Our goal is to marshal political power to revise the state wildlife management system into a more democratic governmental institution serving the needs and interests of a broader constituency. This mission needs both your voice and your understanding of the issues.
Why do we need this Mission to succeed?
The funding directives for our wildlife management system have created an agenda that does not represent all stakeholders. In all fairness, it couldn’t if it wanted to. In order to reform a degraded organization one must examine its originating foundation, its directive policy, its funding, and what all stakeholders expect.
Whether you are pro-hunting, anti-hunting, or simply a neutral tax payer interested in appropriate governmental policy, we have a civil and moral responsibility to accomplish a task that is in everyone’s best interest.
How did we get here?
In 1938 the federal gun tax program entitled The Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act was enacted. The creators of this policy lived in a time when gun owners were primarily hunters and therefore they believed hunters should “pay for hunting”. State wildlife management was born, and wildlife became protected under The Public Trust Doctrine (PTD). However, Theodore Roosevelt and his fellow founders of "conservation" did not allow for future societal changes. Today, 60% of gun owners do not hunt. In also utilizing lottery dollars, state tax dollars, donations, license plates… indeed, public funds are used to fund state wildlife management.
Under the PTD, regardless of funding sources, all citizens have an equal interest in wildlife and are thereby entitled to equal representation and enjoyment. Our present management of this resource is not constituently balanced by any stretch of the imagination. It is, in fact, precariously breaching the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as well as the integrity of the PTD.
A mere 5% of the U.S. population engages in hunting, and that small percentage has been declining. Meanwhile the numbers of non-sporting wildlife enthusiasts are increasing. The imbalanced management of wildlife has remained unchallenged due to several factors; mostly due to special interest manipulations, and misconceptions of a public that would not approve if they were aware of the bigger picture. This imbalance is overdue to be challenged, and has been for decades.
While some studies show public approval overall of hunting as high as 75%, a further look finds their assumption of what “hunting” entails is narrow. With a rapidly growing concern for animal welfare now exposing largely abusive practices, the status quo of “what the public doesn’t know, we can keep doing” is justifiably under fire. Unless the public is shown or voluntarily seeks knowledge about what is happening in wildlife management, they have little knowledge of the myriad of issues today, how manipulated the system presently is, or how detrimental it is for wildlife and for hunting in general.
Wildlife is our only sentient natural resource, like it or not, it is a fact. And awareness of this characteristic is increasingly important to our society. Roosevelt is also responsible for stifling credible research that surfaced during his reign that spoke to the sentience of wild animals. As a an avid hunter himself, this news would not support his goals of orchestrating pro-killing wildlife management. Finally, the societal awareness (and truth) has become an obstacle responsible in part for “breaking” the present system; sentience (wild animals' suffering) is becoming harder to dispute to a compassionate majority.
The sporting public should not feel so threatened; in fact, they should actually get on board for reform. The improvements sought will improve quality and respect for the entire industry, as well as for their fellow stakeholders.
Follow the Money Trail
Today, the Pittman-Robertson Act (aka Gun Tax Fund), is derived from a 10-11% federal tax on the sale of all guns, ammunition, and archery equipment. This fund exceeds $300 million annually and is comprised of 60% non-hunting related sales (yet is 100% reserved for state wildlife agencies). This equates to millions of dollars for larger states, with additional dollars granted to states with the highest volume of hunting license sales. In essence, states compete by selling the most hunting licenses. Some refer to this as "Hunting for Dollars".
And if that alone isn’t enough to guarantee an overly intense focus on hunting, there is another contaminated requirement of this funding: That each state wildlife agency must utilize every dollar of these federal funds specifically for the support and promotion of hunting! And the cycle continues, despite the decline in hunting.
Getting the picture? The P-R Gun Tax funds are critical revenue to every state; therefore so is the mighty big string attached to it.
Until we understand the funding directives that dictate the core mission of SWM, approval of hunting will remain largely based on misconceptions – including “who” is paying for it (although again, that doesn't matter as this resource was put forth to be protected and managed, not solely sold to hunters). Other hidden costs and agendas of SWM include costly purchases and maintenance of lands and renovating them for better hunting - at the expense of the general public. The renovations of these lands are detrimental to the environment, non-consumptive species, and various stakeholders’ interests.
What the People don’t know… hurts everyone
The public majority does not condone the exploitation of animals for “blood sports”, sport-trophy killing, or turning Wildlife Refuges into prime hunting grounds. There are many decisions and activities approved by SWM that would never be approved by the public majority – IF citizens are made aware, asked, and listened to.
The immense lack of democracy in the SWM system leaves non-sporting enthusiasts feeling like David against Goliath when they attempt to get involved. With millions of dollars hinged on ONE aspect of wildlife management, the system has become governed, managed and manipulated by those groups (lobbyists) who can help it qualify for that money. Even when a clear majority of public opposition occurs, Special Interests manage to bully the system and public preference is ignored. When the public is heard? Your tax dollars likely get spent fighting the ensuing lawsuits from the hunter alliance groups and gun lobbyists - which have become inappropriately intertwined. The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with hunting, and was certainly not founded to defend abusive blood-sports.
It’s not only the non-sportsmen that are concerned and frustrated; Sportsmen that genuinely value the traditions they agree should be inherent in hunting (and quality conservation) are realizing the ramifications of a broken funding foundation as well:
1) Game animal species are deliberately manipulated to create high populations (completely discredits any assumption that “all hunting is necessary to prevent animals from starving due to natural over-population”).
2) High populations of game animals equal higher “harvested” numbers. This will appeal as easy hunting, which in turn draws hunters to the states that can make impressive claims in their brochures. Note! Refuges that remain protected from hunting have not suffered over-population of wildlife! Yet they are being converted to new hunting grounds as we speak. Why?
3) Remember, the more hunting licenses sold each year, the more P-R gun tax funding that state will be awarded. Money talks and money drives.
As a result:
4) Hunting is being pushed fast and furious at the public (with a focus on women and children now, since overall hunting is declining). Desperate measures result in a critically insufficient emphasis on safety, of standards for healthy native wildlife, and on the values and ethics professed to the public as “tradition” and “heritage”. Concerns abound regarding exposing our children to violent killing of animals; instilling a lack of empathy at such an early age serves absolutely no benefit.
5) Human predation is accelerating the rate of observable trait changes in wildlife species by 300 percent, indicating that those in charge are not operating in the best interest of wildlife whatsoever. By law of Nature, predators do not seek “trophies”, they do not cull, and they do not kill for fun. Overlooking the escalation of this in the name of “sport” is unwise, ramshackle management.
6) Deliberate Game animal (over)-population defies and then ignores Compensatory Rebound Effect (CRE) science, which is evident by the foolish ordering of “cull” slaughters in suburban neighborhoods – which in turn is increasing public disapproval for hunting.
Citizens that might once have believed culling indicated a need for more hunting are now understanding CRE (faster than our SWM system appears to be, although it is this exact science they use to "manage" our wildlife for high harvest rates next year). People are becoming fed up with bullets and arrows in their backyards. Perhaps sporadic public disapproval was just a risk of doing business when you needed high populations of game animals to compete for funding – but now it’s backfiring.
In short, not only is hunting on the decline, but the public view and respect for it is rapidly going downhill. Whether one condones or opposes hunting as part of a wildlife management program, three facts remain; we do NOT need as much as is promoted, we do NOT need the poor quality of hunting that is becoming too prevalent, and we clearly need agencies with Boards that represent diverse interests in wildlife. Reform will best begin by implementing the latter.
The foundation for SWM funding is extremely out-dated. It has resulted in opening the door for “cheap” hunting and despicable standards. The definition of subsidized is to aid or promote (as a private enterprise) with public money. When it costs as little as $2.00 to kill a bear in a state hunt, where their own public majority asked not to allow it at all, we do not need much more evidence that the system is corrupted.
The Ugly Truth
There is no argument that “Hunting” has shifted towards pure recreation and exploitation of a mutual, vital resource for the enjoyment of a few. The tradition has abandoned the ethics and heritage it proclaims to preserve and conserve; leaving our wildlife and our public lands essentially “pimped out” by state agencies for profit and pleasure. Never in the legacy of hunting have we witnessed such a lack of values or had genuine Sportsmen that would tolerate the atrocious, sadistic behavior we have in our woods today. In their own words those rare, true Sportsmen will admit, “We simply have too many killers out there now”.
There is a critical message being missed when 95% of the public is paying for lands they can rarely use, when wildlife watchers are forced to tolerate hunting in their backyard, when citizens are forbidden to assist distressed wildlife (even when licensed to do so), and so forth. But it completely crossed the line when citizens lost their rights to “hunters’ rights laws” that trespass physically and constitutionally onto their own private property! That is grossly unconstitutional, and was never consented to by a properly informed public consensus.
UPDATE: As you read this, hunting alliance groups are quietly, aggressively legislating for amendments to your states constitution for further “hunters’ rights” (if they haven’t already). They are reacting in fear of animal welfare concerns and are powerfully backed by gun lobbyists and hunter "alliance" groups. This has nothing to do with gun rights! Please, get involved in your state wildlife program and keep an eye on this.
None of this mess is by accident. Our wildlife advisory councils in each state, along with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the overseeing government office of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, are predominantly sportsmen and ranchers. There is no watchdog – there is only the proverbial fox guarding our hen-house.
The Only Solution to begin Bona-fide Change
Hunting should exist as a self-funded recreational hobby, just as other recreational sports are and exactly as the founders of the P-R Act proclaimed it should be. Recreational hunting should not be subsidized by ANY public funding source. Wildlife management officials must begin to focus on other citizen’s interests, welfare of all wildlife species, alternative conflict resolution methods, and preserving the proclaimed traditions of hunting by immediately eliminating substandard hunting practices and the sanctioning of abusive practices and “sports”. Special interests have stood in the way long enough, and save the money excuses. Figure it out, or else get people involved who will.
It is 2011 and SWM is still ignoring decades of science. Thwarting public concern or compassion by maligning wildlife and exaggerating issues has created apathy in some citizens while enraging others; both are backfiring on the Institution of SWM. Attempting to legislate and regulate compassion will not work.
The system is set up to fail all stakeholders and wildlife as long as its funding remains solely hinged to the QUANTITY of hunting. There is only one answer to begin legitimate change:
Restructure the funding directives of the Pittman-Robertson gun tax fund to properly reflect all stakeholders, and implement programs accordingly.
Hunting will certainly not be eliminated, but states should qualify for all funding with a constituently balanced program that includes other wildlife interests, such as wildlife appreciation, coexistence and education programs, the recruitment and support of wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation, for starters. The 21st Century SWM programs should not be so focused on forcing the growth of hunting, and without that single-track focus we will finally have equal representation for all stakeholders – and hopefully higher standards for people licensed to walk our woods with weapons.
Further, if hunting is going to be pushed at our children, and if hunters really want future generations to preserve the tradition (of which “respect for prey” was part of) then before we give our youth a hunting license, let’s require them to volunteer at a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned state wildlife. Let's instill empathy for life before we allow them to kill it.
Fellow citizens, wildlife enthusiasts, sportsmen and conservationists, we ask that you join us in marshaling political support to reform our wildlife management system. Help us unite and assist the Institution of State Wildlife Management in advancing wildlife management into the 21st Century. Please join your voice with ours today.