State Wildlife Agencies Have to Evolve
The Result of Commercial Hunting
State Wildlife Agencies are a result of and a response to the unrestrained carnage that was commercial hunting. This unbecoming spectacle decimated game and non-game species during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The mass killing did not truly end until the 1930s. By that time many iconic species had been extirpated from their natural habitats in the United States. Buffalo, elk, grizzlies, and wolves, among others, were gone and had to be reintroduced from surviving populations in Canada. Many species went completely extinct, such as the passenger pigeon, gone forever.
“Many may read my words and think that I’m anti-hunting. I’m not.”
As required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), wolves and other species have been reintroduced at great expense. However, in several western states, reintroduced wolves are again being hunted. This has turned a successful and ecologically significant program into tax payer subsidized trophies for a few hunters. Many may read my words and think that I’m anti-hunting. I’m not. I would much prefer to do my own killing if that were still a possibility. Unfortunately, there are too many of us; subsistence hunting is no longer an option. This forces many who would otherwise prefer a rural lifestyle to find tedious jobs in towns and cities, having to shell out to an industrialized food system.
But what about the split personality of the State Wildlife Agencies?
It is reasonable to ask why a state agency, tasked with preserving and protecting wildlife, would join lawsuits that attempt (with some success) to declare several hundred reintroduced wolves as recovered, and thus no longer protected by the ESA? The answer, of course, comes down to money and politics.
State Wildlife Agencies…have been and remain “fish and game” departments.
Historically, most of the funding for State Wildlife Agencies has come from several related sources: hunting and fishing licensing fees and hunting permits; federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition; fishing and boating equipment sales; and other sources such as Duck Stamps. Although the number of hunters and fishers are declining, and thus revenue for State Wildlife Agencies has been stagnant or in decline, nonetheless hunters and fishers retain an outsized sense of entitlement and political power. State Wildlife Agencies for most intents and purposes have been and remain “fish and game” departments. Non-game species programs are few, and those that exist are chronically underfunded.
This funding method and resulting one-sided management made some sense one hundred years ago. Then, game species were under severe threat. Few if any understood how essential biodiversity is to ecosystem health and human wellbeing. Today, most game and fish species are in fairly good shape. However, our ecosystems are out of whack and dangerously degraded, due to a lack of predators and biodiversity that provide dynamic system balance.
The “business of ranching” boils down to who subsidizes who, for how much, and why.
While revenue from hunting has been declining, revenue from non-consumptive users and wildlife enthusiasts has been rising substantially. And State Wildlife Agencies are but one piece of the wildlife and wildlife habitat restoration and conservation effort. Non-hunters pay for about 95% of this work. But typically the non-hunting public is largely unaware of their contributions to non-game biodiversity conservation. On the other hand hunters, and increasingly ranchers, have strong opinions about wildlife management that they vigorously (and sometimes violently) push. This especially impacts wolves, as these interests mistakenly believe that wolves threaten elk and other game populations. Livestock depredation is another issue. But because most ranching occurs on public lands, the “business of ranching” boils down to who subsidizes who, for how much, and why.
Biodiversity and the services provided by healthy ecosystems for human wellbeing are many times more valuable than that which the minority consumptive users feel entitled to. They use land and resources only as they see fit, primarily for their limited self-interests. It’s time the rest of us demand that State Wildlife Agencies perform broader species monitoring and research, and thus make more informed management decisions based on the science of ecosystem and wildlife management.
We need State Wildlife Agencies to evolve, to work more broadly preserving all wildlife and biodiversity.
This in no way means that the interests of hunters and fishers (and other consumptive users) are diminished. Or, that State Wildlife Agencies should work just to level the playing field for recreational (and thus some commercial) interests. For our children’s heritage and for a healthier and more sustainable world, we need State Wildlife Agencies to evolve, to work more broadly preserving all wildlife and biodiversity. This will ensure the preservation of the ecological services that support human wellbeing, as well as the intrinsic values of wildlife that also depend on healthy ecosystems.
Acknowledgement. I wish to thank Dr. Fred Koontz who recently published a very good commentary that inspired and informed my blog. Please read his commentary for ideas about what you can do to help evolve State Wildlife Agencies.
Richard has been the President of Biophilia Foundation since its inception in 1999. A native of Phoenix, AZ, he grew up in the open desert spaces alongside lizards, snakes, coyotes, & javelinas. These early experiences with wildlife led him to his career in conservation biology. He has had the opportunity to work for and volunteer with organizations such as the Trust for Public Land, Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, Wildlands Network, & Borderlands Restoration Network. Richard received his doctorate at Prescott College.