Wildlife Management is a Messy Business.
As contrasted to the European model where game animals are private property and only the wealthy can hunt, in America, wildlife is held in trust by the government for the benefit of all the people. The title to wild animals is vested in the states, which manage these publically held resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
This is the reason wildlife management agencies exist.
In America, emphasis on the public interest is the legal basis for wildlife management. This is reflected in the Public Trust Doctrine, a long-standing legal cornerstone of natural resources management in this country. With origins in common law, the Public Trust Doctrine has withstood the test of time and legal challenges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Wildlife management is not a discrete decision or event, nor is management a tidy, linear process that unfolds predictably over time. The process takes place in a management environment that has sociocultural, economic, political and ecological components."
This astute, perhaps understated, observation by the authors of "Human Dimensions of Wildlife Management" well describes the complex, messy business of decision-making about wildlife-related matters, including hunting regulations. This text by Daniel Decker, Shawn J. Riley and William F. Siemer is a standard in the field of wildlife science.
What an awesome responsibility to ensure that the interests of the people are cared for – not some of the people, but all the people!
Of course, all the people don’t want the same thing. And effective wildlife management decisions cannot be based on a popularity contest. By the same token, neither can effective wildlife management decisions be made in a vacuum, without concern for stakeholders or those affected by such decisions.
Indeed, wildlife management encompasses three dimensions: humans, wildlife and habitats. Effective management addresses all three as an entire system.
This is not new stuff! Over 70 years ago, Aldo Leopold, the "Father of Wildlife Management," observed that the problem of game management is not how we should handle the deer but how we should handle the people. From the very beginning, wildlife managers have struggled with how to involve the public in developing and implementing policy and programs.
The missions of state fish and wildlife agencies across the country, based in part in enabling legislation that created the agencies, consistently recognize the melding of science with public benefit. Typically the mission statements of the agencies reflect this twofold responsibility with language like, "To manage, protect, conserve and enhance the wildlife resources of [state] for the sustainable benefit of the people." (Emphasis added.)
This is the all-important "why" for the agency’s existence.
As in all things, there is a healthy balance. It’s not an "either-or" matter – it’s a "both." And both are readily doable.
For over three-quarters of a century, Alabama, like most states, has balanced science and human dimensions in order to ensure sustainable, healthy, abundant wildlife populations while providing the greatest good for the most people in the long run. Historically, those in decision-making roles have embraced this guiding philosophy.
This philosophy is central to the wildlife profession. According to the official Position Statement of The Wildlife Society, the professional organization of wildlife biologists, "The role of science in policy and decision making is to inform the decision process, rather than to prescribe a particular outcome."
The Wildlife Society Position Statement on "The Use of Science in Policy and Management Decisions" continues, "Policy and decision makers may make determinations that do not always provide maximum benefits or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats. Such determinations are appropriate if the best available science and likely consequences from a range of management options have been openly acknowledged and considered."
Integrity in the use of science is equally important, and the Wildlife Society Position Statement cautions against a whole shopping list of ills, including "ignoring science that contradicts a desired outcome."
In the peer-reviewed paper, "Human Dimensions in Wildlife," Alistair J. Bath notes, "Much of the conflict in resource management occurs when the public is brought into the process near the end after important decisions have already been made …. When the public is consulted later in the process without earlier involvement, they are not free to challenge the fundamental questions."
Adequate public notice of intended or proposed actions goes a long way toward solving this problem. Genuine opportunity for public input is just as essential.
Accountability and transparency in government demand no less.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.