Colorado, like most western states, was once a haven for an incredible array of wildlife including native carnivores like wolves, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and wolverines. The government-sanctioned and funded war on wildlife over the last two centuries rendered many of these species either extinct in the Centennial State or barely hanging on. But, the past year has provided a glimmer of hope that times are changing as Colorado voters and decision-makers have begun to create a (hopefully) more hospitable place for wildlife.
The biggest sign of change—and a real reason for wildlife enthusiasts to be excited—is of course the passing of Proposition 114 in November of 2020. The ballot measure directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to bring the gray wolf back to Colorado, where it has been largely absent since the 1940s. How and where exactly reintroduction will happen is still up for much input and debate. And we can be sure that anti-wildlife interests will be fervent in advocating that wolves be hunted, trapped, lethally “managed,” and otherwise persecuted. Guardians will be there howling for wolves to be safe, protected, and bountiful enough to work their ecosystem magic across the state.
Another win for wildlife in Colorado that may have flown under the public radar, but that is critical for conservation: Governor Polis recently signed three bills into law to provide much-needed funding for CPW to protect the state’s diverse wildlife, habitat and park system. What’s particularly noteworthy about these new laws is that they will allow the general public to provide funding for wildlife conservation, not just hunters and anglers, who have historically paid for and directed state wildlife agencies.
The Keep Colorado Wild Pass Initiative, Wolf Reintroduction Funding With No License Fees, and Colorado State Parks and Public Lands Colorado Comeback Stimulus will all put public money into wildlife conservation efforts. These three pieces of legislation don’t wholly breakup the unholy grip that sportsmen have on CPW. But they are a start toward a wildlife agency that should be more accountable to the public—most of whom believe in the intrinsic value of wildlife and coexistence with wildlife—rather than a small subset of Coloradans.
Finally, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission appears to be getting more diverse both in terms of demographic representation and backgrounds and ideologies. Most wildlife and game commissions in the western U.S. are dominated by males, white people, hunters, and agricultural representatives. This dynamic is a symptom of broader history and, of course, funding. Since his election, Governor Polis has done well to change the status quo, appointing commissioners who might be considered outsiders and who better represent Colorado as a whole.
But it’s not all good news—it rarely is on the wildlife front! The amount of pushback that Commissioner Jay Tuchton—a seasoned and outspoken wildlife advocate—received during senate confirmation was a stark reminder that parts of Colorado are still stuck in a time when wildlife was the enemy and only hunters, trappers, and ranchers had a say in how CPW should deal with animals.
And a recent scandal helped illuminate how much of that antipathy towards wildlife, especially wolves, exists among CPW staff. JT Romatzke is a high-ranking agency official who was caught trying to undermine the wolf reintroduction effort and managed to keep his job—while a whistelblower lost his. Audio recordings of Romatzke outlining his subversion also indicate that he and other staffers are not ready for a new, modern CPW Commission. He is heard calling Commissioner Tutchton and Commissioner Taishya Adams “these people,” insinuating that they don’t belong making decisions for CPW. Commissioner Adams is a black woman and Commissioner Tutchton used to represent WildEarth Guardians to protect wildlife.
Leadership is changing, but CPW clearly still has a culture problem that will likely act as a roadblock for real wildlife progress. Mountain lions can now be hunted with the aid of electronic calls in certain parts of the state, a clear regression in policy. Colorado’s vaunted trapping ban is filled with loopholes. And transparency is a major issue as groups and journalists often face unreasonable hurdles to obtaining information that should publicly available.
There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that Colorado continues to become more hospitable for once-persecuted native carnivores. But there are reasons to be optimistic thanks to Governor Polis and the current roster of CPW Commissioners. Together with you and our allies, WildEarth Guardians will continue working to ensure that wildlife is protected—and respected—in Colorado and throughout the American West.
Last spring, at the height of some of the most anxiety-ridden moments of the pandemic, my father read a poem to me over the phone. He’s 89 this year, and while he’s vibrant and healthy I don’t take for granted any opportunity to hear his voice — especially when he’s reciting a poem.
The poem, Mary Oliver’s Spring, describes the emergence of a black bear from its winter slumber. Oliver writes: “There is only one question: how to love this world.”
This spring, as bruins emerged across the American West, I found myself wondering about the secret lives bears lead. As their hunger grows, do they imagine eating trout from a Rocky Mountain stream?
Is it hunger pangs or some deeper yearning — perhaps to experience the new world – that drives bears from the comfort and warmth of their dens?
I’ve been thinking about bears and how to love their world because bear-management-practices have been in the spotlight recently, a light that intensified after two people were killed by bears, one in Montana and one in Colorado.
The death of those people was tragic. Yet, we must remember that fatal attacks remain rare. A bear does not wake up in the morning, pack a rifle, and set out to kill a human being. Bears struggle to survive in an increasingly diminishing wild that brings them in contact with humans more frequently.
Humanity’s mission, I believe, is not to kill them but to find ways to coexist.
On April 30, Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill that allows hunters to use hounds to hunt black bears in the spring, when they’re with cubs and ravenous for food. This is the same governor who illegally trapped and killed one of Yellowstone’s iconic wolves.
One of the bills’ key sponsors, state Sen. Tom MacGillivray, offered a consistent refrain about bears: “Over the last seven, eight years we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in the whitetail population, and, interestingly enough, a dramatic increase in the black bear population,” he said. “This bill helps to balance that out.”
Not a shred of science supports this contention. There’s a long-standing war on carnivores and blaming bears is a convenient excuse for what ails the deer and the deer hunter’s world. In reality, a complex host of factors including habitat loss due to sprawl, climate change and other dynamics are to blame.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a federal judge struck down a controversial plan supported by the state’s wildlife agency, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department, to “study” whether killing black bears — and mountain lions — would benefit mule deer. Sadly, the judge’s ruling denying federal funding of the bear-killing plan came too late for the dozens of Colorado bears that were killed in the study, one the agency’s scientists had to know was laden with anti-carnivore bias.
Though Colorado and Montana are worlds apart on the political spectrum, the hostility towards bears and other carnivores is a tie that binds, whether it originates in a state legislature or in the state agency charged with managing wildlife.
At a time when the attitudes of most Montanans, Coloradans and Americans at large are shifting dramatically to favor greater coexistence with fanged creatures, those in power over the lives of wild animals are digging in their heels. Instead of figuring out how to live with them, Montana and Colorado are making it easier to kill bears.
The word poetry comes from the Greek poetes, meaning “to create.” Whenever possible, I believe we should attempt to create opportunities for all life to thrive. It pains me that often those at the state level responsible for overseeing the management of wildlife seem to take more pleasure in the destruction of bears than in figuring out better ways for humans to coexist with them.
Wildlife management needs a new reason to exist, one that isn’t based on killing. Its mission might read like this: We aim to protect wildlife, making no distinction between predator and prey. We aim to enhance that sense of wonder most of us experience when we see animals in the wild.
And instead of taking more courses in traditional wildlife management, the profession might consider including reading some of the best American poetry inspired by nature and the creatures that depend on still-wild places.
They could start with Mary Oliver’s Spring.
This piece originally was published by Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.
On May 6, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed a gray wolf extermination bill into law that allows hunters, trappers—and even paid private contractors—to slaughter up to 90% of the wolves in Idaho.
The new law permits the killing of wolves by various cruel and unethical means, including night hunting with night-vision equipment, aerial gunning, and hunting from snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. In addition to letting individuals kill as many wolves as they want, the new law authorizes year-round wolf trapping on private lands, including during the season when pups and females are most vulnerable.
This new Idaho wolf extermination law is only possible because ten years ago this month federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections were stripped from gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and northern Utah via a rider attached by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) to a must-pass budget bill.
This undemocratic move a decade ago—which blocked any judicial review of the rider—opened the floodgates for widespread wolf killing in the northern Rockies. Over the past few years, state “management” of wolves in the northern Rockies has included Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) hiring a professional hunter-trapper to go into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to slaughter wolves and IDFG conducting aerial gunning operations to butcher wolves in some of the most remote roadless federal wildlands remaining in the lower-48 states.
More recently—during a 12-month period—hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies killed 570 wolves in Idaho, including at least 35 wolf pups. The state of Idaho also allows a $1,000 “bounty” paid to trappers per dead wolf, including wolves killed deep within some of America’s largest and wildest Wilderness areas.
The dire situation for wolves in Montana is much the same. Fresh off revelations that Governor Greg Gianforte did not have a valid license when he trapped and shot a collared Yellowstone wolf, Gov Gianforte has signed numerous draconian bills to slaughter more wolves. New barbaric laws in Montana allow hunters and trappers to kill an unlimited number of wolves, allow a wolf “bounty,” extend the wolf-trapping season, permit strangulation neck snares, and authorize night-time hunting of wolves on private lands and baiting of wolves.
The vicious situation facing wolves in Montana and Idaho proves that the gray wolf still needs federal ESA protections. As we warned ten years ago, state “management” of wolves essentially amounts to the brutal state-sanctioned eradication of this keystone species.
WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed a lawsuit ten years ago in an attempt to overturn this undemocratic, spiteful wolf rider because we believed the wolf delisting rider violated the U.S. Constitution. While our lawsuit wasn’t successful because Congress simply closed the courthouse doors, the on-going attempts to decimate wolf populations in Idaho and Montana warrant national outrage and action.
State ‘management’ of wolves in Idaho and Montana harkens back to an era when people sought to exterminate wolves altogether, and nearly succeeded. These types of actions were not only deplorable in the early 1900s, but they have zero place in science-based management of a keystone species in 2021, especially in the midst of dual nature and climate crises.
President Biden, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Congress must take immediate action to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections for all gray wolves in the lower 48 states—including in the northern Rockies—before it’s too late.
We must not abandon wolf-recovery efforts or allow anti-wolf states, hunters, and trappers to push these iconic species back to the brink of extinction.
Earlier this year, I had the great opportunity to join a productive discussion on the links between wildlife trafficking and public health hosted by Eddie Estrada of the Endangered Species Coalition.
I joined staff from newly-elected Senator Ben Ray Lujan’s office and from Senator Martin Heinrich’s office to discuss ”The Preventing Future Pandemics Act” and learn how this bipartisan bill, sponsored by John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), is an important step toward preventing future zoonotic epidemics and diseases like the Covid-19.
As Estrada, who hails from Anthony, New Mexico, explained, “This piece of legislation would not only prohibit the exportation and importation of live wildlife species for human consumption and medicinal purposes, but would also end all exploitation of live wildlife trafficking in the U.S.”
This is a bill with teeth. In Estrada’s words, “This legislation would require a study to increase the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services commitment to combat trafficking and improve global enforcement laws.” Estrada emphasized that this act is driven by “an urgent need for a global approach,” which requires bipartisan support from congressional leaders to local leaders in rural communities.
As a part of the discussion, I was able to share how wildlife exploitation has hit home for me. Just this past November, a man taking a stroll through the deserts of Santa Teresa discovered a pile of rotted carnage. What he first thought was a pile of dead dogs, turned out to be a pile of skinned coyotes—roughly 40 dead song dogs. Each coyote had signs of leghold traps. Although skinning and killing coyotes for their fur is not a crime, dumping coyotes certainly is. As of now, no one has been held accountable for this heinous crime.
We have made strides, but still have work to do to prevent such crimes from happening again. In 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed SB 76, which banned coyote killing contests in New Mexico. In doing so, the Land of Enchantment joined seven other states, including our sister states Arizona and Colorado. Even more recently, WildEarth Guardians and the TrapFree New Mexico coalition succeeded in passing Roxy’s Law, which will ban public lands trapping across New Mexico.
But more needs to be done. And the Preventing Future Pandemics Act can help.
Each year, thousands and thousands of native wildlife across the U.S. are killed and skinned for their fur, and sold to other parts of the world, where low-wage processing shops then sell the processed fur to the buyers in the fashion industry for a profit. This practice is inhumane and cruel, which alone is enough to fight to protect wildlife. But now more than ever, the health of people and the health of wildlife and our planet are interconnected. In order to help ourselves, we need to end the exploitation of wildlife.
My name is Cruzer and last month, my mom, dad, and partner, Chaco, were hiking in the Santa Fe National Forest together. Chaco and I were just doing our dog thing—running, marking trees, sniffing everything…and then it happened. I got caught in a leg trap. Boy, did it ever hurt, and did I ever scream! Dad got me out after a few hectic minutes but I would hate for another dog, wild animal, or a small human to go through this experience. I was pretty sore for a few days and limped about, but I’m O.K. now. We have to ban traps on public lands.
(This true story was recently shared with us by WildEarth Guardians member, Dennis Parker)
After years of public education, coalition building, lobbying politicians, advocating, and fighting for justice, New Mexico’s public lands will finally be free of traps, snares, and poisons. Yippee! On April 5, 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed “Roxy’s Law,” legislation banning those cruel devices that have caused countless agonizing deaths of animals, wild and domestic, throughout New Mexico.
WildEarth Guardians worked tirelessly for more than a decade to ban traps and poisons on public lands. These dangerous and indiscriminate devices are deeply inhumane and have no place on public lands, whether they harm family pets like Cruzer or lead to fates far worse—not just in New Mexico but across the country.
We committed. We demanded. We organized. And now New Mexico joins only four other states across the country that have passed similar trapping bans on public lands. Roxy’s Law will set the precedent for other states to follow suit and start listening to their citizens, who overwhelmingly abhor trapping and animal cruelty. Guardians will continue to fight for the voiceless and bring to light the importance of ending the use of traps, snares, and poisons on all of America’s public lands.
This Guardians victory came about because we are committed to the vision of cruelty-free and biodiverse public lands—and we’ll need you by our side for the long haul every step of the way to be successful.
It has taken years of steady and consistent action and pressure to get this win in New Mexico. And it will take many more years of action and pressure to see more change across the country.
We pledge to continue fighting for the voiceless and pushing for ethical co-existence with wildlife. We will no doubt have setbacks, but together we can end all trapping on public lands in the American West. We will need your voice, your actions, and your financial support to get it done.
One of the most impactful ways to support our work is by becoming a sustaining monthly supporter and signing up to make a recurring $10, $25, $50, or $100 monthly donation. Over 500 Guardians have already signed up to do just this, and I invite you to join me, and them, as Wild Bunch sustaining members.
Together, we can make ALL public lands safe and enjoyable for recreationists and wildlife. We appreciate your ongoing support.
We did it! Moments ago, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill banning traps, snares, and poisons on public lands across New Mexico.
The new law—called “Roxy’s Law” in honor of a dog who was strangled to death in a neck snare on public lands—will save untold numbers of native wildlife, including bobcats, swift foxes, badgers, beavers, ermine, coyotes, and Mexican gray wolves. It also will protect recreationists and our companion animals from cruel and indiscriminate traps, snares, and poisons on public lands across the Land of Enchantment.
This monumental victory for wildlife and public lands would not have been possible without you! You wrote letters, made phone calls, shared action alerts with your friends and networks, and generously supported our campaign. Thank you!
We also want to thank all of our partner organizations in the TrapFree New Mexico coalition who have collaborated with us for years to ensure that the cruel decimation of wildlife populations via traps, snares, and poisons ceases on public lands.
A few weeks ago, when Roxy’s Law passed the New Mexico Legislature, the National Trappers Association said this on social media: “The trappers of New Mexico are on the brink of losing trapping. They are doing so because their opponents started the process 10 years ago and have been relentless. This is a 365 day a year conquest for them.”
While “conquest” is a word I would reserve to describe the infinite killing of native wildlife for private profit, the rest rings true.
Thousands and thousands of Guardians like you have been working relentlessly for years to make public lands safer, to protect native wildlife, to better society’s relationship with wildness and nature, and to erase the paradigm of killing wildlife for fun and money.
So, join me in celebrating today’s huge milestone for wildlife and public lands, and rest assured that working together—and with your generous support—we will have more victories like this to celebrate in the near future.
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Together, we did it!
Thursday night, after hours of debate—and with the vote in the New Mexico House deadlocked for what seemed like an eternity—the very last vote was cast, passing a landmark bill to ban traps, snares, and poisons on New Mexico public lands by the slimmest of margins, 35-34.
This final legislative step sends Senate Bill 32—called “Roxy’s Law” in memory of a cattle dog who died in a neck snare on public land—to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk to be signed into law.
The effort to get these dangerous and indiscriminate devices off public lands in New Mexico has been ongoing for over a decade and we are thrilled to see this tireless work pay off. Despite the many obstacles and fervent opposition, thousands of grassroots activists like you did not give up fighting this long battle on behalf of wildlife, public lands, people, and companion animals in New Mexico.
Thank you all for the support, whether that was in the form of responding to our calls to contact your legislators, writing letters to the editor, sharing social media posts to raise awareness, or making financial contributions to the campaign.
Endless pressure was endlessly applied and Guardians certainly could not have reached this milestone without your actions and your support!
Along with all of you who have chipped in, we want to recognize our partners in the TrapFree New Mexico coalition: Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club, Animal Protection Voters, Southwest Environmental Center, New Mexico Wild, Project Coyote, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Voters of New Mexico, Endangered Species Coalition, Amigos Bravos, Mountain Lion Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, and Sandia Mountain Bearwatch. Strong coalitions of organizations and individuals are crucial in making change happen and we are thankful to be part of such a powerful group of allies.
Once signed into law, this bill will make public lands safer and more accessible, protect critical native wildlife—including the endangered Mexican gray wolf—and inject much needed science, ethics, and respect into how the Land of Enchantment treats animals.
We’re not there yet and we’ll need your help to ensure Roxy’s Law actually becomes law. But for now, we invite all Guardians to join us in celebrating this huge milestone for wildlife and public lands!
It had seemed for the past half century that perhaps the worst of wolf killing was finally over. After centuries of methodic extermination had nearly completely wiped the animals out of the lower forty-eight, government agencies, scientists, and the general public began to see wolves not primarily as threats to private property, but rather, as invaluable ecological assets that stabilized the ecosystems relied upon by many in the West.
In 1974, the gray wolf was one of the first imperiled species to receive federal protections under the newly-passed Endangered Species Act, As wolves were subsequently reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in the mid 1990s, and thus began migrating to regain their historic range, they slowly began to recover.
A series of recent events across the country make clear this work of wolf recovery has never been in greater jeopardy. In January, the Trump administration finalized the removal of gray wolves from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act and, within a matter of weeks, we witnessed a disturbing new chapter in the nation’s history of needless and irresponsible wolf killing.
In Wisconsin, just a few weeks ago, over 27,000 people applied for an ill-conceived hunt during the wolves’ mating season that, in only three days, left 216 gray wolves dead. Shocked state officials had to call off the hunt prematurely, but not before the three-day slaughter led to 82 percent more wolf deaths than the state had allocated for the entire hunting and trapping season.
Meanwhile, in Montana, a state in which wolves lost Endangered Species Act protections in 2011, not by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service), but by a political act of Congress, the federal delisting emboldened the state to up its efforts to eliminate wolves from the landscape. In the past month, the Montana Senate passed a bill allowing for private bounties for dead wolves and the Montana House passed a bill expanding hunting and trapping seasons (and allowing snares) in an effort to further reduce wolf populations. The traps and snares, which often prolong an animal’s death, are indiscriminate and dangerous not only to wolves but also to non-target species. In a recent six-year period in Montana, for example, at least 350 non-target animals, ranging from mountain lions to pet dogs, were caught in traps. Montana’s recent laws to incentivize and further enable wolf hunting are not simply inhumane, they severely threaten to undo gray wolf recovery efforts and destabilize ecosystems.
These recent activities follow on the heels of a similarly unsettling example of failed state-level wolf management in Idaho, where wolves have also been delisted since 2011. There, over a recent twelve-month period, trappers, hunters, and state and federal agencies killed an astounding 570 wolves, including at least thirty-five wolf pups as young as four weeks old. These wolves, some of whom died of hypothermia in traps or were gunned down from helicopters, represented nearly sixty percent of the total estimated wolf population in the state at the end of 2019. This high number of wolf kills directly reflect the state’s wolf policies: Idaho recently increased the legal limit of wolves an individual can kill in a year to thirty, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game currently funds wolf bounty programs in the state.
Taken together, the examples of Idaho, Wisconsin, and Montana give us all the evidence we need that state-led management does not ensure the protection and recovery of gray wolves.
This horrifying slaughter of wolves in just a few states—based not on science, but on fear and hatred for a long persecuted species—is why WildEarth Guardians has joined a broad coalition of groups across the country to challenge the Service’s decision to delist wolves in court. Wolves have not recovered in the West and the decision to delist them goes against the intent of the Endangered Species Act, which not only mandates the federal government to forestall the extermination of gray wolves but also, crucially, to promote their full recovery. Although this law has played an enormous role in preventing the wholesale loss of gray wolves in the contiguous US, its work to ensure their continued survival and recovery, as these recent examples in Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin make all too clear, is far from finished.
To let the work of gray wolf recovery go unfinished would be a tragedy hard to tabulate. Gray wolves are a keystone species that play a critical role in the ecological health of their historic range. Being listed under the Endangered Species Act has allowed gray wolves to begin to rebound in the upper Great Lakes region, yet their recovery there does nothing for the populations of gray wolves throughout the West, where the animals remain largely absent or underpopulated in their historic range. For example, in Oregon and Washington, estimates indicate less than 150 wolves in each state while in Colorado, a location in which wolves roamed across all landscapes in the 1800s through early 1900s, has only reported sightings of a handful of lone wolves in the last two years. The example of success in the upper Great Lakes region should not be used to dismantle wolf protections, but rather, to illustrate the continued need for those protections throughout the country where wolf populations remain extremely vulnerable. Only ongoing federal protections, based on scientific data, will guarantee gray wolves a continued and healthy future in this country. To that end, please urge the Biden administration to restore Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves.
As our nation reckons with its story of conquest, recent killing sprees of gray wolves in the remote forests of Wisconsin or the northern Rockies should not go unnoticed. The brutal and bloody history of gray wolves—along with other native megafauna such as bison—in our country is inextricably tied to the larger history of colonization and violence that continues to shape our society. Our country has a deep history of White settlers demonizing the animals in folklore and frontier mythology and equating Native Americans to wolves and other animals within the broader project of colonization. Seen in this light, recent wolf hunts such as what we recently witnessed in Wisconsin are not merely mismanaged debacles, they are part of a much deeper, far more tragic, story. “Wolves symbolized the frustrations and anxieties of colonization,” as historian Jon T. Coleman has written regarding wolf history in this country, “and the canines paid in blood for their utility as metaphor.”
As we are painfully aware, the history of colonization, and of White frustrations and anxieties surrounding colonization, is ongoing. Gray wolves, sadly, may continue to be part of the story. But gray wolves, and the unsound policies and unethical practices aimed at killing them, also present a way to dive deeper into the nation’s history of colonization and violence in search of ways to reconsider a better future. Wolves are “living reminders of colonization,” in Coleman’s words, that “embody an unbroken history of conquest worth pondering and protecting.” As the nation grapples with its history, protecting the gray wolf is not simply about ensuring healthy ecosystems; it is also about preserving a living historical monument to our nation’s violent past and reaffirming a commitment to rise above that legacy of conquest.
While our attention rightfully has been focused on the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Trump administration has quietly been attacking our country on another front. On January 13th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to assist the National Rifle Association to recruit and train hunters to shoot wildlife.
It is fitting to ask, why would an agency whose mission is to “preserve and protect” our nation’s wildlife assist the NRA in recruiting more hunters? The answer is simple. The number of hunters in all states have steadily declined since 1982 when they peaked at 17 million. Today only 4% of the population hunts. In contrast some 86 million people participated in wildlife watching, an estimated 20 percent increase just from 2011 to 2016.
Which means those remaining hunters—most of which are white men, including Trump’s own trophy-hunting children—find their political influence declining as well. Growing the number of hunters is a shameless attempt to protect what remains of their influence at the cost of protecting wildlife.
This parting gift to industry is, of course, not an isolated incident. In the period between New Year’s Eve and today, dozens of anti-environmental regulations and decisions have been issued. Among those is one that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating pollution from the oil and gas industry, another that permits convicted criminals to graze their livestock on public lands, leasing 550,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil and gas industry at fire-sale prices, and others that weaken habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act.
These regulations and decisions continue the trend of enriching the powerful, primarily white men, and locking in the ability of corporations to exploit people and the planet. This pattern began on Day One of Trump’s administration, when public health, safety, and environmental protections all came under attack.
But the pro-hunting bias of Trump’s Interior Department stands out even for what will likely be viewed as the most environmentally hostile administration ever. That’s because the partnership with the NRA is amplified by a suite of other policies that promote hunting at the expense of wildlife. Those policies include the creation of an illegal wildlife council stacked with trophy hunters that allowed more endangered African lions and leopards to be hunted and the most dramatic expansion of hunting in national wildlife refuges ever that will allow more bobcats, foxes, and cougars to be hunted.
It will take years of effort from the Biden administration, Congress, the courts, and ordinary citizens to undo this and the other damage done during the last four years.
There was a time when our nation’s conservation of species and their habitat were actually led by hunters. In fact, the primary reason our national wildlife refuge system exists is the vision, hard work, and funding of hunters. But wildlife policy should no longer be driven by the needs of hunters. Not when more Americans, in urban and rural communities, want to coexist with wildlife—because we believe they are sentient beings with whom we share this planet.
The push to enlist more hunters and elevate hunting across America is a desperate attempt to entrench policies that are hostile to native carnivores, endangered species, and, frankly, almost any species of wildlife that you can’t hunt. Without hunters, the social and political arguments for these policies fade away.
The NRA knows this. Trophy hunters know this. If the number of hunters continues its historic level of decline the social and political arguments for hunters to drive wildlife policy will lack credibility. A desperate attempt to recruit more hunters is one way to preserve their influence.
While I am grateful for the vision and commitment of hunters that contributed to conservation years ago, it’s now time to turn the page on the past. Our nation’s wildlife doesn’t need more hunting, they need less. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should no more be helping the NRA than the Rebel Alliance should be helping the Death Star.
Finally, I cannot help but see parallels between the pro-hunting policies that primarily promote the interests of white men and the actions of the angry, violent mob that attacked our nation’s Capitol. Much like the number of hunters, the Republican party is keenly aware that their demographic—namely, white people—has shrinking political influence. The voter suppression enacted by conservative state legislatures across the country testifies to this fact. Frederick Douglass wrote that “power concedes nothing without a demand.” We must demand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nullify this agreement with the NRA and the suite of other policies that elevate hunting over the needs of wildlife.