Ted Williams: Sportsmen can thank themselves for the attack on public lands
Writers on the Range
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” declares Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Really? Roosevelt pushed and ultimately signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 that gave presidents the authority to create national monuments. He then established 18 of them. But now, at President Trump’s request, Zinke works to open national monuments to fossil fuel extraction.
Hunters and anglers say they are astonished and outraged. But without their support, Trump wouldn’t be president and Zinke wouldn’t be running Interior. If sportsmen read newspapers instead of hook-and-bullet rags, they’d have understood that state seizure of public lands is a plank in the GOP platform and that state lands get sold off or reserved for extractive industry.
In a Petersen’s Hunting piece entitled “Why Sportsmen Should Vote for Donald Trump,” the magazine’s editor reveals his reaction to meeting the candidate: “My heart started to pound, my breath coming in short gulps.”
A group calling itself Sportsmen for Trump offered this: “Mr. Trump is the only candidate that will represent our values.”
“We as hunters, anglers and Americans can chalk this day up as a win for our sport,” effused Outdoorhub on Trump’s inauguration.
“Zinke a Good Choice as Interior Secretary,” proclaimed Bowhunting.com.
As a condition for entering the Union, most Western states agreed to disclaim all right to unappropriated public lands. In exchange, the federal government gave them “trust lands” with which to generate revenue through sale and development. So far, Utah has sold off 4.1 million acres of its trust lands, New Mexico 4 million, Montana 800,000, Idaho 1.5 million, Colorado 1.7 million, Arizona 1.7 million. Of the 2.7 million acres given to Nevada, only 3,000 acres remain.
One might suppose that the state wildlife professionals who belong to the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies would work for the best interests of the hunting- and fishing-license buyers who help pay their salaries. Instead, they led the successful charge against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to reassert control of the American public’s 73 million acres of national wildlife refuges in Alaska. Necessitating that rule was the board’s attempt to convert both federal and state lands to a vast Stop & Shop for moose and caribou meat by killing off bears and wolves.
Traditionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed states to manage wildlife on the agency’s refuges, but things got so out of hand in Alaska it had to protect the public’s wildlife from the board’s 1920s-style predator jihad. As then-director Dan Ashe wrote in the Aug. 3, 2016, Huffington Post: “The Alaska Board of Game has unleashed a withering attack on bears and wolves that is wholly at odds with America’s long tradition of ethical, sportsmanlike, fair-chase hunting. … There comes a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must stand up for the authorities and principles that underpin our work and say, ‘no.’”
That thinking doesn’t compute with Congress or the Trump administration. In April, the president signed legislation repealing the federal wildlife agency’s Alaska refuge rule. On federal lands Alaska now allows the shooting of grizzly and brown bears over bait, shooting mother bears with cubs as well as killing the cubs themselves, shooting bears and wolves from planes, and dispatching wolves and wolf pups in their dens.
When the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies attacked Ashe for standing up for the wildlife that belongs to all Americans it was joined by The Pope and Young Club, Quail Forever, Orion the Hunters Institute, Pheasants Forever, Wild Sheep Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone and Crockett Club, Ducks Unlimited, Quality Deer Management Association and Safari Club, to mention just a few.
The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Consider some of the pious statements issuing from these same groups on the issue of public lands remaining in public hands:
Pope and Young Club, Quail Forever, Orion the Hunters Institute, Pheasants Forever, Wild Sheep Foundation: “As sportsmen-based organizations, we are alarmed that some decision makers are promoting the idea that federal public lands should be transferred to individual states.”
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: “Transferring or selling these lands to states … may also close the door to public access for hunters, anglers, hikers and others.”
Boone and Crockett Club: “Federal lands are the foundation of the most successful conservation system in the world.”
Ducks Unlimited: “We do not believe it would be constructive to … liquidate the national interest in federal land management.”
Compounding their hypocrisy, these groups were virtually silent about the felonious, 41-day armed occupation and trashing of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
With friends like the publications that “educate” them and the organizations that “represent” them, hunters and anglers don’t need enemies.
Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes the monthly “Recovery” column for The Nature Conservancy’s online magazine Cool Green Science.
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