The politicians need to listen to 99.9 percent of the hunters.
In a fight picked by captive wildlife interests through heavy-handed attempts to move regulatory authority from state wildlife agencies to agriculture departments, the hunting community in America is falling in ranks on one side of the line or the other.
The line in the dirt is the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the very essence of why we enjoy abundant wildlife and related recreational opportunities in this country.
Ironically, high-fence and game-breeder special interests, which have historically been low-key and purposefully not on most people’s radar, sparked the fight through bold moves to wrest control from state wildlife agencies, with the goal of reducing oversight by wildlife professionals concerned about the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease and other devastating wildlife-borne diseases.
Over the past 1.5 years, a high-drama political slug-fest has occurred in the Missouri legislature. A bill was passed transferring regulatory authority over captive wildlife from the Missouri Department of Conservation to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the bill upon the urging of the mainstream hunting community in their state.
All the major hunting and conservation organizations in Missouri weighed in against the bill. Even Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris urged the Governor’s veto.
Still feeling their political muscle, the captive wildlife interests attempted to over-ride the Governor’s veto, failing by only one vote to do so.
More recently, in West Virginia, the captive wildlife interests succeeded in taking regulatory authority from the Wildlife Division and giving it to the Agriculture Department through passage of a similar bill.
Such legislative actions reflect a lack of understanding that the narrow special-interest groups of high-fence operators and game-breeders are not representative of the mainstream hunting community. Unwitting elected officials, the vast majority of whom do not hunt or really understand hunting-related issues, are easily duped by high-priced lobbyists talking about economic impact and growing bigger antlers.
Because most politicians do not routinely hear from rank-and-file hunters, they are easily misled into believing that shooting artificially-bred deer in enclosures represents the mainstream. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In Alabama, for instance, there are an estimated 197,000 deer hunters. Of these hunters, only 200 have a high fence. This means that only one-tenth of one percent shoot deer in high fences.
The list of mainstream hunting organizations lining up in favor of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and against the captive wildlife special interests is growing. The Quality Deer Management Association, National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Shooting Sports Foundation and others including, most recently, the Boone and Crockett Club have taken positions in favor of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
The Boone and Crockett Club, the official record keeper of North American big game animals, has historically refused to recognize animals taken in less-than fair chase situations, including escape-proof enclosures.
The Boone and Crockett Club, in a position adopted January 8, 2015, stated,
"The Boone and Crockett Club maintains that selective breeding and artificially growing deer and elk with unnaturally large antlers to be sold and then shot in a put-and-take situation is not representative of traditional hunting, and these practices should be discouraged. The captive-cervid industry is ignoring the fact that society rightfully expects hunting to be conducted ethically. If hunting is perceived as less than fair (i.e., less than desirable, reputable and legitimate) our society may no longer tolerate hunting in any form."
The Boone and Crockett Club, in establishing the background for its position, stated,
"Historically, non-hunters have proven to support hunting when it is conducted ethically and show less support for hunting when it is viewed as unethical or just killing for a trophy. The purpose of breeding and shooting operations is to provide their customers with more assured kills of unnaturally grown, large-antlered trophies; their motivation is profit. The customer pays based on antler size; their motivation is collecting trophies. Anti-hunting groups, in order to confuse and rally the public to accept their views, often misrepresent hunting as the shooting of penned deer and elk; their motivation is the elimination of all hunting. There is a distinction between breeding and shooting operations and the ethical hunting of wild, free-ranging game that needs to be made clear to the non-hunting community.
"The captive-cervid industry uses selective breeding, artificial insemination, regimented feeding, and pharmaceutical drugs to achieve unnaturally large antlers. Such intensive manipulation of the natural characteristics of wild deer and elk is a major departure from what occurs in nature, and it challenges our common understanding of the terms wild and wildlife. It does not appear that breeding and shooting operations considered the ethical implications of how far they should go in manipulating wildlife to satisfy the desires of a few. Nor did they think about the value the rest of society places on wild creatures and natural systems. The sole purpose for vastly exaggerating antler size to reach proportions that could never be attained in nature was commercial gain."
The politicians need to pay attention to 99.9 percent of the hunters.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.