The Muck Boots Company waded deep into a quagmire this summer and emerged on the other side soiled, smeared, and worse for the wear. The outdoor footwear company announced via Facebook on August 1 that the Muck Team had raised more than $2,000 for the Humane Society of the United States. Its customer base of farmers, ranchers, and hunters went ballistic.
One customer identified HSUS as “the sworn enemy of hunting and the outdoors lifestyle.” Scores more declared they would never again buy a Muck product. A #WhatTheMuck hashtag lit up Twitter. When the dust settled, it turned out the announcement was written in error—employees had intended to identify a local animal shelter—but the damage was done.
This incident made it clear that HSUS’s anti-hunting agenda is common knowledge within the outdoor community, and that sportsmen and women throughout the nation refuse to support HSUS.
Which raises the question: If we are so staunchly united against HSUS, why is this organization of antis creeping closer to shutting down hunting?
The answer lies in the virtually inexhaustible financial resources HSUS has at its disposal. After paying the bills, HSUS reported $195.4 million in net assets on its 2012 tax returns, which includes nearly $178 million of investments in publicly traded securities. That means HSUS is largely liquid—it can convert those investments into cash essentially whenever it wants.
Those public tax documents also reveal HSUS collected nearly $113 million in contributions and grants in 2012. That’s $7.8 million more than the previous year. HSUS capitalizes on its ability to suck up dollars from animal-lovers who think they are donating to local pet shelters, and it pours those donations into anti-hunting crusades.
The Humane Society of the United States reported $195.4 million in net assets on its public tax documents in 2012.
HSUS has a long list of victories against sportsmen and wildlife conservation in its ongoing battle to destroy hunting.
Today, HSUS continues to lead a multi-pronged attack against America’s hunters. The antis are deploying their political contacts and financial assets to strike at both state and federal levels. Current campaigns seek to overturn wolf hunting in Michigan; ban lead ammunition on public lands; and outlaw bear baiting, trapping, and hunting
with hounds in Maine. If successful, these unwarranted restrictions will cripple wildlife management and hunting as we know it.
It’s no easy feat to disable such a well-funded, well-connected, and well-oiled political machine. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
**Playing by the Rules in Michigan **
By Tony Hansen
Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, stood 10 feet from me, his tan glowing like Vegas neon. In a moment he would step to the lectern to declare war on Michigan hunters with another referendum aimed at overturning state wolf management.
After delivering his speech—which claimed the wolf population was too fragile for a “trophy hunt”—Pacelle adjusted his suit collar and strode away to catch a jet. He was off to advance HSUS’s ultimate mission to end hunting—species by species, state by state.
But as he delivered that 2013 speech in Lansing, Pacelle had no way of knowing his national “charity” would suffer defeat by local hunters rallying under their own nonprofit. HSUS reported $125.7 million in revenue in 2012. That same year, Michigan United Conservation Clubs—the state’s largest conservation group—brought in $1.2 million, or less than one percent of HSUS’s earnings.
At the time, I served as MUCC’s communications director, and Pacelle’s presence was no surprise. The group demanding the ban, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, claimed to represent local citizens who cared about wolves. But KMWP’s leader, Jill Fritz, was a paid HSUS staffer.
Michigan’s wolf population, then estimated at 658 animals, had soared above endangered levels for more than a decade. Michigan’s wolf management plan defined a viable population as 200 wolves for five years in a row. HSUS lawsuits thwarted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempts to delist gray wolves in the Great Lakes region in 2004, 2007, and 2009. It wasn’t until 2011 that USFWS successfully delisted wolves in the region.
HSUS president Wayne Pacelle / Photo by Richard Shotwell.
In 2012, USFWS transferred wolf management to Michigan. The state legislature designated wolves as a game species and allowed hunting via Public Act 520.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission rolled out the USFWS-approved management plan, which included a wolf hunt for fall 2013. Hunters harvested 22 wolves in the state’s first modern hunt—well below the harvest quota of 43.
And that’s when it hit the fan.
The HSUS Blueprint
Outraged by the hunt, KMWP paid a California-based group $350,000 to gather the necessary signatures to put the 2014 wolf hunt to a public vote this November.
HSUS used this same tactic in 2006, when it spent nearly $3 million to halt Michigan’s newly adopted dove season. Television ads appeared, showing a hunter blasting aimlessly at birds and crippled doves in the dirt. HSUS never confirmed if the video was authentic, despite repeated requests from media members—including myself. The ads also said doves are inedible and hunted solely for sport.
Deceptive as its high-dollar campaign was, HSUS won the vote by a landslide.
“We had heard a lot about the dove fight,” says Kent Wood, MUCC’s former legislative affairs manager. “We knew we had to do things differently. We had to be aggressive. We had to be smart. We couldn’t outspend HSUS. But we could outwork and outsmart them.”
And that’s precisely what we did.
While the antis collected signatures, MUCC and its allies focused on a legal solution to derail the ballot measure. Our ace in the hole was a law passed in 1996.
Proposal G is the scar Pacelle wears on his backside from the first time he came to Michigan, in 1995. Pacelle and the Fund for Animals attempted to ban hounds and bait for bear hunting.
Fortunately, Prop G countered that initiative. It required that sound science, not emotional rhetoric, guide wildlife management in Michigan. Voters showed their approval by passing it by about 70 percent.
In 2012, Senator Tom Casperson drafted Senate Bill 288, which allows the NRC to share authority with lawmakers in designating game species. When passed in May 2013, SB 288 nullified HSUS’s initial bid to overturn the game designation for wolves.
So HSUS launched a second referendum, again paying to collect enough signatures for a vote and ignoring Prop G.
“We were hearing they intended to spend $3 million to win. I heard they had made threats to the Governor’s office about funding opponents to run against him because he’d signed the bill,” Wood says. “Is it true? I honestly don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised, because it’s something we heard more than once from credible sources.”
Hunters fought back, creating Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management to craft a citizen-initiated law to preserve the NRC’s authority to establish game laws.
Since its founding in January 2013, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has so far received nearly $2.7 million in donations (as of July 2014). HSUS and its lobbying arm provided $2.08 million of that, or 77 percent. In comparison, CPWM managed to raise $800,000 with help from groups like Michigan Bear Hunters Association and Safari Club International chapters.
CPWM gathered 374,000 signatures for the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act—exceeding the quota for legislative review and nearly double what either KMWP referendum collected.
The proposal easily passed both the House and Senate in August 2014. It should render the ballot initiatives null and void. But it’s still too early to celebrate. As I write this, the future of Michigan’s wolf hunt is still unknown.
After all that, there will be no 2014 Michigan wolf season. Lawmakers did not vote to immediately implement the act, and legal waiting periods mean the earliest a hunt could occur is 2015, according to DNR sources. And, following the August vote, HSUS promised a lawsuit declaring the NRC law unconstitutional. HSUS accused hunters of using dirty tactics and singled out Casperson for silencing voters. He sees it differently.
“What I’m trying to take out of the hands of the public is the ability for a misleading 30-second sound bite to determine how our wildlife should be managed,” Casperson says. “I’m trying to protect and uphold the will of the voters, who overwhelmingly supported Proposal G. Michigan’s voters have already voted on this issue.”
How to Beat Them Again
So what happens when HSUS marches into a state without legislation in place to protect conservation practices?
Simple: Hunters will likely lose. Referendums are won with cash. And in a battle of the coffers, HSUS wins. HSUS dropped millions to try to overturn the wolf hunt, just as it’s raising millions to end bear hunting in Maine (see below).
Yet the hunting industry generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year. So why don’t we have a war chest to combat rampant HSUS spending?
Surprisingly, more money might not be the answer.
“It’s not just about stockpiling money to fight them. That’s a defensive measure,” says Nick Pinizzotto, executive director of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. “What we need is offense. We need to focus on the fact that 70 percent of Americans support hunting. That’s an overwhelming majority. HSUS wins ballot initiatives with deception, lies, and cash. I’m not sure we counter that with cash.”
Instead, Pinizzotto supports a long-term focus on maintaining and expanding public support for hunting. As long as the fate of wildlife management remains in the public arena, we’re going to need allies. So, hunters: Start recruiting.
The Campaign to Scrap Lead Ammo
By Frank Miniter
HSUS is so sure it can outlaw your Core-Lokt bullets and lead shot that it published its master plan in August 2013. It’s called “The HSUS Lead-Free Campaign: A Strategic Offensive to End Suffering and Destruction Caused by Lead Ammunition.”
The document details HSUS’s federal and state approaches, and promises to launch public campaigns and legislative action across the U.S. to eradicate traditional ammo for good.
HSUS is relying on devious tactics to execute its outlined plan of attack.
The antis have gained ground with the public by exploiting perceived problems with lead. This includes citing studies that record higher lead levels among hunters who consume game and raptors that presumably feed on gut piles. But HSUS fails to mention the lack of statistical significance noted in such reports.
HSUS, Defenders of Wildlife, and Audubon California sponsored Assembly Bill 711. Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, the state law is on track to phase out lead ammo for hunting by 2019.
The three groups even commissioned a study on the availability of non-lead ammo. Dr. Vernon Thomas, deemed “one of the world’s leading experts in nontoxic ammunition” by HSUS, says non-lead ammo is readily available.
HSUS announced the study results at the end of July—just three days before the close of the public comment period on phasing in the ban.
“The findings should give [officials] the confidence that they can implement AB 711 as soon as possible without disrupting hunting activity in California,” Vernon said in the release.
But the extra expense and challenging access to non-lead ammo is sure to disrupt hunting. It’s a clever way for HSUS to shrink the pool of hunters. National Shooting Sports Foundation surveys reveal 36 percent of California hunters say the ban will cause them to stop hunting or hunt less, due to increased cost.
“Thirty-six percent of California hunters say they’ll stop hunting or hunt less.”
And California is only the beginning. The antis are targeting other states, and federal properties to boot. HSUS allied with 11 other organizations—and a whopping five individual sportsmen—to petition the Department of the Interior to ban lead ammo on federal lands. The public land in question makes up one-fifth of the U.S.
In response to the petition, 33 hunting, conservation, and shooting groups—including the NRA, NSSF, and QDMA—wrote to the DOI in protest of HSUS’s petition, saying it’s “littered with pseudo-scientific statements that attempt, but fail, to link potential lead toxicity, from any number of possible sources, to federal statutory obligations to protect wildlife.” HSUS chooses studies that simply show lead can poison animals, which isn’t the question at hand.
A 2014 study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife reported 22 of 58 dead bald eagles (38 percent) in three states contained lethal levels of lead in their liver. Researchers speculated these eagles might have eaten lead bullet fragments or shot from gut piles.
“Bald eagles have been on the comeback for decades, and this small number of found-dead birds isn’t statistically significant to their overall population,” USFWS public-affairs specialist Sarah E. Warner says. “We need to keep studying as we continue to learn how to best balance humans and wildlife within our ecosystems.”
The 33 groups also noted that 95 percent of ammo used today is “traditional ammo with lead components,” the purchase of which sends money to conservation programs through tax revenues. The evidence indicates wildlife populations are benefiting from lead ammo sales, while no evidence exists to suggest wildlife populations are in danger from the current use of lead ammo.
HSUS in Maine: Fighting Dirty to Gut Bear Hunting
By Alex Robinson
HSUS is using Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting to push another anti-hunting initiative onto another ballot this November. If it passes, running black bears with hounds, trapping bears, and hunting them over bait will be banned in Maine. Bear numbers in the state have increased by 30 percent in the last six years, but MFBH says Maine will have no trouble managing populations without these ”cruel” methods.
This contradicts both the findings of state biologists and the experience of Maine sportsmen. All three gubernatorial candidates are against the ban, and about 11,000 hunters and trappers purchase bear permits each year.
Yet somehow, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and its partners are still scrambling to raise money to fend off HSUS. Although hunters have rallied, HSUS’s massive budget and cunning political maneuvers make it impossible to predict the referendum’s outcome.
From Children’s Books to Kesha
The battle started in May 2013, when HSUS called a meeting with David Trahan and Don Kleiner, the executive directors of SAM and Maine Professional Guides Association, respectively. Kleiner and Trahan met with five HSUS representatives at the back of the capitol building’s cafeteria. The staffers wanted to discuss a hounding and trapping bill.
“They said, ‘We have $3 million. We have polling data that says we can win in Maine. And if you don’t support our bill, we’re going to submit a referendum and take away baiting, too. When we win that, we’re going to take away all the other things you care about,’” Trahan says.
Trahan, who served as a state representative for eight years and a state senator for four, had never before encountered such an aggressive political strike.
“I’d call it borderline extortion,” he says. “We’re not going to be intimidated. I’ve lived here all my life and I love my state. People come in from out of state and think they’re going to burn everything we care about here? They’ve got a fight on their hands.”
But MFBH is employing more than straight intimidation. The group posted photos to Facebook of children drawing bears under the slogan “Kids for Cubs.” Trahan says they also hosted library readings of the children’s classic Blueberries for Sal, which features an amiable Maine black bear. They even recruited L.A.–born pop icon Kesha to their cause.
These tactics have gone a long way toward galvanizing sportsmen in the region. As of press time, sportsmen had already raised about $2 million for the campaign to defend bear hunting. According to Kleiner, it’s no secret that most of the campaign funds—on both sides—will be pumped into television ads to air in the weeks leading up to the election.
“Maine isn’t a rich place,” Kleiner says. “But we’ve seen a ton of support from hunting clubs and organizations in the Northeast and around the country. Even fishing guides are donating.”
See the full story of Maine’s bear hunt here
For more info on the economic impacts of Question 1 on Maine, click here.
Help Take Down HSUS
Can hunters really turn the tide against the Humane Society of the United States? Here’s how we can help take them down.