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posted in: General

December 10, 2013

How to Talk to an Anti-hunter

bow hunters with whitetail deer
Arm yourself with logical, factual rebuttals to common hunting misconceptions and you may just open a mind to the idea that hunting plays an important role in conservation.  Photo courtesy Neil and Catherine Thagard.

Hunters and anglers all love to tell a good fish tale, whether it’s about the big one that got away or some other cherished outdoor experience. No matter how entertaining the story, it is inevitable that anyone sharing their adventures will sooner or later meet an anti-hunter.

In my experience, the majority of people who categorize themselves as being anti-hunting do not fit the stereotypical image of hemp-shirted vegans waving PETA flags. They are average folks who feel uncomfortable with the idea of hunting, yet can’t define precisely why.

Every sportsman confronted by an anti-hunter has heard some variation of the following misinformed and inaccurate catchphrases. The next time you do, arm yourself with a logical, factual rebuttal and you may just open a mind to the idea that hunting plays an important role in conservation. Don’t expect an anti-hunter to pick up arms and head into the woods to kill his or her next meal – but hopefully they will leave the conversation with a greater respect and understanding of the role of hunting in today’s society.

“Hunting just to hang a head on the wall is wrong.”

We agree, and in every state and province within North America, it’s also illegal. A trophy on the wall is many things – decoration, art, a remembrance of a good hunt, but it is never the only thing a sportsman brings back from the field.

Failing to take every edible part of an animal, bird or fish is called wanton waste. Although the details of wanton waste laws vary from place to place, ethical sportsmen universally denounce the idea of wasting an animal. Being convicted of wanton waste carries not only legal ramifications such as loss of future hunting privileges, mandatory fines and potential jail time, but also social condemnation from fellow sportsmen. What’s more, wanton waste laws have helped inspire sportsmen’s organizations to donate about 2.6 million pound of meat annually to food banks, homeless shelters and needy families.

 “You should only shoot wildlife with a camera.”

Users of our public wildlife are either consumptive, like hunters and fishermen, or non-consumptive such as birdwatchers or nature photographers. Watching a strutting sage grouse or taking a photo of magnificent bull elk is free, but the conservation programs that create these opportunities are not. And it is sportsmen’s dollars raised through tag and license sales and excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment – not general taxes – that fund state and federal wildlife agencies.

Hunters and anglers pay for important things such as habitat improvement projects, compensating farmers for crop damage, wildlife biologist salaries, fish hatcheries, migration studies, disease research, winter feed for elk and countless other things that contribute to the sustainability of all our native fish and wildlife, including non-game and endangered species.

Every photographer who snaps a picture of grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, every tourist who takes a sleigh ride to marvel at elk on the refuge in Jackson Hole or the hiker who catches a glimpse of the successfully reintroduced native black-footed ferret can thank a hunter for that experience.

 “Hunting upsets the balance of nature.”

In the United States, there are more than 300 million people. We build cities and roads, put ski resorts on the mountains and casinos in the deserts. We develop oil and gas fields as dense as subdivisions that cover entire landscapes. The only balance of nature that currently exists outside of designated wilderness areas is fragile and it is one that must be constantly monitored and managed to ensure it persists in the face of ever-increasing human impacts.

Where natural predators such as wolves or mountain lions have been removed, hunters keep elk, deer and antelope populations in check and prevent damage to crops. When agricultural development paved the way for eastern whitetail deer to move west and push out the less aggressive mule deer, hunters stepped up to help maintain that native species. A well-publicized hunt in Florida aims to eliminate the exploding population of non-native Burmese pythons who are endangering not only wildlife but domestic animals and humans as well. In the southern states where feral hogs have multiplied alarmingly, culling helps to preserve natural flora and fauna. Hunting reduces the number of so-called “problem bears” in the picturesque towns that have replaced the woodlands the bears used to call home. As humans, our simple existence has already upset the balance of nature and hunting is a very important management tool that enables our game and fish agencies to protect, and when necessary, restore that delicate balance.

You may be asking yourself why you should care what anti-hunters think.  But before you go putting that sticker on your truck of a cartoon kid whizzing on the word “anti-hunter,” remember this: in America, only about 30 million of us hunt and fish. That leaves approximately 270 million who don’t. In a democracy such as ours they are the majority who will determine the outcome of ballot initiatives that affect your sporting opportunities. As a hunter and conservationist, you need to do your part and help them make an educated decision.

11 Responses to “How to Talk to an Anti-hunter”

  1. Marilyn Kircus

    I, a non -hunter appreciate hunters and have worked together with them to save habitat. Hunters pay for the privilege of hunting and the animals they hunt are managed and hunters can can only harvest animals if there will still be enough to maintain the species. So, for instance, if they number of a species of duck is down, the hunting season will be shorter and they will be able to kill fewer each time they are in the field.

    On the other hand, many nature lovers, including photographers, feel that they don’t have to pay for their use of wildlife. But in today’s conditions, where wildlife is mostly managed on public lands, it’s important to pay to maintain more of those lands so wildlife does have a place to exist.

    Land that becomes a subdivision will no longer be able to support all the wildlife. A swamp that is drained will lose the birds and animals that used to live there. That is the wholesale way to kill animals and hunters work hard to preserve our wild places.

  2. David Marin

    I consider myself a hunter but it’s an interesting consideration when I think of it. I buy a deer license every year but haven’t shot (or shot at), a deer in 10 years. I also buy a fishing license and trout/salmon license each year and haven’t fished in even longer, except for one day each in 2010 and 2011. When I was younger I logged hundreds of hours annually at each of these and raised gun dogs on woodcock, grouse, pheasants, and ducks. So why, you might ask, do I waste my money each year when I get no return on it? I love to photograph birds, animals, mushrooms and wild things, and this is how I do my part to support those things and help their existence in a world where nobody in power seems to care about anything but lining their pocket. In my 60’s I spend my limted income on shelled corn for the deer and turkeys, sunflower seeds for the small birds, and suet for the woodpeckers. Just knowing that I do something, no matter how little or insignificant to save this sad, faltering planet is necessary for my own sanity and well-being. That’s why I call myself a hunter.

  3. Suzan Moulton

    Catherine: well thought out points. I wish that hunting was more about putting meat in the freezer, and not heads on the wall. Wild meat as you know is better than feed lot meat. That would require educating the cooks of the family, as well as the hunters in the field, dressing out the animal.
    If hunting was seen as a healthy source of food, not just for the food banks, people might be accepting and not condemning.
    Suzan Moulton

    • Jimmy Torrez

      I think Tom ask a valid question and I hope more people weigh in. I would simply state all animals need to be managed with 7 billion people on the planet and 300 million in the US. The natural predator-prey fluctuation creates too many conflict with people. The goal is stable populations for both predator and prey. When predators become overpopulated they have no choice but to switch from their tradition food sources. They do not care if their prey is endangered or if it happen to be the lively hood of some rancher. A hungry predator is dangerous, they become willing to risk moving into urban areas for whatever type of meal they can find. When prey numbers increase you also have conflicts with the human population whether it be destruction of property or increased automotive accidents. Both predator and prey carry disease and when either becomes overpopulated these disease spread faster and can even spread to domestic livestock and pets. Again the goal is stable population of both predators and prey and hunting is the the only cost effective way to accomplish that goal.

  4. Glenn Hockett

    From Montana, I have many non-hunting friends, even some anti-hunting friends and where I have found common ground with all of them is the protection of habitat and an understanding that we all want the animals to flourish. I have much in common with vegetarians and vegans in that I want my meals to be organically grown, locally produced (when and where possible) and I want the dirt or blood on my hands. I garden as well. Knowing how things are harvested is another area of common ground. Believe it or not some vegans I have know are now carni-vegans. We have more in common than one might think. Thanks for writing this article Catherine.

  5. Wolfsbane

    I wish it were so simple. I’ve found that a large number of anti-hunters subscribe to the don’t try and confuse me with the facts school of thought.

    I frequently hear the it’s not the predator’s fault, it has to eat argument. Which I doubt will ever change until it’s their loved ones it decides to attempt to eat.

    They also don’t seem to be able to understand the idea that just because an animal is a trophy it doesn’t mean that it was killed exclusively as a trophy.

    The thing hunters fail to understand is the animal rights movement is very much a religion with a significant number of the people involved. They worship animals as an idealized superior life forms that only act out of instinct . How any times have you seen or heard them ranting about a ‘innocent animals’ being killed. In such a situation, no sort of logical argument is going to matter.

  6. I appreciate the write up, but as detailed as your defense of hunting is there are a number of problems with concluding one’s position based on the information you shared. For my own part I was raised in a very pro hunting culture and myself looked forward to the yearly family hunt for most of my life. I’d heard the defenses, and propagated them myself. I often concluded that since many “anti-hunters” as you called them were not well informed as to the character or virtues of the practice, that their ignorance supported my position.

    It didn’t. The only thing their ignorance established was their ignorance and it did not justify my own, as much as I and many of us would like it to. I’ve since learned that the “pro-hunting” crowd is mostly well informed to the exclusion of the practice’s flaws. Hunters are not unique in this practice, but it is a practice which every one of us should actively avoid. The truth is that the subject of hunting is far more complex than either “side” of the debate will almost ever acknowledge. Morality, intellect and truth require that we look at the whole and not the romanticized half truths which prevail. We cannot embrace a practice’s virtues and at the same time ignore its vices.

    Some of the fatal flaws with your conclusions (applauding virtues and ignoring vices). Each is a much larger issue and requires further un-biased study and consideration:

    Trophy hunting- Though not as prevalent as it was in Teddy’s day it still exists and is ultimately the forefather of most of our modern hunting culture even if we’ve improved since then. Sometimes the meat is used, sometimes it is not, both in compliance with and contrary to the law. Because some animals are “not wasted” it is unwise to ignore the many that are. It’s a naive way to justify one’s position. The amount of meat wasted (hunted and farmed) in the U.S. is staggering.

    Hunting better conservation than photography- I would hope that every student of outdoor history has heard of Ansel Adams. If not, take some time. Ansel’s photographs have done unfathomable good for conservation and he is not alone, in all honesty where the pen is mightier than the sword, photographs may be mightier than many of us ever imagined. One of the deadly sins perpetrated by “pro-hunters” is their lack of reverence and acknowledgment, even belittlement of other virtuous and fantastically successful conservation efforts. Which leads to my next point.

    You can thank hunters for…: You claimed in your argument that every one who enjoys experiencing wild life can thank hunters for the experience. I seriously hope you reconsider this argument. While hunting dollars do contribute vast amounts to conservation efforts it’s disturbing to constantly hear hunters take exclusive credit for every thing virtuous relating to conservation. There are countless individuals, organizations and groups to which hunters and non-hunters are indebted for their efforts. Perpetrating this fiction dramatically undermines your arguments.

    Money = good: This is related to my previous point and addresses the misconception that because hunting produces money for conservation it is in the best interest of wildlife, humanity and environments. True, funds from hunting have and continue to aid certain conservation efforts often with great success, but the market for hunting, especially considering the pressures placed on local, state and federal governments by big businesses and special interests to magnify and exaggerate the practice. This doesn’t even speak to the concern that every dollar spent on a hunting license goes, not to a benevolent government which will act in the best interests of mankind and wildlife, rather to often appointed and non-elected individuals who must appease special interests. The opportunity for dangerous flaws to surface in this system is immense. So by all means applaud the successes, but lets not pretend our system is better than it is in reality.

    Lessons of history- There are innumerable lessons from history, but perhaps the most relevant to this topic is civilization’s, and yes hunting tradition and practices’ struggle to comprehend and understand the natural world. Our own nations history is rife with proof that we have so much to learn. We’ve know a few things which our forefathers didn’t understand, but we still lack so much. And tradition, half truths and anxious justification too frequently supplant the facts and logic you claim support your argument. Just as many “anti-hunters” make naive arguments and fail to understand the larger scope of an issue, so do “pro-hunters”. Where we may have some valid points, we should never use those partial truths to ignore where we are wrong or where there are flaws.

    Too often we hold up a poster child pretending that he or she represents the whole. Hunters and non-hunters are too diverse to be so simply and ignorantly defined. This topic is expansive and I would never want anyone to just take my word for it. But I hope that we have the courage to at least for a time, divorce ourselves from our biases and honestly try to discover where we have been ill-informed, rather than focusing solely on where others have been mistaken.

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posted in: General

December 6, 2013

NUTS AND BOLTS… WHY NEW YORK GETS SCREWED

Summer Flounder state allocations are ridiculous, it’s time we address this

I’ve written about summer flounder here and elsewhere on more than one occasion, mostly as a management success story.  The species really is a good example of how fisheries management law can work if given a chance.  The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Mid Atlantic Council got sued back in 1999 over summer flounder, essentially forcing them to rebuild the stock.  And while there were some tough regulations, and much whining and gnashing of teeth during the recovery, we did indeed rebuild… to historical levels.  Without a doubt, we’re enjoying the benefits.  The stock is entirely different than it used to be.  There is an abundance of older, larger fish around.  So much so that it’s become a significant part of my “light-tackle” business.  Indeed that’s a good thing.

It’s not surprising that such a rebuilt stock looks quite a bit different than the badly overfished, truncated one did.  Not only are there more, older larger fish around, the stock seems to have expanded north and east.  Anglers have been noting such a shift for several years, and now the science is proving that this is indeed the case.  Recent research by Dave E. Richardson, et.al., has shown that the geographic distribution of the stock is unquestionably different than it was a decade ago.  According to the new science, the bulk of the population now appears to occur off Northern New Jersey, the south shore of Long Island and Rhode Island, where as ten years ago the bulk of fish appeared to be off of southern New Jersey.  Of course there are different theories on why this is the case.  Climate change is a likely culprit as similar patterns have been observed in other species in the Northeast US, but it’s intuitive that when a stock rebuilds after decades of overfishing, it expands and the dynamics of that stock will change.

Summer flounder is a jointly managed stock, with responsibility shared between the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which addresses fisheries in federal waters, and the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (ASMFC), which generally manages the inshore fishery.  Before 1999, summer flounder were managed on a coast-wide basis.  In other words, there was a single size and bag limit for all anglers, wherever they might happen to fish.  But the abundance and average size of the fluke wasn’t the same in every state, so some of the states argued that the one-size-fits-all system wasn’t fair.  States with modest harvests objected to their anglers being penalized for another state’s overfishing in the prior year.

So, through an addendum, it was decided that states would get a percentage of the total quota based on their alleged share of the catch in a single “baseline” year, 1998, which was chosen because it was the last year in which every state fished under identical regulations.   According to that single year of MRFSS (Marine Recreational Fishing Statistics Survey) data, New York received about 17.5% of the overall harvest.  New Jersey got the lion’s share, a little under 40% – understandable, because that’s really where the center of the stock was back then.  Virginia’s allocation is about one percent less than New York’s.  All of the other states are minor players, with shares ranging from 2.95% in Maryland to 5.66% in Rhode Island.  From 2003 to 2013 each state has been adopting regulations based on that percentage of the overall quota that would theoretically keep its harvest within its historical share.  This is called “conservation equivalency.”

Because of the now well-documented geographic shift in the summer flounder population, today there are more fluke swimming off New York’s coast, and fewer off New Jersey’s.  But the current allocations don’t reflect that.    As a result, for many years, New York had the most restrictive regulations on the coast, yet still overfished its allocation by a significant amount, while New Jersey, which often had the most liberal rules, couldn’t catch its entire allotment.  Although that situation has changed in the past couple of years—New Jersey has relaxed its regulations enough that it is overfishing once again—New York’s rules remain the most restrictive, despite the increased number of fluke swimming off its shores, while New Jersey’s remain lax; even though it has fewer fish off its coast.  Jersey has been allocated such a large share of the summer flounder resource that it need not impose strict size and bag limits to stay within quota.  So New Jersey anglers end up with a much smaller size limit (often two inches below New York’s!) and a larger bag limit.  As regular readers of this column know, I’m all for constraining harvest to avoid overfishing, but this situation, besides being illogical, ends up being really unfair to New York’s anglers and angling related business.

I often find myself in the ridiculous situation where I’m fishing the New York side of Ambrose Channel in Lower New York Harbor and I’m tossing back dozens of 18” fish to get my 4 fish at 19”.  But 50’ to the west of me on the New Jersey side some guy is throwing those same 18” fish in his cooler (Jersey regs were five fish at 17.5” last year).  Similar boundaries—and regulatory disparities–exist between New York and Connecticut in Long Island Sound, New Jersey and Delaware in Delaware Bay, and Maryland and Virginia in the Chesapeake.  Not only is this sort of thing just stupid, it creates confusion and non-compliance.  For the enforcement guys its nightmare.  And it makes no sense because, despite the differing regulations, WE’RE ALL FISHING ON THE SAME STOCK OF SUMMER FLOUNDER!

Perhaps more important than all of this is the science.  It’s become a chorus amongst anglers, the recreational fishing industry, managers and the scientists themselves that we need better science in order to properly manage our fisheries.  Yet, under the state-by-state/conservation equivalency system we’re using a survey/data-collection system that never was intended to be used on a state scale.  The precision of such surveys (The Marine Recreational Fishing Statics Survey –MRFSS, and now Marine Recreational Information Program-MRIP) are simply not adequate to manage state-by-state quotas, nor have they performed well in that respect.   We have been told again and again that the larger the area, the larger the sample, the more precision with such surveys.  So from a science perspective, state-by-state allocation simply doesn’t work.

Recreational catch surveys have been widely criticized by the angling community for as long as I can remember; that criticism has been justified in some cases, and probably not justified in others, but it is absolutely justified here.  I always find it interesting that when such surveys indicate that a reduction in fishing mortality is needed, there are those who say that the surveys are “fatally flawed.” Yet when a state wants to hold on to its unjust summer flounder allocation, which is based on just a single year of MRFSS data, the same people argue that such allocation is completely justified by the data.  Hard to miss the hypocrisy here.

Yes, New York did actually support the state-by-state allocation system when it was hatched.  It voted for the 1998 baseline, because it believed at the time that this system would result in an equitable distribution of fishing opportunity among the states, while assuring that conservation measures needed to rebuild the summer flounder stock could be imposed.  But New York state officials also believed that allocation decisions could be revisited in the future.  Believe me, since the real-world consequences of “conservation equivalency” became known, New York has been aggressively seeking reconsideration of that allocation.  But the states that ultimately benefited from such an allocation (read New Jersey) have not allowed that to happen, even in the face of hard science indicating the practicality of revisiting such allocations.

What’s the real solution here?  When you take state politics out of the equation, from purely a science and management perspective, the reasonable thing to do would be to nix state-by-state/conservation equivalency entirely, and go back to coast-wide management for at least three years.  In other words, have the states fish under the same regulations for a significant amount of time so that we can get the catch data that would give us a much clearer picture of what the fishery really looks like today, not what it looked like 15 years ago.  That data would give us a new baseline that would take into account current ecological, fishery, and socioeconomic conditions.  The data collection surveys would be much more precise given the larger “coast-wide” scale, which in the end would give us better science.  Not to mention, going to a coast-wide measure would provide for some equity among anglers within a region by eliminating the current size and bag limit disparities.

All this said, because coast-wide measures would likely disadvantage some states in the short term, and because those states will most certainly argue that we’ll again be in a situation where some states will be paying for others’ overages, I seriously doubt that a motion to adopt coast-wide measures will have sufficient support at either the Council or ASMFC.  I say this with some certainty because during the last 5 years as a Council member from New York, we’ve advocated moving to such coast wide measures each year. Despite the consistent recommendations from Council and NMFS biologists that conservation equivalency should be abandoned, we always get shot down.

A regional approach certainly has a better chance of being accepted.  States could pool their allocations into regions that could account for the stock redistribution as well as the states’ shared waters.  Yet such regional management approaches have to be voluntary and thus far there hasn’t been any agreement between states to initiate such regions. Most states don’t appear give a crap about New York, especially if easing New York’s woes means that they stand to lose a half an inch or a few days in the season.

Still, there is some progress.  There was a recent addendum allowing for voluntary sharing of “unused” summer flounder quota from states that were under their target quota.  In other words, they could give that unused quota to those states that might have gone over.  That provided some relief for New York last year. But this of course is a short-term fix.   Yet, there has indeed been recent, serious discussion of the need for a longer-term solution.  As a result, ASMFC recently formed a Summer Flounder Working Group who, with the State of New York developed a number of options for regional management.  I suspect we’ll see robust discussion on the benefits and draw backs of each region at next week’s Mid Atlantic Council meeting.  Some of the regional proposals might stand a chance. It all depends on whether the states think that the tradeoffs are worthwhile and are willing to give up a half-inch here, a fish or two there and, most importantly, season length in the southern end of the range.

I guess the point of all this is that New York is pissed off.  We’ve been getting screwed under state-by-state/conservation equivalency for an awful long time.  As the stock expands and moves north and eastward the situation just gets worse.  It’s not just anglers, charter/partyboat owners and tackle industry folks. New York’s Governor is pissed.  And apparently so is Senator Chuck Schumer, who just introduced a bill which would require us to draft an entirely new Fishery Management Plan if this doesn’t get resolved…  this year.

There really is no management or biological justification for continuing with the current system.  It’s all come down to the special interests of individual states (So much for “cooperative management”).  This is not how the system is supposed to work.  The states know it.  The Mid Atlantic Council knows it, and NMFS knows it.  Year after year, the Council and ASMFC hear their staff biologists recommend that state-by-state management be abandoned; year after year, the majority of the Council and ASMFC vote in favor of it, simply to avoid two or three years of stricter limits, even though in the end coast wide management would result in better science, a better understanding of the stock dynamics, and a fair and equitable allocation.  What’s especially annoying is that NMFS knows that employing conservation equivalency is wrong but, to date, they haven’t had the courage to rise above state politics and impose coast-wide measures, although they certainly have the power to do so.

New York deserves and expects some relief in 2014, and we should get it.  As a Council, we have an obligation to work this out.  If we don’t, and the states continue to thumb their noses at us, I suspect there will be legal action, and it appears to be entirely justified.  The Magnuson Stevens Act’s National Standards are pretty clear.  National Standard 2 states “Conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.”  That’s clearly not the case here if we disregard the new science on stock distribution, and if we continue to use the MRFSS/MRIP data on an inappropriately small scale that leads to high margins of error.  National Standard four states “Conservation and management measures shall not discriminate between residents of different States. If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among various United States fishermen, such allocation shall be (A) fair and equitable to all such fishermen; (B) reasonably calculated to promote conservation; and (C) carried out in such manner that no particular individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of such privileges.”  That one is pretty darn clear.  Lastly National Standard 6 states “Conservation and management measures shall take into account and allow for variations among, and contingencies in, fisheries, fishery resources, and catches.” Thus, if the best available science suggests that distribution of the stock in 2013 is different than the distribution of the stock in 1998 we have to address it.

Yes, the state of New York sued a couple of years ago on this and lost.  There was enough on the record to support the current rule, and in such cases a court won’t substitute its findings for that of a Federal agency, particularly with respect to such agency’s area of expertise. To overturn an agency decision, that decision must be “arbitrary”, “capricious” or illegal, and the judge determined that the summer flounder rulemaking was none of those.  But there are two things that need to be emphasized this time: the legal requirements of the Magnuson Stevenson Act and refusal by NMFS to rise above the state politics. Also the new science proving the changes in the distribution, abundance and age structure of the stock.

Quite honestly, I’m not a fan of such lawsuits as they take a lot of time and resources, which would be better served elsewhere.  But if we can’t work it out, in this case it’s entirely justified.  I’m really hoping we can agree on some sort of solution next week.  But if we can’t… Well…

Stay tuned.  Next week I’ll explain what happened and if there was any resolution.

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posted in: General

December 4, 2013

Coming to Justice

Photo courtesy of SC DNR

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about four Maryland commercial netters – or should I say “poachers” – who were linked to illegally setting gill nets to catch tens of thousands of pounds of striped bass. The investigation was triggered by the discovery of an illegal net off Kent Island in the upper Chesapeake Bay in February of 2011. It turned up falsified catch documentation going back to 2007. Much of that illegal catch then was traced as being sold across state lines to New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Seemingly, that would violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits such actions.

In November a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on this long-pending case. The indictment alleges criminal conspiracy in the illegal catching of striped bass and the subsequent interstate sale of the illegal catch. My sincere hope is that these alleged criminals, masquerading as hard-working commercial fishermen, become wards of the federal government for a very long time. History, however, is not on the side of that outcome.

I applaud the Maryland Department of Natural Resources officers for putting a lot of long hours into researching this case. Their perseverance and dogged determination led to the indictment. Without their efforts it is likely that the alleged perpetrators would get only a slap on the wrist and have to pay a small fine, which only amounts to a cost of doing business. State and local judges have been reluctant to throw the book at this type of criminal activity. With this indictment, the case gets elevated to a federal court as a Lacey Act violation. That carries some real consequences.

Some might say that these DNR officers are only doing their jobs. Yeah, I get it. They are, but from my standpoint I don’t know what keeps them motivated when in the past their hard work has been largely disregarded by the state and local court systems. How many times have I read coverage about illegal fishing activities only to see those who got caught pay a small fine and be back at business as usual the next day. Why courts have been so reluctant to take a harsher stance is beyond me. Something akin to the three strikes kind of process would be a deterrent. First time … OK, it might have been a mistake, but a reasonable fine should get your attention. Second offense is not a mistake. You pay a hefty fine, do some jail time and lose your fishing permit for at least a year. Third offense: bye, bye. Pay a very hefty fine, do a big chunk of jail time and be subjected to a lifetime loss of all fishing permits.

I know, I know. Judges are very reluctant to take away someone’s ability to make a living. Can’t say that I understand why. I am unable to distinguish between stealing a public resource and robbing a 7-Eleven. The courts should understand that illegal harvest of common property resources takes away someone else’s ability to earn a living. It has a ripple effect far beyond the criminal activity itself.

I want to be sure that DNR officers, environmental police or whatever they are called in different states continue to be motivated to go the extra mile in pursuing a case. These folks are protecting our resources, and their job is not easy. In today’s world of bending way over backwards to protect the “rights” of the criminals, I wonder how we are trampling on the rights of the innocent – not to mention the condition of our resources. Too often, natural resource officers do whatever they can do to bring a case to justice, and all their work is negated by too light of a sentence. Those of us who would like to see our resources around for future generations need to support their good work.

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posted in: General

December 2, 2013

Thanks and Good Luck

Thagards with Wyoming mule deer.
The Thagards with a mule deer taken on National Forest land in Colorado. Sportsmen’s dollars are the most significant contributor to state fish and wildlife agencies funding. Photo courtesy of Neil Thagard.

When my wife Catherine and I look for places to hunt, “off the beaten path” is near the top of our criteria list.  Public lands where we can backpack and not see another human soul for days are a magnet to us.  Recently we found ourselves hunting an area of National Forest which contained both the mule deer we were seeking and a popular hiking trail to a spectacularly scenic waterfall. We decided that we’d willingly share the canyon with others for the opportunity at one of the big bucks we knew were there.

Shortly after sunrise we were sitting at a great glassing spot near the trail when we heard human voices approaching. As the hikers came into view we saw a large group wearing the trendy clothing of the young and environmentally conscious; Catherine and I were in full camo with weapons in hand. I saw my wife inwardly brace for the anticipated disapproving stares and “Bambi-killer” accusations.

We made a point to be friendly, commenting on the beautiful day.  After some small talk on the trail conditions, I heard the inevitable question, “Are you guys hunting?”

“Yes,” I answered as Catherine held her breath, “We are looking for deer.”

“Well,” said the apparent leader of the group, “thanks and good luck.”  Then they headed off down the trail.

That was it – thanks and good luck. Could the complex interconnectedness between hunters and anglers, and the communities in which they pursue their game be summed up in that simple sentence? I’d like to think the young hiker we met that day on the trail understood the essential role that hunting plays in conservation and local economies, and that he was directing his thanks to us for that.

While hikers, mountain bikers and other nature lovers are able to enjoy that spectacular canyon and the wildlife it contained for free, we spent hundreds of dollars on the tags and licenses required for the opportunity to hunt there. Our money goes directly to the state game and fish agency and pays for a wide spectrum of conservation programs.

Sportsmen’s dollars are the most significant contributor to state fish and wildlife agencies and support everything from habitat improvements and fish stocking to scholastic educational programs and disease research. Through their financial contributions, hunters and anglers even support non-game and endangered species management efforts.

However, when we look at the big picture of hunting’s impact from an economic perspective, it’s not just about what hunters spend on permits. It’s also about the local motel that relies on pheasant hunters to extend their season.  It’s about the mom-and-pop coffee shop that sees a significant proportion of their business in the early morning hours as deer hunters head out. It’s about the jeweler who specializes in elk ivory, the taxidermist putting his kids through college and the second generation fly-shop owner carrying on the family business. It’s about the rancher who receives compensation when he loses livestock to predators and the countless other ways in which sportsmen’s dollars directly and indirectly bolster local economies.

In my home state of Wyoming, the hunting and fishing industry contributes $1.1 billion annually. That’s second only to oil and gas, and is no small number when you consider there are only about a half a million people in the entire state. In a state like Wyoming that is dependent upon the oil and gas industry, our abundant wildlife helps to provide a diversified economy that is able to withstand the booms and busts associated with natural resource extraction.

Most people do not realize that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has not had a hunting license and tag fee increase since 2008, even though the cumulative inflation rate since then has been 8.5 percent. They have also been required to spend more of their existing budget on legislatively mandated costs, such as health care for employees. The 2013 Legislature rejected the agency’s request for a modest fee increase, forcing a multi-million dollar budget cut. This has hit Wyoming families and the small businesses that depend on our outdoor industry the hardest.  It’s not hard to see how these severe funding cuts limit the state’s ability to actively manage fish and wildlife, which in turn reduces the number of visitors to the Cowboy State whether they are hunters, anglers, birdwatchers, nature photographers or simply conservationists.

The good news is that we have the opportunity to restore what has been lost, and with it the jobs and economic strength Wyoming derives from our outdoor industry.  Two bills have been introduced by the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee of the Legislature to provide a modest fee increase that keeps pace with inflation, and to share some of the financial burden of the Game and Fish Department with the non-consumptive user.

Both bills will need to pass the budget session in February, and I encourage every Wyomingite to contact their legislator and express your support for the bills. But it’s not only locals who hunt and fish in Wyoming – sportsmen come here from across America to experience our world-class hunting and angling opportunities. Every sportsman who has ever even dreamed of chasing Wyoming elk, antelope, bighorn sheep or cutthroat trout has a stake in how these resources are managed – contact the Wyoming state legislature today and let them know you are a sportsman who supports the bills.

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posted in: General

November 21, 2013

The Great Conspiracy

In last week’s blog, as well as previous blogs, I have mentioned “The Great Conspiracy.” What finally dawned on me is that I have not really addressed what I am referring to in any of these blogs. I have done so in other writings.

We’ll have to start back a few years according to the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” a term popularized by then Vice President Spiro Agnew but actually written by New York Times columnist William Safire. According to the proponents of this conspiracy theory before President Obama was elected, the environmental community led by the Pew Environment Group, the Environmental Defense Fund and maybe the Walton Foundation was infiltrating the fisheries management system and positioning the likes of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to become the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Somehow they knew the outcome of the election, but we’ll put that aside. Pretty amazing stuff! They couldn’t have simply guessed right, it had to be some sort of backroom deal. Actually, isn’t there a lot of that in politics no matter which side one is on. Yeah!!!

Well, OK, I’m getting a little sarcastic, but it does take a fairly vivid imagination to pull all the pieces of The Great Conspiracy together. So the environmental nongovernmental organizations ended up on the right side of the election, which should not be too surprising to anyone, as they tend to be more liberal than conservative in politics. According to the believers, Phase 2 was put in place with the confirmation of Dr. Lubchenco, and now EDF was running all the Regional Fishery Management Council activities. I must have been on an anomalous RFMC.

Yes, we had a council member who worked for EDF, but I’d be hard pressed to find a major or, for that matter, minor, council action that had EDF’s fingerprints all over it. Too bad, actually, as some of the ideas proposed by the council member made a lot of management sense. Oh, yeah, catch shares. Well, we have to rewind the clock on that one as well.

The New England Fishery Management Council began the catch shares discussion in 2001, well before any NGO infiltration, and the rollout of more extensive catch shares was just an extension of that discussion. What happened at the NEFMC may not be typical of what happened at other councils, but I am familiar enough with other council actions to know that the NGO community was not railroading a lot of new council actions through the system. Was the environmental community part of the council process? Yes, of course it was. It is one of the three constituent groups represented on the council.

If we look at inside the Beltway (Washington, D.C., for those not familiar with the world of politics), the story is different. The NGO community has been very active in the political process. In fact, it has been extremely influential in the legislative process. Environmental NGOs were able to get much of what they wanted in the Magnuson- Stevens Act reauthorization passed in 2006 that included annual catch limits, accountability measures and the continuation of mandated rebuilding periods.

This is not meant to be a debate about the merits of those measures but a discussion about our political system. Let’s face it: the environmental NGO community has deep pockets to use in pushing for the issues it wants enacted. From my standpoint the community has been very effective at using that influence to get what it believes in. It also has been effective at working collaboratively. Is that a conspiracy? If it is then organizations like the National Rifle Association, the farm lobby and for that matter all of K Street are involved in serial conspiracies. I am not saying that I agree with all the outcomes. Unless we change the system, the environmental community is simply using it to the best advantage. Money talks and BS walks. Do we need to change the system? I tend to think so, but that is a discussion for another time.

I always have wondered what the response would be from those who think that the environmental NGO community is hell bent on eliminating extractive uses of the ocean environment, if these NGOs used all their clout to do what the conspiracy theorists want. Would there still be a hue and cry of conspiracy then? I doubt it. Folks would happily say that is just the way the system works.

Call me crazy, oblivious or naïve. I do not believe that all environmental NGOs are out to end fishing. Nor do I support all of their proposed measures. I do believe that most are interested in having sustainable resources for the future. They have some very substantial economic clout and are not afraid to use it. What the recreational fishing industry should do is to find a way to partner with them … or would some see that as conspiratorial?

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