Who Decides How Your State’s Wildlife is Treated?

Who Decides How Your State’s Wildlife is Treated?

While millions of Americans are spending more time outside enjoying nature and wildlife, most don’t know that the fate of the nation’s wildlife is largely controlled by small unelected groups of people more invested in protecting the interests of trophy hunters than in protecting animals.

In every U.S. state, regulations governing how wildlife should be treated and managed—for example, how many trophy hunting or trapping licenses should be sold for wolves, bears, cougars, or bobcats, or what methods can be used to kill them—are created and administered by two entities.

Life and death decisions, made by people no one voted for

First, an administrative agency, such as the Department of Natural Resources, employs biologists, program administrators, and conservation officers to enforce wildlife management policy and regulate hunting, fishing, and trapping.

Second, a wildlife commission or board makes the rules for the administrative agency to enforce. Typically, the commission’s members are appointed by the state governor, and approved by the state legislature; they are rarely, if ever, required to have any background in science. Usually, it’s enough that members simply hold a fishing, hunting, or trapping license, or represent key agriculture interests. As a result, most “wildlife commission” members are not focused on humane, scientifically sound methods of wildlife management, and they do not reflect the views of the majority of Americans—currently around 95%—who do not hunt and who oppose cruel and unsporting practices, including trophy hunting and trapping.

In every U.S. state, these commissions exclude the voices of non-hunters, subsistence hunters, and others who might criticize the underlying belief that wildlife exists solely for human use.

State wildlife commissions waging hot war against wildlife

  • In March 2021, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to continue to allow trapping on Colorado’s public lands, subverting the will of the state’s voters, who had banned the practice in 1996. This means that thousands of bobcats, foxes, coyotes, beavers, and other Colorado wildlife will continue to be trapped and brutally killed each year for their fur.
  • The Nevada Department of Wildlife Commission recently declined to ban the chasing of black bears with packs of radio-collared hounds so they can be cornered and shot at point-blank range.
  • In December 2020, the Missouri Conservation Commission ignored public opposition and scientific data and voted to approve the state’s first black bear trophy hunt in decades.
  • In 2015, five of six Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioners voted to open a trophy hunt on the state’s small population of black bears—even though roughly 75 percent of submitted public comments opposed the hunt.
  • In 2013, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission ignored thousands of comments from state residents in opposition to a proposed wolf hunt, and its chair told his assistant to trash thousands of other public comments. Despite overwhelming opposition by the state’s citizens, Michigan held its first—and only—wolf hunt in the fall of 2013.
  • Vermont: The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board disregarded a citizen petition to stop the hunting of moose, even though moose herds had been depleted by environmental threats and unsustainable hunting pressures.
  • New Jersey: The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife consistently ignores public comments concerning various hunting and trapping practices, taking anti-wildlife positions opposed by the state’s residents—including indiscriminate baiting, black bear trophy hunting, and circumventing a 1984 law that banned the use of steel-jaw leghold traps.

Why are the public’s values ignored?

States currently receive federal funding for wildlife management in the form of an excise tax on the sale of guns, ammunition, and other shooting equipment. However, most purchases of guns and ammunition are for non-hunting purposes.

Yet trophy hunters and trappers benefit from this tax when the federal government allocates its revenue to states, based on how many hunting licenses they sell. This allows officials to claim, incorrectly, that hunters fund the majority of conservation work in any given state.

In fact, most wildlife conservation funding comes from American taxpayers, who fund National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands, as well as private land purchases and land trust acquisitions.
It’s time for states to diversify their perspectives and work with all stakeholders to fund wildlife conservation. For example, Colorado is working on a bill that would tax all users of state wildlife lands—a step in the right direction.

Fortunately, wildlife advocates are making it clear that they, too, must have a say in decisions that affect the wildlife held in trust for all Americans. They are speaking up in wildlife commission meetings, petitioning for more protections for wildlife from cruel and unsporting practices, and urging their state governors to appoint more wildlife-friendly members to commissions.

They are also supporting legislative efforts to reform outdated requirements for wildlife commission membership, such as holding a hunting license or representing certain industry groups.

Actions that can make a big difference

  • Contact your Humane Society of the United States state director to learn more about who makes the laws and regulations that affect wildlife, and how you can have a say in the process.
  • Learn more about this issue on the website of the Southwest Environmental Center.
  • Attend a virtual public hearing of your state wildlife commission, or your state legislature’s wildlife committees, and testify in support of wildlife and against cruel and unsporting trophy hunting and trapping.
  • Contact your state senator and representative (identify them at org/stateleglookup) and ask them what they are willing to do to tap into the economic and decision-making power of wildlife enthusiasts in their state. Educate them about the need to update current wildlife policies in order to ensure a democratic and sustainable conservation plan for your state’s wildlife.

This article was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 3 May 2021. Lead Image Source: Martin Mecnarowski/Shutterstock.

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