Animal-rights activists and organizations continue to execute a coordinated and well-funded attack on hunting, which has only grown stronger and more nuanced since its modern appearance in U.S. politics during the 1970s. Using varied tactics that at times seem reasonable to the uninformed, these anti-hunting groups divide hunters and sway public opinion in their favor. But, if you look below the surface or know even a smidge about wildlife management, their arguments ring hollow, ultimately resting upon a foundation of emotion, half-truths, and misrepresentations.
The problem is, in the age of click-bait headlines and sound-bite statistics that feed the social-media-outrage machine, emotions and half-truths are all you need to cancel the legitimate reasoning of people, businesses, and even governments.
At Sportsmen’s Alliance, we use research and education to protect hunting, fishing and trapping in all 50 state legislatures, in state and federal court, and at the ballot box. Whether legislatively or legally, if your aim is to curtail the activities that fund the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, you’ll hear from us. Working in all 50 states allows us to see patterns in the verbiage of proposed legislation. From a political standpoint, these patterns, and the lobbyists and representatives from organizations attending committee meetings, leave no doubt that a larger agenda is at play.
From a marketing and communications perspective, when our alerts or mainstream news articles hit social media, the comments leave no doubt that sportsmen and women face an uphill battle against the emotional rhetoric and responses ginned-up by the sensational headlines and misrepresentation of facts. To make matters worse, comments from some hunters often echo the opinions of the anti-hunting machine, which further illustrates just how fractured our community can be, and how perilous the situation is when it comes to protecting our outdoor passions.
Below are some of the most egregiously misrepresented wildlife management arguments we’re fighting in multiple states nationwide, and why the anti-hunters (and even some hunters among our own ranks) are wrong.
1. Anti-Hunters Argue Trapping Is Cruel
To hear the animal-rights crowd tell it, trapped wildlife all over North America are, at this very moment, writhing in pain to the point of chewing their legs off. On top of that, they’d have you believe any dog stepping out of its fenced-in yard faces the real possibility of Fido dying in any state that allows trapping.
Trappers are the canaries in the coalmine for wildlife management; as their fate goes, so inevitably goes the fate of hunting and other wildlife management tools. Using powerfully emotional (and effective) visuals of coyotes and other wildlife in traps while invoking the name of dogs killed in (usually illegal) traps, animal-rights activists have successfully banned specific traps or all trapping in some states. Just this year, New Mexico passed “Roxy’s Law” (named for a dog killed in an illegal trap, of course) that ended all trapping on public land in the state. California has also banned recreational trapping, and Washington, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have done away with leg-hold traps.
What anti-trappers don’t tell the public is that in addition to helping manage all wildlife, trapping currently protects private property, our societal infrastructure, and food supply, while also protecting and recovering endangered species.
According to a 2005 study, it would cost taxpayers approximately $70.5 billion a year from all forms of health, structural, agricultural, and other forms of wildlife-related damages annually in the absence of current management practices. State wildlife agencies expect wildlife damages would increase on average by 221 percent nationally should hunting and trapping be lost as wildlife management tools. That includes $3 billion to the agriculture community, and not just livestock and poultry, but mainly $2.5 billion to field crops, fruits, vegetables and nuts—you know, the mainstay of the vegan and vegetarian diet espoused by animal-rights activists.
Beavers, which are primarily managed through regulated trapping, would cost taxpayers more than $32 million a year to keep just at acceptable population levels. The damage they currently cause to bridges, roads, irrigation systems, and private property would add millions to this tab.
Additionally, just controlling rabies among furbearers costs more than $450 million per year according to the 2005 study, and it’s estimated that in the absence of trapping and hunting, that cost would increase to nearly $1.5 billion annually.
If the monetary costs of losing trapping don’t undermine the animal-rights movement’s argument, consider that biologists use traps on wolves, bears, cougars, and other predators and endangered species when conducting studies and relocating them. That fact, all by itself—the trapping of animals that are released alive and unharmed—completely destroys the argument that trapping is inhumane.
Moreover, best management practices for trapping have been developed by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to help trappers practice safe, practical, and efficient trapping techniques that also ensure the welfare of wildlife. The development of BMPs started in 1997 through scientific evaluation of 600 trap types for 23 different species. Over $40 million dollars has been spent conducting this research through a collaboration of state and federal wildlife agencies, trapping organizations, veterinarians and university researchers. BMPs provide information about the different types of traps, how they function and the best way to set them to ensure sustainable wildlife populations and to reduce the catch of non-target species. In fact, various traps were set to capture legal furbearers over a quarter of a million times. No threatened or endangered species were caught during this extensive trap testing. No domestic dogs or cats were captured 99.95% of the time; the few dogs that were captured were released unharmed.
2. Anti-Hunters Argue That Hunting “Endangered” Animals Is Wrong
Hunting endangered animals seems like a no brainer—everyone should be against that. But what constitutes “endangered”? Certainly, listing under a federal or state Endangered Species Act would be the easiest indicator. Or would it?
Animal-rights groups love to invoke emotional words such as “endangered,” “iconic,” “near-extinct” and “vulnerable,” usually in conjunction with equally emotional words like “innocent,” “slaughter,” “senseless,” and “trophy,” while resisting any action to remove any game animal from its listing, as planned. (Funny how these same groups don’t question the same science when recovery measures are applied to non-game animals whose populations reach delisting thresholds.) This holds true for animals overseas, as well as for those here in the states.
They’ve stymied the delisting of wolves and grizzly bears for years while wrongly proposing the listing of sub-populations of species, such as black bears in Florida, as completely separate species deserving of protection. Internationally, animal-rights groups have pushed their Western agenda on African countries, demanding an end to the hunting of lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, and other game, regardless of what the science says. When their international pressure campaigns fail, animal-rights organizations turn to manipulating the U.S. legislative process to ban the import, and even possession, of taxidermy from those species, as they’ve proposed federally with the CECIL Act and at the state level in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. Some of these bills have included felony penalties equivalent to manslaughter, child abuse, rape, aggravated assault, and arson—simply for possessing taxidermy.
If you can wrap your head around that, you might still point out that these species are “endangered.” But to do so would require rebuking not just the Endangered Species Act itself, but the science responsible for saving so many species. The ESA clearly spells out what constitutes “threatened” and “endangered” when it comes to listings, protections, and delisting thresholds. Recent court rulings have also upheld the Sportsmen’s Alliance and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s stance that “distinct populations segments” can be delisted, and not just listed for protection at the wishes of animal-rights group. The law itself and the science are clear. It’s only legal arguments that delay state-based wildlife management of grizzly bears and, potentially, wolves, once again.
It’s important to understand that state-based wildlife management takes place at a local level—down to specific drainages and basins in many instances—and harvest goals are tallied with conservative overall populations, birth and natural mortality rates, social tolerances and more. Wildlife biologists would never lump two separate, healthy populations of game animals together and apply the same exact methods, means of harvest, and bag limits to them based simply on their species, but that’s what is happening under the “endangered” label.
Historically, populations of wolves in the Great Lake states and grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem, which have blown past intended recovery goals, have been prohibited from state management because populations in other parts of the country hadn’t met delisting thresholds. Internationally, elephants, lions, leopards, and giraffes are referred to as singular “endangered” populations, as if a continent more than three times the size of the U.S. doesn’t have distinct population differences, management goals, and social tolerances.
In both instances, scientific wildlife management is undermined, and the predator-prey-habitat balancing act biologists maintain is disrupted to the detriment of all species in the ecosystem, as well as the sportsmen who fund the economic models that drive sustainable conservation worldwide.
3. Anti-Hunters Argue That “Trophy” Hunting Is Evil
The catch-all phrase for conveying the totality of evil in the outdoors, “trophy hunting” has become the animal-rights movement’s trump card. Research shows that hunting as a wildlife management tool enjoys broad support. When the qualifier “trophy” is put in front of it, however, that support plummets. The animal-rights movement knows this and, in an effort to misrepresent the facts and stop hunting, has begun to attach the label to everything from predator management and African big-game hunting to the use of hounds and even traditional game-meat hunting for species like deer, elk, and caribou hunting.
Using the “trophy” moniker, animal-rights activists have pushed legislation or ballot initiatives to end coyote-hunting techniques in more than a dozen states, hound or bait hunting of bears, and to dissuade hunting in Africa. In a completely illogical (yet emotional) leap, they’ve consciously connected Cecil the Lion in Africa with North America’s mountain lion in an effort to end hunting of cougars in several states, especially with the use of hounds. Anti-hunting organizations have filed suit against the aforementioned delisting of wolves and grizzly bears, as well as predator management rule changes for Alaska preserves, all while completely misrepresenting it to an unquestioning mainstream media. They’ve done all this by leveraging the term “trophy,” effectively cancelling a century of proven wildlife management with a singular word.
What’s worse is when hunters, who should know better, echo this disdain for trophy hunting. This inevitably creates two classes of hunters: Evil trophy hunters and morally-superior meat hunters. That divisiveness doesn’t bode well politically or publicly for the future of hunting.
The truth of the trophy is that it exists in the eye of the beholder; a person’s first animal (which is usually small game, a bird, or big game that’s either female or young and therefore without antlers) is as memorable to them as another’s record-book animal. Further, the connotation that just because an animal is mature and has desirable qualities (large antlers, a long beard, or beautiful plumage) that it is somehow undesirable or inferior to eat is a fallacy. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts. An animal can be, and typically is, both a mature “trophy” and a great dinner. That goes for predator hunting of bears, lions, and other game, as well.
Further, disdain for trophy hunting ignores its successful and scientific history, which was fundamental to the recovery of wildlife across North America.
As federal and state governments began to regulate market hunting in the early 20th century, the term “sport hunter/hunting” was coined to differentiate those hunters following the new regulations from those of the past who engaged in unregulated market hunting.
“Trophy hunting” arose as a conservation movement within the sport-hunting community to restore depleted wildlife numbers. To ensure that current and future breeding animals (females and young males) were not killed during hunting seasons, organizations like the Boone & Crockett Club, started by Theodore Roosevelt, recorded measurements of the horns and antlers of big-game animals. The first record book was published in 1906 and the entries were called “trophies.” By scoring animals according to antler/horn size, the movement pushed hunters to pursue mature male specimens and to let females and young males live to reproduce and regenerate the dwindling population levels decimated by unregulated market hunting.
So here’s the real danger of the trophy-hunting argument: When animal-rights activists finish slandering trophy hunting and hunters, you can bet they’ll set their sights on the larger group of insidious “sport” hunters.
Because the animal-rights movement doesn’t just want to end trophy hunting, trapping, or the hunting of grizzly bears, wolves, or African game, which are the biggest headline-grabbers today because of their effective emotional appeal. No—they want to end all hunting. Misrepresenting the facts to the mainstream is just one tactic. Dividing hunters is another.
Brian Lynn has covered conservation, sporting dogs, and animal-rights issues for more than 20 years for Outdoor Life, ESPNOutdoors and many other outlets. In his current role as the vice president of marketing and communications at the Sportsmen’s Alliance, he fights daily on the frontlines in the battle to protect hunting, fishing, and trapping from attacks by the animal-rights movement.