Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing

wildlife management

by Marc

The December 18, 2013, Santa Fe Reporter, featured a profile of

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

James Lane recently fired as director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. While no public reason was given for Lane’s firing, it seems likely that it was due, at least in part, to his public derision of the nonhunters as “tree-huggin’ hippies.” The department, sometimes known as “Maim and Squish,” manages wildlife on behalf of hunters and ranchers. Even after Lane’s ignominious departure, Scott Bidegain, a board member of NM Cattlegrowers Association, continues as chairman of the Game Commission, which supervises the department’s so-called professional wildlife managers.

What has been the reaction of New Mexico’s environmental and animal protection lobbyists? The supposed protectors of wildlife sheepishly sent a letter to the hunter-rancher-in-chief, begging Bidegain to replace Lane with a professional wildlife manager dedicated to the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

This model is aptly summed up by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Man has hunted since he walked the Earth. Every early culture relied on hunting for survival. Through hunting, man forged a connection with the land and learned quickly that stewardship of the land went hand-in-hand with maintaining wildlife – and their own way of life.

In the first half of the 20th century, leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold shaped a set of ideals that came to be known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. They articulated the philosophy that all wildlife belong to all of us. . . .

The Pittman-Robertson act was passed in 1937, through which hunters voluntarily imposed a tax on themselves, ensuring that a portion of the sale of all firearms and ammunition would be expressly dedicated to managing the wildlife entrusted to the public. The Pittman-Robertson Act generates $700 million annually, which is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state fish and game agencies across America.

The federal tax on firearms and ammunition is collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). As its name suggests, TTB also administers federal taxes on alcohol and tobacco. No one expects these tax revenues to be used to promote smoking and drinking, yet hunters expect firearms taxes to be used to promote hunting.

RMEF is, however, correct to point out that hominids have been killing wildlife since they first learned to walk upright. In North America, hunting dates back to mass extinctions of the Pleistocene, which corresponded with the arrival of humans on this continent. Well before the establishment of “Native” American cultures species such as saber-toothed cats disappeared from the North American landscape. Species which were able to survive centuries of hunting with spears, bows and arrows, proved little match for European firearms technology.

Only when hunters began to fear an end to their gruesome blood sport did wildlife managers like Aldo Leopold begin to rethink the idea of hunting without limit. Along with the establishment of the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the Pittman-Robertson Act attempted to protect ranchers and hunters from destroying both their own livelihoods and their ability to indulge in sadistic blood sports. Thus was born the myth that ranchers and hunters, who had come close to totally destroying the land and the wildlife who live on it, were the “true conservationists,” codified by the North American Model of Conservation.

In spite of the best efforts of the “hunter-conservationists,” hunting continues to decline in the United States. According to the latest [2011] National Hunting Survey, only 6% of the U.S. population hunts. When broken down by region, there has been a 45% drop over the last decade in the Mountain States from 11% to 6%. Correspondingly, the New Mexico report shows a 47% drop in expenditures by hunters.

The drop in hunting is a threat not only to hunters and ranchers, but also to conservation and animal protection lobbyists who have been collaborating with them. In their letter to the Game Deparment, Animal Protection of New Mexico, the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, the New Mexico chapter of the League of Conservation Voters and Wild Earth Guardians expressed their support for the hunters’ North American Model of Conservation.

Many of the organizations which signed this letter have had a long history of collaboration with hunters. Hunter Jon Schwedler headed APNM’s wildlife program before leaving to form the short-lived Sierra Sportsmen, the Sierra Club’s failed attempt to organize hunters in support of conservation.

Now it is the turn of Wild Earth Guardians to join the ranks of hunters masquerading as environmentalists, with the hiring of Erik Molvar. According to his WildEarth Guardians profile, Molvar has a degree in “wildlife management” and “enjoys antelope hunting.”

This profile reveals not only the sadistic pleasure Molvar takes in killing animals and watching them die, but also the difference between a wildlife manager and a biologist. State game departments and other wildlife managers use the cowboy term “antelope” to describe pronghorns. The last of their family to survive the Pleistocene extinctions in North America, pronghorns are not related to antelope, which are native to Africa. “Wildlife management” might be considered a “science” similar to economics and political science, but it is not a natural science like biology and geology.

In any case, contrary to the propaganda of the conservation lobbyists, there is no “pure science” which can guide the protection of wolves, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and other wild species, whether or not they are legally endangered. As the career of Jon Tester, Rancher-Democrat of Montana, demonstrates, the U.S. Congress retains the right to determine what animals can be legally killed without limit. Tester, after using funds from the League of Conservation Voters to defend his seat against the notorious “evil Koch brothers,” authored the law which removed endangered species protection for the grey wolf. A belated attempt by conservation lobbies to petition the Department of the Interior to restore wolf protection in violation of Tester’s law may succeed in raising funds, but it will not succeed in protecting wolves.

Rancher-Democrat Tester has now been joined in the Senate by New Mexico Hunter-Democrat Martin Heinrich. Heinrich & Tester’s Sportsmen’s and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions Act (SPORT) Act (S. 1660) would open all federal lands, including National Park Service land, to hunters.

16 thoughts on “Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing

  1. Thanks for the info about the supposed conservation groups, some of which I have been contributing to. I will immediately withdraw my support and unlike their facebook pages.

    If New Mexico is showing a 47% drop in expenditures by killers, you’d never know from where I live. I am under constant siege by them. They intimidate, threaten, and harass the human inhabitants of this private neighborhood on a daily baisis, and have wiped out every living thing in the area. They break every hunting regulation in the book, and the law UNenforcement officers just laugh while they twist things around to turn criminals into victims and victims into criminals. Things have gotten so much worse around here in the last ten years that that statistic is hard to believe.

    • I am almost wondering if the statistics are based on legal hunting, and what we’re seeing is an increase in poaching…

  2. I disagree with this assessment.
    Hunting is so entrenched that even restoring some smidge of honor is better than what we have now which is just ‘kill baby kill’. Like it or not, it is that very attitude that is becoming legitimized and it is horrific. I look at the political landscape in my state of New Mexico where 2 of the game commissioners are themselves participants and/or organizers of killing contests, where the former Director of NMG&F was himself a trapper and had the gall to publish the 7 tenets of the NA model in the rule booklet last year despite pretty much ignoring half of them in policy and where the lack of even the most basic population justifications for the killing they allow is jarring and I just see devastation. I’m the wildlife volunteer for our Sierra Club chapter and I signed and helped write the letter from which this commentary came because some good in my mind is better than no good at all.
    The New Mexico Game Commission holds the fate of every wild animal in our state in its hands (except for federally endangered species) and this body is enshrined in our state constitution. The reality is that this frame is not changing any time soon. We need a new governor which can make a big difference with the choice of appointments. Eventually, the political power of ranchers and outfitters (often the same people) and oil drillers and hunters will wane, at least I live in that hope, but until then wildlife and biotic communities continue to suffer as we continue to allow, promote and even praise even the most barbaric and sickening blood sports.
    The irony of fanning the flames of misplaced anger at groups working to do something about this is that hunting organizations are mad at us too.

    • There is no honor when groups who purport to be working for wild animals, knowingly collaborate with those very people who are doing the killing. Look at history, and remember the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance: They took a brave, uncompromising stand against the Gestapo, and never gave up, even though they were finally shot. But they went down in history for Not Compromising with the Enemy.
      Yes, hunting is entrenched. Maybe, if large, well-financed groups like Sierra Club (& others) actually had stood up against hunting/trapping and the livestock industry–and had used their talents these past decades to expose these industries’ lies, wildlife might be fairing much better today. As it is, wildlife is under more attack than ever before. So, whatever deals such groups make with animal killers, it isn’t working well for the wildlife, is it?

  3. While I believe I understand the sentiment behind this piece, I am a bit concerned by the statistical content. First off, I don’t believe that P-R funds have ever exceeded $600 Million in the past 20 years. ( Regardless, P-R really needs an overhaul, especially the provisions for encouraging hunting–a dying sport. Secondly, the 47% drop in Hunters in New Mexico is marked as insignificant at 90% confidence intervals–probably due to Federal budget cuts requiring smaller samples. More telling is that Wildlife Watchers spent $327M compared to a paltry $139M by Hunters in 2011, in New Mexico. (

    I believe that rather than intraguild predation and purity tests, we (predator and other wildlife advocates) need to hammer on the general public and on the legislatures, driving home that the legislatures’ continued opening of their trophy-hunter/rancher pandering box of tax dollars and legislative support has created a Pandora’s box-load of bad outcomes for wildlife, tax-payers, and long-term, ironically, consumptive wildlife users. Even ranchers that focus on husbandry rather than predation stand to gain from a healthy biosphere. We need to hammer home to Governors, and the voters, that governors are killing jobs with their hunting-crony appointments to game commissions–cronies that are clueless regarding developing the big business of wildlife tourism, while thinking penny-ante about a trophy on the wall or on the floor. Let us focus on the goal.

  4. If you don’t want both sides mad at you, you must take a stand and not alienate the people who thought you were on their side. And more importantly, the animals’ side. I received a reply from WildEarth Guardians that, as far as I am concerned, verified that they are collaborating with the enemy.

    Could it be that the reason the killers think they can ignore public input and scientific studies and just kill, kill kill is because of the fact we have been so timid about criticizing hunting over the years that the middle ground has been pushed far over to the side?

    Why NOT attack ALL kinds of hunting, in ALL places, at ALL times? Of course we would be biting off more than we can chew, but the tiny nibbles we’ve been attempting just embolden our enemies to take more and more. I for one would like to see them play defense for a change, instead of always offense. (Though they would still be offensive.)

    When the Sierra Club became pro-hunting, Paul Watson left. When Greenpeace became timid bystanders, Paul Watson left. Now he leads the most uncompromising environmental organization there is: Sea Shepherd. I respect and trust (and contribute to) them, because of Captain Watson’s integrity. You’d never see him trade off some whales to save others. Or discuss a compromise with the crew of the Nisshin Maru. And most certainly not actually hire a whaler to work for them! Even if he does eat the meat.

    • As I said in my in my book, the Sierra Club went so far as to start a “Why I hunt” essay contest, offering a grand prize trophy hunt to Alaska for whoever could defend hunting the most eloquently. That kind of complicity doesn’t go away overnight.

      • As a long time Sierra Club volunteer, it is true my organization did have that essay contest and the internal strife it sparked was fierce. It turns out that there was some well heeled donor who provided the money do to that and to develop the “Sierra Sportsmen”, a hunting subgroup of the Club. In 2008 when the economy crashed, that money dried up and the Sierra Sportsmen no longer exists. I like to think, now that we have a different executive director, that even if money weren’t the issue, we still would have put the kibosh on it. And just FYI, last year the Sierra Club was #6 on the US Sportsmen’s Alliance list of the “Dirty Dozen” groups that worked against hunting, Not everything they wrote about the groups on this list is accurate but every group on the list in one way or another is working to make the environment better for nature and her creatures.

  5. Those of us who stand uncompromisingly for the animals, know what side we are on. The corporate wildlife groups (they know who they are), need us to be a thorn in their side, a witness to their collaboration with the animal killers. These groups, whether naively or not, think that somehow they can play both sides –or sit on the fence–and that by “making friends” with these killers, they can somehow save some animals? It never works, and it isn’t working. The Enemy sees through their desperate scrambling for favor–and has no respect for these groups anyway. In psychology, a question on someone’s dysfunctional behavior, says it all: “so tell me, how is what you are doing, working for you”? Every day, more wild animals are terrorized, maimed, and slaughtered, not less. More wolves, more coyotes, more prairie dogs, more wolverines, more grizzly bears, & other animals are dying because of such cowardice by these groups.
    How is compromising, genuflecting, hiring hunters on your staff, getting cozy with The Livestock Industry (who is also actively behind the on-going, increasing wolf slaughter), helping the wolves? These compromising groups may think their hunter/rancher friends will help them? When push comes to shove, they will side with their industries. How many hunters, ranchers speak up for the wolf at public hearings?

    Also, Thank you, “bythewindssailor” for your excellent comments! Yes, Sea Shepherd is the greatest–and they have the intestinal fortitude to RESIST the Enemy. Shame on the rest.

  6. For the record, the Sierra Club is incredibly democratic. We are the only environmental group whose members elect our Board of Directors who also serve without pay. Every member gets to vote. That structure is not corporate. A couple of years ago, it was the members/ volunteers who pressured the Board to take the strong policy against trapping we now have. That was not a financial decision.

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