Les Smith: Who should have a say in wildlife?

A lot of people would love to make wildlife management an environmental issue. If it does, hunting and trapping will be gone. So will the funding that comes with them. Every management decision will be a popularity contest. Cute, cuddly animals will get what little money there is. Grotesque, scary or shy creatures will disappear, or get out of control and become a big problem.

No other group does more for wildlife conservation than hunters and trappers. Don’t think so? Just look at the plight of the African elephant. According to a National Public Radio report on June 16, wild populations of African elephants will be extinct by 2040. Why? Because, international wildlife NGOs don’t have the popular support and access to funding regulated hunting could have provided for them.

On the other hand, the North American Model of Wildlife Management (NAMWM) works because of its government/sportsman partnership. Seriously, where else in the world can you get ordinary citizens to pay for the privilege of “working” for the government? Hunting and trapping help control populations and solve wildlife-related problems that are too big and expensive for wildlife agencies to do on their own. Hunters voluntarily tax themselves, through licenses, tags, stamps and a tax on firearms, ammunition and archery tackle (Pittman-Robertson funds), to a total more than $1 billion in 2013. And, dedicated hunters and trappers raise millions of dollars and work on projects, every year, to improve habitat for all wildlife.

According to a U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) survey of American attitudes on hunting, fishing and wildlife, 95 percent of all Americans, including many hunters, have no clue about the role hunting and trapping play in wildlife management. These folks don’t know anything about wildlife and don’t really want to worry about it. And, the more urbanized America becomes — the more obtuse public opinions about wildlife become. It’s a fact that can be easily seen right here in Nevada. Most Nevada citizens are relative newcomers, moving from a big city — to a big city. They’ll likely never stray outside the city where they live. Consequently, wildlife encounters in their “urban bubble,” will range from flabbergasting to horrifying, depending on the critter.

So, who should have a say in how wildlife is managed? One of the pillars of the NAMWM is, let the science do the talking. Of course, wildlife management isn’t a perfect science. When human beings are introduced into any process, so is an element of emotion. At a Utah Wildlife Board meeting, reams of scientific data were tossed out, because a 13-year-old wouldn’t turn 14 by the season opener and couldn’t hunt ducks with his dying grandpa. And, a fledgling sandhill crane hunt was finished off by persistent anti-hunters, nipping at the edges for six seasons.

Thank goodness there are hunters and trappers with the time and energy to be vigilant. Or, the percentage of Americans, who couldn’t care less, would let the 12 percent of those who strongly disapprove of hunting have their way.

Les Smith is the Nevada Regional director of the Rockey Mountain Elk.


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