Trophy Hunters Don't Fund Recovery
The majority of funding for bear management right now has come from hunting license dollars,” claimed Ken McDonald, Chief of Wildlife for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), after the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) voted to recommend removing the grizzly from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection in November of 2013. McDonald was speaking specifically about grizzly bear management. “Sportsmen have footed the majority of the bill on recovery. There are a few who would like to see a return on that investment,” he said.
McDonald did not provide a budget breakdown to support his assertion when requested to do so, and instead implied that he had been misquoted in the Missoulian. “As a point of clarification,” he wrote, “what I said is that the majority of FWP’s expenses for grizzly bear[s] have been from our license account, which is the primary bank account for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.” Seemingly, it was more a matter of semantics than misrepresentation. “The lie that sportsmen pay the bills has been debunked over and over and over. The states will never learn,” said Tom Mazzarisi, a veteran National Park Service ranger who served in Yellowstone and has significant experience in grizzly bear management. An October 2014 study, Wildlife Conservation and Management Funding in the US, supported Mazzarisi’s contention. The study found that nationwide hunters contribute only 6% of the total funding complex. McDonald and the rest of the vocal minority who promote the falsehood just keep on keeping on, unencumbered by the facts.
That trophy hunters are responsible for the recovery of endangered species has in scope and purpose become a classic western frontier myth, designed to engender the same responses and attitudes within a particular segment of society who share a common ideology. It is not unlike the pantheon of myths that came before that were targeted at tribal people and served to justify dispossessing them. Wherever these trophy hunters and their “game and fish” facilitators go in Greater Yellowstone, they are exploiting ancestral homelands; and they no more paid for that land than they did for grizzly recovery. In a December of 2012 opinion column for the Billings Gazette, former IGBC chair, Harv Forsgren, and his successor, Scott Talbott, Director of Wyoming Game and Fish, bemoaned what they described as “uproar” over the IGBC’s advocacy of trophy hunting as a “management” tool “to promote coexistence” and “reduce conflicts between bears and humans.” Forsgren and Talbott predictably lauded how “sportsmen dollars generated from license sales” had “insured” that “habitats exist” for endangered species, and once again claimed that hunters had “driven” the recovery of endangered species. If only the myth was as easy to kill as a Yellowstone grizzly will be from a quarter-mile with a Remington M-700.
What Forsgren What Forsgren and Talbott profess on funding is as selective as their recall of history. It has not been “sportsmen dollars generated from license sales” but the federal government, motivated by public opinion and lobbying by environmental organizations, that has financed the vast majority of habitat conservation and the recovery of endangered species. Talbott’s counterpart at Montana FWP, Ken McDonald, claims the state, “receives very little money from the federal government for endangered species recovery efforts, including for grizzly bears.” Without the requested breakdown of expenditures, that remains a matter of conjecture. Montana FWP’s proposed 2014 budget showed federal funds at $38,203,634 or 23.5% of the department’s total budget. The 20% funding level from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been consistent over several years. A statement issued by Montana FWP states, “the US Fish and Wildlife Service provides limited funds to help recover wildlife species listed under the Endangered Species Act,” and that the “FWP has limited funding dedicated for research and monitoring efforts for Montana’s nongame wildlife species,” which are those under ESA protection. These funds are supplemented by the state’s “Nongame Wildlife Checkoff” program. “Nongame Wildlife Checkoff funds are usually matched several times over by a combination of federal funds and grants,” FWP concedes.
Under federal wildlife recovery programs, Montana FWP receives $3 in federal funds for every $1 it commits. Given that Montana FWP has been hemorrhaging approximately $2 million a year in license sales recently and needs to cover a projected $10 million shortfall, where would the department be without that “very little money from the federal government” McDonald talked about? As debatable as the Montana FWP situation might be, Scott Talbott’s claims for Wyoming eclipse it. As Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), Scott Talbott had to be aware when he wrote the Billings Gazette op-ed that his department only spent approximately 6% of Wyoming’s hunting and fishing license revenues on Non-game and Sensitive Species Programs (NGSSP), under which the grizzly is but one such categorized. The financial burden for grizzly recovery and habitat protection is underwritten by US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) programs and federal grants, including, but not restricted to, the Section 6 ESA Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund that provides for species and habitat conservation management on non-federal lands, and from which WGFD receives 75% of its funding for those activities. When the grizzly is delisted the Section 6 funds will go with it. These trite assertions about “sportsmen dollars” from hunting license fees bankrolling grizzly recovery in Yellowstone is parochial folklore perpetuated by the tri-state game and fish agencies for the benefit of their patrons.
Supplementing federal revenue, the balance of grizzly-related expenditure in the state is derived from the Wyoming Legislature’s general fund, not “sportsmen dollars generated from license sales.” Talbott presides over a department in crisis. Hunting license sales have plummeted, and even staples like mule deer and antelope haven’t been immune, absorbing declines of 66% and 25% respectively since 1992. Talbott had hoped that a proposed increase in license fees would pass the Wyoming Legislature; but it failed, leaving WGFD in need of at least $8 to $10 million to avoid further budget cuts. The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee rallied to the department’s aid and sponsored a bill that would relieve WGFD of financial responsibility for grizzly bears. The bill, Senate File 45, sought the consent of the Wyoming Legislature to fund all grizzly bear management as well as health insurance for game and fish employees, from the state’s general fund. The bill passed one hurdle in the Senate in February 2015, but needs to be read twice more before moving on to the House. The move leaves grizzlies even more vulnerable to the political whims of state representatives and their financial supporters whose interests are antithetical to true grizzly recovery.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has consistently misstated how much Wyoming’s hunters have financially contributed to grizzly bear recovery, and finally got his way on delisting by threatening to withdraw all state funding for grizzly bear management if FWS did not move ahead with delisting. “Governor Mead believes it is primarily the hunters who pay for grizzly management, which is nonsense,” counters Tom Mazzarisi. “This delusion continues to muffle the voices of the vast majority of people who simply enjoy watching or photographing grizzlies and other wildlife; the people who pay directly into the Wyoming coffers.” Mazzarisi cites a 1995 NPS study, which estimated that Wyoming accrued some $14.4 million in sales tax revenues that year “generated by visitors whose primary destination was Yellowstone National Park.” Since then, it is reasonable to project that the state has derived the benefit of an additional $200-million in sales tax from Yellowstone’s tourist masses. “That’s more than enough to help Wyoming manage grizzlies and dwarfs the $35 million the governor claims the state has ponied up for grizzly bear recovery over the past 28 years,” Mazzarisi declares. “Wyoming refuses to acknowledge the fact they are profiting from millions of annual dollars from people who hope to see a grizzly bear in Yellowstone. Governor Mead’s mindset is still stuck in the 19th century and Wyoming’s grizzly management will continue to be decided by those who profit from death; the Governor’s delusion about hunting license revenues paying for grizzly management demonstrates that,” insists the twelve-year Yellowstone National Park vet.
An objective observer could find incongruity in the fact that these small or straight-up anti-government Tea Party revelers like Mead, Congresswoman Lummis, and Senator Barrasso, who all boast that fabled Western libertarian streak, are prepared to accept the word of “big government” on the issue of delisting the grizzly, without any independent scientific review or analysis. That, naturally, is not withstanding the probability that they will feel better about the federal government when the black guy is out of the White House. The states whose rights they believe trump “big government” and which, like Wyoming, refuse to be dictated to by Washington, DC., are nevertheless happy to trough up the tax dollars that flow their way from Capitol Hill and which keep their independent spirit buoyed and their economies solvent. The fires in the bellies of the would-be-but-not-really-secessionists, which are fueled by the politics of convenience, do not stop there. These revolutionaries, the classic “you’re not from Wyoming and so you’ll never understand” bellowers, are oblivious to the rank hypocrisy, which includes having a Dutchman, Van Manen, carry their water in the bogus “best available science” pail. Maybe this should be expected, as what cognitive dissonance they experience is dulled by the whit it requires to repeat ad nauseam that all the tree huggers who love grizzly bears so much should round them up and have them relocated to Central Park or Hollywood. If I was a grizzly, NY10024 or CA90046 would sure look good compared to the metal canister on wheels or the barrel before, because there will be no after when Wyoming has control.
“The Legislature could attach strings to money it provides from the general fund,” cautioned Steve Kilpatrick of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, who acknowledged how “unpopular” the Endangered Species Act is in Wyoming. Talbott doesn’t share these concerns, and cited the state’s wolf management as an example of a program already financed by the Legislature out of the general fund. If you care about grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone that alone should give you pause. Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a pro-trophy hunting body, does not approve of grizzly management being covered by the general fund. “Grizzly management should come from hunting and fishing license fees,” countered Bob Wharff on behalf of the group. “Hunters are the folks interested in killing grizzlies once they are delisted,” he said. At least Wharff used the right noun, “killing.” If Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife prevail, a lot of grizzlies will have to die to cover the bears’ management costs, which Talbott estimates at “about 2 million a year.” Though WGFD denied it when GOAL Tribal Coalition first published it three years ago, with the 2016 proposed delisting rule Wyoming announced that grizzly tags will be in the range of $600 for a resident and $6000 for a non-resident. At these levels, a lot more grizzlies will have to die to make a dent in the department’s fiscal malaise.
“The Game and Fish Department is a critical cog in moving projects along,” explained Paul Ulrich, the Encana Corporation’s Government and Regulatory Affairs Advisor, when he spoke before the TRWCR committee. Encana is representative of all energy companies; they don’t want any endangered species classifications, but they want WGFD fully funded. If it isn’t, energy production permits will be delayed if escalating cuts cause the department to miss deadlines. According to Forsgren and Talbott, the IGBC’s unanimous decision to support trophy hunting of Yellowstone’s grizzlies is driven only by bear management concerns and is inspired by “the best available science,” which is another hoary myth. The panic that gripped the Western Governors Association when it appeared that the sage grouse might be added to the Endangered Species list is ample evidence of this. It isn’t “the best available science” at all, but economics. Endangered Species Act protection makes issuing energy, timber, and livestock grazing leases harder. The sage grouse had the potential to do what the grizzly has done, hinder energy development in the affected states, specifically on the two million acres of Greater Yellowstone.
The tri-state game and fish agencies continue to trail along the well-worn Boone and Crockett path. They might convince themselves that big game trophy hunters are America’s real foot soldiers in the fight for wildlife conservation and habitat preservation, but the vast majority of US citizens are not so easily fooled. Some game and fish employees appear genuinely bemused that people who don’t have any desire to hang the head of a grizzly on their wall, or display ashtrays made out of its body parts, find the concept somewhat contradictory – that the motivation to preserve natural beauty is born of the desire to kill it. If you are one of these crazies, the response will be that you just don’t get it and you’ll never understand. After all, what kind of radical thinker would rather see a majestic being in its natural environment when you could look at its skin stuck to a polyurethane mold mounted on a wall? Four decades removed from putting a man on the moon, the supposed best and brightest in the field are unable to come up with a better solution than killing as a method to manage a species that, through the lens of history, hangs by a thread on less than two percent of its original range.
The trophy hunters will help “promote coexistence, management of populations and reduce conflicts between bears and humans,” predict Forsgren and Talbott. “Unchecked grizzly populations will compromise the value and tolerance people have for grizzlies,” they warn. Satiating trophy hunters will supposedly endear grizzlies to the public and create advocates for their future preservation amongst this marginalized fringe who want to kill them for the thrill of it. Jim Unsworth, Director of Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game, theorized that the reason the tri-state populous harbors such hostility towards wolves is because litigation delayed delisting which triggered a backlash against them, and he doesn’t want that to happen to the grizzly. Anybody who lived in a Yellowstone gateway community during the rancor of wolf reintroduction knows that to be nonsense. The “Wolves: Smoke A Pack A Day” bumper stickers didn’t suddenly appear after 2003, they and that attitude have been prevalent all along. “As we walked forward, a charcoal-colored wolf ran out,” began the wife of one hunter. “As soon as he shot it, he turned around to me and I was jumping up and down,” she said. “I was totally elated.” She doesn’t sound like an advocate for wolves, and that is a fairly typical reaction. Trophy hunters are killing wolves, but there is no groundswell to safeguard them, just as there won’t be for grizzlies, as there never has been for predators in the West. There is a reason why wolves required a reintroduction program and grizzlies were on the edge of extinction.
Talbott previously said that he hoped “an open and honest dialogue” would occur over grizzly delisting, which became too much to hope for when he perpetually misrepresented the positions of tribal nations in opposition to delisting. There is no “open and honest dialogue” possible without independent scientists being permitted to review the taxpayer funded data collected by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST), and upon which the WGFD dominated IGBC has made its decisions. Like the tribes, independent scientists remain locked out of the process. “If I had to compete with my own data with other researchers, there is no point in being a researcher,” said IGBST leader, Frank van Manen, when questioned about the lack of transparency in the process. “If I had to share all the data, those publications, which I am evaluated on, would be gone,” he contended. “Our livelihood depends on producing peer-reviewed publications,” he protested. What about the lives of Yellowstone’s grizzlies whose fate will be sealed by the credibility – or otherwise – of Van Manen’s data?
Which one do you choose: the livelihood of a government researcher or the lives of Yellowstone’s iconic grizzly population?
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