There’s a gaping difference between sportsmen and so-called animal rights groups. I have yet to have an animal rightist accept my invitation to come help haul cement out into the desert in backpacks to build water guzzlers for wildlife, spend time volunteering for a Hunters for the Hungry meat processing and distribution program, or forego a tony city cocktail party and instead attend a fundraiser put on by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation or Ducks Unlimited.
California gives us a single example that highlights the sharp contrast between the two.
California’s Prop 117: A Case Study of the Failed Efforts of “Wildlife Protection”
It all began in 1972 when then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed legislation outlawing the sport hunting of mountain lions in California for five years. The battle raged for years until 1990 when a state initiative, Proposition 117, was passed with 52.4 percent of the vote. That made the hunting of mountain lions illegal in California. Dubbed the “California Wildlife Protection Act,” Prop 117 was posed as a conservation act that acquired habitat for deer, mountain lions and endangered species and promised $30 million to be allocated for the preservation of habitat over a 30-year period.
It sounded great at first blush, until the details: the legislation would place mountain lions on the “specially protected species list,” and the allocation of funds would come from both the general state fund as well as the “unallocated account” of the state. In short, this new $30 million fund, called the “Habitat Conservation Fund,” would be covered by taxpayers, not sportsmens’ dollars.
For those unfamiliar with California state initiatives, they are essentially propositions approved by state legislature for a public vote. California, being a predominantly liberal state, passed the initiative that leaned heavily on verbiage of conservation of habitat. This placed the mountain lion on the specially protected species list, which would require at 4/5 vote of legislature, or a majority vote of the people, to overturn — a virtual impossibility. This initiative was backed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, an animal rights group founded in 1986 that believes that mountain lions are in peril and that “our nation is on the verge of destroying this apex species upon which whole ecosystems depend.” They also state that hunting of mountain lions is “morally unjustified.”
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website, “this status and other statutes prohibit the CDFW from recommending a hunting season for lions and it is illegal to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or part of a mountain lion.” This includes any lions taken legally in another state. Even lions mounted by a taxidermist are illegal to transport or possess in California.
How bad is it?
I remember when, back in January, 2012, Daniel W. Richards, then president of the California Fish and Game Commission, was photographed holding a dead mountain lion he legally killed in northern Idaho. The photograph was published online at Western Outdoor News, of which I was editor back in the late 1970s. This led to calls for his resignation.
Wayne Pacelle, a leader of the Humane Society of the United States, was one of those calling for the resignation. Pacelle said that although killing mountain lions in Idaho was not illegal, it is illegal in California due to Proposition 117. Pacelle said, “It’s not illegal. But he’s thumbed his nose at the people of California. He’s supposed to be representing the interests of all California citizens. It seems like such a tone-deaf action.” Talk about chutzpah!
In August, 2012, Richards was replaced as commission president. And today, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions roam California. [B – create an out-quote here please] They’ve killed so many deer that seasons have been reduced in many areas, and are such a nuisance in some areas that the state now pays professionals to kill them. Between that and cats being killed on the highways, hundreds die in the state each year despite Prop 117.
The list of “Why Hunting is Conservation” is much longer than these 10, which is why I am calling this list Part 1. Part II will appear next Tuesday.
10) In 1907, only 41,000 elk remained in North America.
Thanks to the money and hard work invested by hunters to restore and conserve habitat, today there are well over 1 million elk, with the big ungulates now inhabiting several states east of the Mississippi River where they lived hundreds of years ago.
9) In 1900, only 500,000 whitetails remained.
Thanks to conservation work spearheaded by hunters, today there are more than 32 million — and the numbers are still growing.
8) In 1900, only 100,000 wild turkeys remained.
Thanks to hunters, today there are over 7 million.
7) In 1901, few ducks remained.
Thanks to hunters’ efforts to restore and conserve wetlands, today there are more than 44 million.
6) In 1950, only 12,000 pronghorn remained.
Thanks to hunters, today there are more than 1.1 million.
5) Habitat, research and wildlife law enforcement work.
All paid for by hunters, these efforts help countless non-hunted species as well as game animals.
4) Hunter funding.
Through state licenses and fees, hunters pay roughly $796 million a year for conservation programs.
3) Hunter donations.
Through donations to various conservation organizations, hunters add $440 million a year to conservation efforts.
2) Hunter tax.
In 1937, hunters actually requested an 11 percent tax on guns, ammunition, bows and arrows to help fund conservation. That tax, so far, has raised well over $8 billion for wildlife conservation.
1) No one gives more!
All together, hunters pay more than $1.6 billion a year for conservation programs.
Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.
Featured image: “The Defender” by Ryan Kirby was part of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Premiere Art Program in 2015. Artwork like this is used at funding-raising events to support conservation work.