Michigan did a thing, ladies and gentlemen. We bucked the anti-conservation trend.
In March, Michigan expanded recreational hunting and trapping opportunities when the Natural Resource Commission (NRC) voted to expand bobcat hunting and trapping seasons and add nine new counties for hunters and trappers to pursue bobcats within.
This is a BIG deal. Things like this don’t just happen in 2022. For too long, the trend has been to remove a method or manner of take, delete or shorten a season and slash the number of tags.
Frankly, I am proud of my state for listening to sound science and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists and staff for recommending that Michiganders get this expanded opportunity. Anti-conservation organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) mounted a stout propaganda campaign filled with willful misinformation and emotional pleas aimed at the members of the NRC, and after they failed in that arena, at Governor Whitmer. I write anti-conservationist because that is what they are — they have moved well beyond just disparaging hunters and trappers as anti-hunters: they now have their sights set on the North American Model of Conservation.
It is important to remember that anti-conservationists are relentless in their efforts to strip away our conservationist lifestyle bit by bit, and other states have not had the good fortune of science-based leadership guiding their regulations and legislation.
Colorado is constantly fighting off some form of hunting or trapping ban, one right after another. After fighting off a mountain lion hunting ban in front of their NRC equivalent, the HSUS and other anti-conservationist groups immediately went to the legislature, where the attempt again failed.
California has been lost to anti-conservationists for most of my life. Mountain lion hunting has been banned since 1990, although the state still issues a couple of hundred depredation permits a year, and about 100 mountain lions are struck by cars annually. Last year, legislation was introduced that would ban all black bear hunting within the state. I am sure that woman who had to push a bear off her porch to protect her dog at their home — in Los Angeles County — was thrilled with that legislation.
New Jersey, which has one of the densest populations of black bears in the country, is simply refusing to sign a bear management plan and thus ending any possibility of a season. The governor even campaigned on this foolish promise. This all comes after they finally instituted a season in 2010 and nuisance bear calls dropped off precipitously.
Washington state had its spring bear hunt abruptly canceled in November; then, just this past March, the cancellation of the spring black bear hunt was reaffirmed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission. In a 5-4 vote, their commission lacked the courage and faith in the biologists, bucking the recommendation of department staff and refusing to follow the science.
Wolves. Do I need to say more about them? Something about beating a dead horse?
Not all anti-conservationist efforts are even in the policy realm — ask Wyoming. After grizzly bears were removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2017 within the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, there were about 15 minutes where Wyoming was planning a hunt for the 2018 season. In an attempt to stop the hunt while it was being litigated, anti-conservationists coordinated an effort to apply en masse for grizzly bear tags with no intention of harvesting a bear. Wyoming Fish and Game had plans to deal with such a disruption, but it all became moot when the anti-conservationist litigation succeeded.
Hell, in Oregon, anti-conservationists aren’t even hiding it anymore. Go google “IP 13 Oregon.” I’ll wait. Crazy, right? An outright ban on hunting, trapping and fishing (not to mention the agricultural implications) is on the statewide ballot in Oregon in 2022. All under the guise of preventing animal cruelty, of course.
IP 13 is the dystopian future awaiting us if we drop our guard or become lazy in defending our way of life and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which is why organizations like Michigan United Conservation Clubs are of paramount importance.
While we here in Michigan are lucky to have a solid base of leadership rooted in fact-based decision making and a firm belief in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, we are not getting off scot-free. Many of us remember the 2006 ballot initiative that banned dove hunting here in the mitten state. It was the first election I voted in, but I was in the minority, and now Michigan is one of only nine states that doesn’t have a dove hunt.
We also need to address the fact that it is an election year, and in election years, legislators tend to become very, let’s call it, independent. Left unsupervised, this can be very bad for conservationists. MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter likes to call it whack-a-mole season. It’s the perfect analogy because it feels like we are constantly smacking down bad ideas.
Here are a few examples of the moles MUCC and conservationists need to or have had to fight in recent years:
First and foremost, my favorite example is a legislative effort to require the NRC to consist of anti-hunters and activists. This is an awful idea that attempts to upend the citizen-led commission and to rewrite Proposal G of 1996.
There is an effort in Michigan to commercialize the harvest of some of our most popular and cherished sport fish. MUCC will continue to oppose the commercialization of our perch and walleye populations.
A few years ago in Ann Arbor, the city figured it could solve its deer overpopulation issue with deer sterilization. Luckily after a steady dose of reality and the action of MUCC and its members, this impractical, expensive, inhumane, and ineffective practice is now illegal in the state of Michigan. Ann Arbor was also the first city in Michigan, a state with deep fur-bearing roots, to be a fur-free city.
The anti-conservationists will never stop, and they have a couple of things going for them. They have millions of dollars and the ability to fundraise nationwide. These fundraising messages are intended to deceive the viewer into believing that HSUS helps animals. Googling HSUS’ off-shore Cayman Island bank accounts tells a different story — and it’s no secret what type of organization they are. They have billions of terrible ideas that attack the core of our conservationist lifestyle.
Traditionally they nipped at the edges, banning some seemingly obscure, antiquated (to the general public, anyway) method or manner of take, just grabbing the low-hanging fruit. I never thought their goal of ending ALL recreational hunting, fishing, and trapping would be said in public. Then IP 13 in Oregon came out of nowhere and proved me wrong. They said the quiet part out loud.
What can we, as conservationists, do against such a persistent and well-funded threat? Well, for one, we cannot be complacent. We must always pay attention; we must never assume that an idea is so bad it will never get legs. Show up to NRC meetings, and call your legislators. But we can also put our support, financial and otherwise, behind organizations like MUCC. Where a single person may not have the reach necessary to kill, pass or amend a piece of legislation, or work through some new regulation with the NRC, an organization like MUCC can succeed.
MUCC is a success from the ground up. The members, policy board and executive board, all working together, provide MUCC’s dedicated staff the tools it needs to be an influential voice for conservationists across the state.
MUCC has permeated every layer of conservation policy-making across the state through dedicated members sitting on citizen committees. Staff monitors and participates in advisory councils. Strong ties exist to the DNR, using them as a partner when possible but taking them to court when necessary to protect the state’s natural resources and citizens’ access to them. The NRC understands and respects the role MUCC plays in the state’s setting of regulations, and the partnership between the two is strong. MUCC staff and our multi-client lobbyist work in tandem to be an effective tool for our legislative priorities.
In the face of such a blatant attack on our conservation lifestyle, I leave you with this: Let’s focus on what unites us as hunters, trappers and anglers rather than what divides us. Let’s join behind effective and passionate organizations like MUCC. We are in this together, and while it’s a bit morbid, a Benjamin Franklin quote comes to mind: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”