Crack the Whip is a simple outdoor children’s game involving physical coordination and is usually played in small groups, either on grass or ice. One player, chosen as the "head" of the whip, runs (or skates) around in random directions, with subsequent players holding on to the hand of the previous player. The entire "tail" of the whip moves in those directions, but with much more force toward the end of the tail. The longer the tail, the more the forces act on the last player, and the tighter they have to hold on.
As the game progresses, and more players fall off, some of those who were previously located near the end of the tail and have fallen off can "move up" and be in a more secure position by grabbing onto the tail as it is moving, provided they can get back on before some of the others do. There is no objective to this game other than the enjoyment of the experience.
According to the Wikipedia definition, references to this game go back to the 1890s in England. The game is illustrated in Winslow Homer’s painting "Snap the Whip" of 1872.
The recent gyrations of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are reminiscent of this old-timey children’s game. Fall Turkey Season - no Fall Turkey Season - then limited Fall Turkey Season; Mandatory Game Check - then No Mandatory Game Check; Deer Zones, Bait and the list goes on. The flurry of regulatory actions makes one’s head spin.
Those who suffer most are not the higher-ups at the Conservation Department. The people at the end of the "tail" are most severely impacted: the hunters and landowners of the state, and the front-line employees of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.
Alabama hunters and landowners have a long history of cooperation with rules and regulations laid down by the Department. This cooperation goes back historically to the very beginnings of wildlife conservation in Alabama in the 1920s and 30s. This willing cooperation and voluntary compliance with Conservation Department mandates over the past 90 or so years have been based on the earned credibility of the Department. This earned credibility came hard in the early years and on occasion thereafter.
As Fred Marshall, referencing Mandatory Game Check, recently wrote in The Montgomery Independent, "… there will always be that certain segment who will break our game laws. Honest hunters don’t want to be included in that segment, and they resent the fact that they are being REQUIRED to prove their honesty."
Hunters in Alabama want to understand and comply with the regulations. This voluntary compliance is deeply seated in much more than the avoidance of arrest and subsequent fines. The admittedly self-serving interest of knowing that compliance will result in better hunting opportunities lies at its heart. The highly successful re-establishment of deer and turkey populations stands as a constant reminder to all.
Well-founded research has consistently shown that complex rules and regulations have a detrimental effect on hunting participation. Many, many hunters will choose to stay at home rather than run the risk of violating the law.
Interestingly, Alabama came to be a destination state for hunting because of our abundant game populations and easy-to-follow regulations. Ask one of the some 44,000 out-of-state hunters who travel to our state each year to hunt, and they will tell you that Alabama is a mecca compared to most other states, and that simple, straightforward rules and regulations play an important part in that package.
The front-line employees - Conservation Enforcement Officers and Biologists, as well as highly-critical administrative support staff - are placed in the absolutely untenable position of trying to explain and justify rules and regulations, only to have the rug jerked out from under them by reversals by higher-ups. Such reversals would not occur if regulations were on sound footing supported by both valid science and well-vetted public support. In the recent instances, both were missing. It’s the organizational equivalent of whiplash.
Put yourself in the shoes of a career employee of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, more than likely the only uniformed presence of the Conservation Department at the local level, trying to explain all this in a credible way to the public without being disrespectful of the Commissioner. Multiply this times 326 (the number of employees) or so, and you will have some sense of the impact on morale and getting the critical work of the Division done. The manner in which the career professional employees of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries have handled this is living testimony to their dedication and resiliency.
But the most tragic aspect is reflected in the lost credibility for the Conservation Department. The reversals of direction are not the problem. Anybody with walking-around sense knows the wisdom of changing direction when you find you have erred. Will Rogers put it this way: "When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging." Credibility is closely related to trust. You only get trust one place - trustworthiness. Key elements of trustworthiness are predictability and consistency.
The problem is the ill-conceived, half-thought-out decisions to start with. Any references to the need for more data are suspect at best. Wildlife management by its very nature is not a precise undertaking. A working knowledge of sound game management principles and practices - which by the way is held by a fair percentage of Alabama hunters and landowners - causes many to question exactly where the Conservation Department is headed. The most benign theory is that the insatiable desire for "more data" is driving the direction of things.
Fred Marshall reported that those he talked with said the measure and associated fine smacked of "revenue enhancement." Republicans are supposed to be about less government intervention in peoples’ lives, not more. The requirement of children under 16, seniors over 65, Lifetime License holders and landowners hunting on their own land to first obtain a Department-issued "Harvest Exempt License Privilege Number" ($4.25 if over the phone) before hunting or face arrest and a subsequent fine hardly meets this criteria.
It’s all quite perplexing. The growing public sentiment is that the flurry of regulatory actions is a side show diverting public attention from the real issue - bait.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.