and bring through a higher percentage of young. With competition reduced, breeding success is higher and survival better. Any wildlife man knows that the most effective way to bring prosperity to the fox and his cronies is to do only a moderate job of thinning them out.
In terms of cutting down breeding stock, even that much reduction probably is beyond us at any reasonable price. Bounties don't do it. The million and a half dollars paid by Pennsylvania's Game Commission in weasel bounties since 1916 has accomplished no evident reduction of the weasel. When fox populations are reduced and trapping returns decline, the bounty hunter can't make a profit any more; so he just waits for next year's easy money again. Predator breeding stocks, like game populations, are padded with that annual surplus, and they can absorb a lot of punishment.
In part, this question is one of alternatives. We could easily dissipate all our funds by hacking away at the predators. We could also put our legal tender into more permanent habitat restoration work and raise more game.
Yes, we'd be raising more for the predators, but that needn't worry us if we get good hunting out of it. California has had an amazingly successful quail program centering around their watering device, the "gallinaceous guzzler." A few years ago, the man running that program was getting this kind of comment: "You fellows put in the guzzlers and you grow a lot of quail. Then the predators help take the crop. What we need is predator control along with the water."
KILLING PREDATORS OR GROWING BIRDS
The answer he gave applies to much more than quail and water. In effect it was this: "We could take your money and hire a lot of men and keep them busy killing predators. It might give you some better hunting. But we can invest that same money in more guzzlers, grow birds where there aren't any, and give you really better hunting and a real dividend on your investment." That's what they are doing.
Some hunters simply cannot abide the idea of a fox munching on any of their game. Others aren't so concerned. They like to trail the varmints and see them occasionally. Or they like to turn out the hounds and follow a chase across the hills. I had a kind of admiration for the gray fox that got the suet from my bird feeders and fished the dead chicken out of my compost heap. I could get fed up with too many of them, but I wouldn't want his kind exterminated; so I'm sort of glad the operation isn't practical.
This may seem quaint, but I buy my hunting license, pay my taxes and partake in the rights of citizenship. I and those who agree with me shouldn't be written off completely by the go-getters who hate Reynard's guts.
The latter have written the fox's obituary on asbestos paper, and periodically they cite some new and, for a change, unprejudiced job of detection on the predator question that will throw out all claims of the false prophets and return us to the sensible doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.