We often think that those entrusted with protecting wildlife forget that wildlife is for all people. History, tradition, political pressure, and funding, have made it a challenge to respond to the needs of a broad demographic. The non-hunting community is left unsure of their representation at a state level. Is this the fault of the agencies alone? Not entirely, there are several ways that we can work together on finding solutions to the seeming imbalance that permeates wildlife management.
- We can look for agency practices that DO encourage diverse participation, and who strive to protect our wildlife without reverting to only ‘killing them to save them’. We must affirm those efforts and positively reinforce the actions that show a true understanding of managing wildlife in ways that serve the wildlife above all else.
- We must show up! You will never go to a game agency meeting that has no hunting users present. We are all constituents and we must be prepared to show up too!
- We must realize that change comes slowly, and that lasting change often comes from the changing of perceptions and understanding. A change of culture, not just of regulation. This is best illustrated when Bills are introduced in many states that liberalize hunting practices or fail to protect species we know need to be protected. Strong advocacy can often help to defeat those Bills, but it symbolizes winning a hill that will need to be defended-legislative session after legislative session-for years and years to come. These protracted battles mask the underlying issue which is not the regulatory question of ‘can we’ but the ethical question of ‘should we’?
- We must always identify who the actual ‘decision-maker’ is, and that means knowing where the ‘leverage’ comes from. The person in front of you may have no control at all over what is happening. Find out who does and direct your efforts to them. Do not be afraid to ask the hard questions, over and over again if necessary, until you get an answer that is not simply rhetoric.
- One of the main reasons that agencies are reluctant to include the needs of non-hunters and advocacy organizations is that we rarely vote according to our core environmental beliefs. This often results in state governments, especially in the Rocky Mountain West, being mostly comprised of those with similar ideologies to their state’s historic demographic of producers and hunters. For the strategic politician these special interest stakeholders can mean the difference between re-election and ‘retirement’! This is the source of many of the policies that we find challenging and this is where the ‘buck stops’. Political pressure is as unfair to the dedicated agency folk as it is to the advocates.
- Producers and carnivores CAN co-exist but it is up to the producer to take the steps required to do so. More and more livestock growers are embracing non-lethal deterrents and conflict prevention. We must support and encourage them as they try to find the new balance that is found beyond the use of bullets. They are 21st Century pioneers indeed!
- We must be able to identify the actual issues that we are addressing. It can be cathartic to express our dissatisfaction through anger and by personal attacks. This becomes a distraction from what we are actually advocating for-the quality of life for the animals. It really is OK to disagree, in fact it can be the first step to real communication, we just have to remember to do it in a respectful and non-judgmental way. Talk to people the way you would like your favorite friend or relative treated if they were in the same position. It may be hard to admit, but our motivation may sometimes be biased by ‘baggage’ from interactions with particular personnel in the past. This goes both ways-it ends up with each side putting more energy into attacking the smoke than in putting out the fire. The animals and landscape are not helped when we give or take personal ‘hits’.
- In identifying issues, we must also acknowledge that the differences we experience are usually based in ‘values’. ‘Science’ is a standard that we have put value on. However interpretation of ‘science’ can be a source of disagreement among scientists themselves, so in and of itself, it is not an involuble measurement. Knowing that our beliefs, attitudes and values are the foundation of our differences can be a breakthrough in how we see each other.
- We can try to engage the people whose values we feel most distant from. This can be hard but it helps to know that you are not giving up your beliefs just by listening to someone else’s view, and maybe they will then listen to yours. Empathy is not about betraying yourself, it is about allowing yourself to try and see how the other person is experiencing the situation at hand. Remember to approach every situation as an opportunity to learn and to celebrate the chance to do so!
- We cannot bully people into being compassionate! What we would like to see more than anything is compassion towards non-human animals. Let’s try it on each other first! Our enduring message is to question whether killing something just for recreation is justified. Simply put, it is easier to empower people’s compassionate nature than to overpower them into reluctant submission.
- Advocates and watchers are associated with being ’emotional’. If we think about sport hunting of large carnivores (cougars, wolves, bears) logically, we realize that there is no reason to do it. It is not a conflict prevention measure because it does not target ‘problem’ animals. It is for recreation, and why do we recreate? We recreate for enjoyment-it gives us pleasure. And what are ‘enjoyment’ and ‘pleasure’ if not emotions?
- Always remember that change IS happening. If we examine societal attitudes towards carnivores even since the 1960’s, it really is better, BUT there is movement today to go back to the old way of regarding these creatures as redundant. Several states have had bills introduced in efforts to relegate cougars to ‘predator status’ which is basically no accountability whatsoever.
- Surprisingly much of the pushback to this regression is from professional wildlife managers. Some of them really are stepping up to the plate to fight for protection for wild carnivores. Those that do, deserve our support. As do those brave public servants devoted to protecting our Public Lands-these lands must stay in the Public Sector. This is an insidious and very real threat and we must respond to it with unity and firm resolve.
- Lastly, funding is ‘in the news’ these days. Agencies are facing budget shortfalls and it is time for the funding AND the representation to reflect all the different stakeholders. There cannot be one without the other…
A quote by Woodrow Wilson recently came to our attention. It was part of an address to the Senate regarding the 1st World War. The arena of wildlife management is similar to the arena of war in its propensity to end up as highly defined ‘sides’. Perhaps the theme of this quote could be well utilized to administer the Public Trust Doctrine that governs our nation’s wild-lands and wildlife.
‘There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.’
There has been a monopoly for too long, it is time for community and not rivalry to take center stage in the protection of our most wonderful natural world….