For the past century we have heard from hunting groups, their lobbyists, and individual hunters, trappers, and hounders, that they are “conservationists” because it is the money from their licenses, fees, and taxes that pay for the “fish and game departments under their control. While there is little dispute that these agencies are indeed funded through these mechanisms I rarely hear anyone ask why this is generally the only funding tool for these agencies. That can be summed up in one word: control. After market hunting and predator eradication programs nearly eradicated many species during the 19th and early 20th centuries several influential hunters, such as Theodore Roosevelt (when he wasn’t shooting an ostrich sitting on her nest in Africa) and Aldo Leopold, helped spearhead programs to place controls on what was until that time unlimited killing for various purposes. Influence from non-hunter preservationists like John Muir were instrumental as well. These programs included protected national parks and the eventual creation of a wildlife “refuge” system. Noble goals that did indeed bring back many species from the brink of extinction and attempted to correct the greed and destruction wrought by market hunters and trappers. This is where the double-edged sword rears its head. Market and trophy hunters and trappers were responsible for nearly wiping out countless species, yet they also are the first to claim credit for certain species being allowed to rebound into the numbers we see today. Did they do this out of the goodness of their hearts? Of course not. With these people there always has to be a motive and that motive is making sure that money flowed in to pay for the various “fish and game” departments that sprung up through the 20th century. By selling hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses these agencies can continue to fund their agency and protect their employment. To keep the money flowing in there need to be animals that people want to kill and exploit and be willing to pay to do so. This structure has led to many state “fish and game” departments turning their states into what are essentially giant game farms where the numbers of deer, elk, and other “valuable” species are kept at artificially high number to keep the license money flowing while providing almost unlimited targets for hunters, trappers, and hounders.
Hunters, trappers, hounders, and their lobbying groups never miss an opportunity to fly the false flag that states they are the real “conservationists” because they fund the vast majority of “fish and game” departments across the nation. They somehow have deluded the public into believing that killing is conservation and without them no wild animals or wild lands would exist. They like to pretend that “non-consumptive” users refuse to help fund these agencies and lands and they bear the burden of “protecting” wild lands. What they fail to mention is that the last thing they want is to allow non-consumptive users to have a seat at the table that would inevitably come with their increased funding of “fish and game” agencies. Not once have I ever heard non-consumptive user groups or individuals refuse to step up and help fund true conservation. Does anyone for a second think that the hunters, trappers, hounders, and their affiliated groups would give up any piece of their complete and total domination of “conservation” issues? States agencies like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources constantly complain about a lack of funding due to a decrease of hunters. Instead of reaching out to non-consumptive users and asking them to be partners they instead pushed for legislative action that would create programs to “recruit” more hunters, trappers, hounders, and fishers. Instead of reaching out to real conservation groups and forming partnerships to help reform the funding structures of agencies like the DNR, they instead turned to programs that have the intent of luring more people into the bloodsports that fund their agency. Recent studies have shown that Wisconsin is a major destination for wildlife watching and that brings in billions of dollars in tourism revenue. Instead of making an attempt to tap into those opportunities Wisconsin doubled down on their “recruitment” efforts for hunters, trappers, and hounders. A law passed in 2012 established a program that MANDATED hunting and trapping classes be offered in state public high schools FOR CREDIT. That same law also opened up state parks to hunting, hounding, and trapping. Instead of courting wildlife watchers and other “non-consumptive” users the state of Wisconsin doubled down on their attempt to attract more and more people to the bloodsports. Hikers, birders, and wildlife watchers be damned. Try not to step in a trap while enjoying nature in our state parks. Hope that a stray bullet doesn’t find you when taking a hike in those parks. Also make sure that marauding packs of hound dogs don’t scare away all of the birds and other wildlife that you are attempting to watch.
Who are the real conservationists? Myself and most wildlife advocates that I know would gladly pay taxes and fees on the “non-consumptive” equipment that we use for hiking and wildlife watching. But we want a seat at the table and that is exactly why agencies like the Wisconsin DNR will never push for that type of funding. It is all about control and don’t for a second think that the DNR and their “partners” from the hunting groups and their lobbyists want to relinquish one bit of that control. I know that I am willing to pay whatever is necessary to make sure our wild lands and our wildlife is protected. That means ALL wildlife and not just what hunting groups deem to have “value.” I am perfectly content paying my fair share and just knowing that those lands and species will be protected. I don’t need to TAKE anything away from that other than a piece of mind. Can the same be said for hunters, trappers, hounders, and other fake “conservationists?” It seems to me that they are only willing to pay so that they have a total monopoly on power and to assure there are targets for them to kill when the urge strikes them. They have to TAKE something in order to feel as though their funding is justified. Does anyone think for a second that the vast majority of hunters, trappers, and hounders would give one dime if they couldn’t TAKE something for their effort? Does anyone think that they would give one cent if it didn’t enable them to have complete and total control over wildlife and wild lands? Of course not. It is obvious who the REAL conservationists are and we need to work to change those fake perceptions that hunting groups have perpetrated for the past century plus. The media even buys into this fallacy when they refer to hunting groups as “conservation groups” and call wildlife advocates “animal rights groups.” Hunting groups and “fish and game” departments use fluffy words like “harvest” to describe killing and “production” and “recruitment” to describe animals being born and growing up to become targets. The media also latches on to these begin words and uses them in stories describing the killing of wildlife because they know words like “suffocation,” “crushing,” “shooting,” and “killing” are far more blunt and descriptive than nice little words like “harvest.”
This takes us back to the original question: Who are the REAL conservationists? Non-consumptive users want wildlife and wild lands preserved so that they are there for viewing and peaceful use. For the most part we take nothing from those lands except for memories and maybe photographs. On the opposite end hunters, trappers, and hounders do nothing but take, take, take. They kill millions of wildlife each year for pleasure, profit, and some for food. Trappers litter the landscape with thousands and thousands of traps that indiscriminately kill millions of animals nationwide each year mostly for profit. In Wisconsin and several other states hounders unleash packs of vicious dogs that are allowed to run rampant through woods and fields targeting bears, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, and in Wisconsin, wolves. These dogs often illegally engage the wildlife leading to injury and death for both the wildlife and dogs. In Wisconsin hounders, under the guise of “training,” are allowed to let their dogs to run rampant through most of the year. If those dogs happen to come across a wolf or wolves defending their territory bloody fights often ensue leading to the death of the dog. Following the dog being killed by the wolf the Wisconsin DNR then makes sure the hounder receives a nice fat $2500 check for their “beloved” dog. Does it sound like hunters, trappers, and hounders are doing any “conserving” in these descriptions? To me it sure seems like a whole lot of taking, taking, taking and very little if any conserving.
Again, who are the REAL conservationists here? From my perspective it is pretty obvious who the REAL conservationists are and it sure isn’t the takers pretending to hold that role today.