Should Hunters Really Be in Charge of Conservation?

To hunt or not to hunt? That is not the question — in fact, it’s not even a question, at least for many lawmakers around the country.

Legislators have introduced “Right to Hunt” laws to make sure of that — but not in the name of people they represent.

That’s one of the benefits of being a hunter in charge of conservation. Your point of view becomes the law of the land, and the wildlife you’re in charge of protecting becomes your game.

Nationwide, support for animal rights has grown. Even huge corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s have changed their business policies in response to the trend. In the public sector, however, a different story unfolds.

Pro-hunting laws proliferate, reflecting the interests of politicians and their financial backers — not the people who elected them.

Right to Hunt

The most clear example of this self-serving trend are the “Right to Hunt” laws passed in a total of 19 states. Texas was the latest to pass a piece of legislature “preserving the right to hunt and fish, and recognized such activities as the preferred methods for wildlife management.”

Written by Senator Brandon Creighton, a self-proclaimed “rancher and avid hunter,” the law was passed in late 2015 — and endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Dallas Safari Club and over 60 sportsmen’s organizations.

Other states to recently pass similar laws include Nebraska, Wyoming and Mississippi. With the exception of Vermont, which passed its Right to Hunt amendment in 1777, there is one common thread in all laws: they were backed by hunters and gun groups.

In Wisconsin, the Right to Hunt law goes even further. It infringes on First Amendment rights by prohibiting animal rights activists from taking photos of hunters and their bloody work. The bill was introduced by Senator Moulton who has pushed nine hunting-related laws.

Wildlife or Game?

Senators and representatives are not the only ones who make pro-hunting decisions. At the state level, a local commission of appointed representatives make wildlife protection and management decisions. Unfortunately, in many states that commission is controlled — sometimes exclusively — by hunters.

One would think that these decisions would involve a biologist or an environmental scientist. Too often, though, that is not the case. Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), for example, consists entirely of pro-hunting contractors, developers and cattle ranchers.

The group pushed for — and ultimately got — a bear hunt in 2015, despite 61 percent of the population strongly opposing it.

Vice Chair Aliesa “Liesa” Priddy was one of the main proponents of the hunt — and one of the first to buy a hunting license for it. She’s got her mind set on “managing” Florida panthers next.

On the other side of the country in Alaska, the dominance of hunters became blatantly obvious as Senator Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, openly discussed the group’s power.

Kelly rejected the governor’s nominee Guy Trimmingham for the Board of Game because Trimmingham intended to listen to the interests of non-hunters, like wildlife photographers. Kelly declared that to be an unacceptable stance.

“It’s not about balance. They always want balance but they don’t pay fees. I don’t know of a camera fee that they pay so that you can take a photograph of a moose,” Kelly said. “We hunters pay fees. We pay fees for the management of a resource so that we can use it and consume it. And that’s a good thing, and I don’t think Guy Trimmingham fits that.”

Blood Money Myth

With senators passing “Right to Hunt” laws and commissioners arguing for more open seasons, the subject of license fees inevitably emerges. Hunters pay for hunting licenses, which bring the state money — lots of it, they claim. Therefore, hunter argue that they should be prioritized. There’s only one problem with that argument: it’s false.

While hunters do bring the state money, it is a small sum compared to the amount contributed by non-hunters. In the United States, “95 percent of federal, 88 percent of non-profit, and 94 percent of total funding for wildlife conservation and management come from the non-hunting public,” according to an extensive study by the Mountain Lion Foundation.

“Florida hunters specifically pay for managing wildlife through the licenses and permits they buy,” said Brian Yablonski, chairman of the FWC, in an op-ed boasting the benefits and even necessity of hunting to conserve wildlife.

In reality, however, it is non-hunters who foot that bill. According to the 2011 census – the most recent, as they’re issued every five years — hunting brought in $716 million to the state, while wildlife watchers spent almost four times more at $3 billion.

A Non-Hunting Voice

The difference in number of people who hunt versus those who interact with wildlife in other ways is also astonishing.

In Florida, 242,000 people hunted per the 2011 census, while 4.3 million watched, visited and photographed wildlife in the state. In Alaska, only 15 percent of the population have active hunting licenses. But according to their senator, that minority should be in charge of making decisions about hunting and conservation.

Not all is lost, though. In California, where only one percent of people hunt, the Fish and Game Commission reflects that trend. In fact, in 2012 the governor changed the name of the state Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to portray that its views were no longer pro-hunting.

The change was not welcomed by all, however. Jim Kellogg, an avid hunter who served on the committee for 14 years, resigned from his position in December, claiming: “I’m not willing to accept the changing world. The animal rights people who don’t favor hunting and fishing have more horsepower than they did before.”

Funny how it looks unfair when you’re not getting your way, huh?

Now, with two vacant spots in the Fish and Game Commission, hunters are pressuring the governor to appoint pro-hunting representatives. That, unlike most of their appeals, is a valid request.

If state governments will make rules about its wildlife, which technically belongs to the people — both hunters and non-hunters — they should all be fairly represented.

Hunters will hunt, and non-hunters will not. In a democracy, both choices should be considered. Governors should appoint a mix of hunters and non-hunters to wildlife committees across the country, but it will require putting conservation ahead of politics — and that, unfortunately, is a whole other game.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

174 comments

Greta L
Alice L7 months ago

thanks for posting

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Helene L
Helene L7 months ago

But of course....the conservation of one butchered specie to conserve another butchered specie. That is an awesome excuse indeed.

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Peggy B
Peggy B7 months ago

No

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Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga7 months ago

nope never

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Sue H
Sue H7 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney7 months ago

Despicable Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney7 months ago

Deplorable Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney7 months ago

Ban hunting altogether Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis Whitney7 months ago

Stop all hunting Thank you for caring and sharing

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O7 months ago

I can understand someone hunting a deer or duck to eat. I don't like the thought but if it feeds the family it may be done. However, nobody needs to shoot an endangered bighorn ram that lives on the highest ledges. Because that is what people - odd ones, to be sure - pay to do.

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