Strengthening America's Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation
in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities
Prepared by the Sporting Conservation Council
Goals, Challenges, Consequences of Inaction, and Opportunities for Some of the North American Conservation Model's Core Principles
The Public Trust Doctrine: State and Provincial Governments Hold Wildlife in Trust for the Public
The keystone of the North American Model is that wildlife is managed as a public trust resource.
The public is generally unaware of the historical foundations and ongoing relevance of the Public
Trust Doctrine. Furthermore, the legal framework that supports the Doctrine is insufficient with
respect to wildlife uses and the habitats on which they depend. As a consequence, many of the
challenges to wildlife and its management, and special interest advocacy against consumptive use
of wildlife, are difficult to effectively address.
The Public Must Understand and Value the Doctrine. The public needs to understand that
wildlife, regardless of location, is a public asset, with the government acting as trustee. The people
must hold the government as trustee accountable for that trust.
Strengthen the Legal Foundations. Constitutions, laws, and administrative rules that govern the
use of fish and wildlife should be explicit in defining these resources as property of the states and
provinces to be held in public trust and conserved, managed, and utilized for the benefit of present
and future generations.
Decreasing Participation in Hunting and Other Outdoor Activities. Hunting participation in
the United States has declined in recent years in absolute numbers of hunters and in licenses sold.
Hunters as a percentage of the U.S. population have also declined (Responsive Management/
National Shooting Sports Foundation, 2008). In addition, the number of participants in other
outdoor activities (visits to national parks, state parks, and national forests, as well as fishing and
camping) has declined. These trends in hunting participation reflect an overall trend in declining
participation in outdoor activities. All of this suggests a growing public "detachment" from the
natural world and related functions, including state/provincial wildlife management. It also
strongly suggests an increasing lack of public knowledge about the role of wildlife conservation,
including the Public Trust Doctrine and the resurgence of North American wildlife. This all
conspires to increase the vulnerability of the North American Model.
Identification and Mitigation of Conditions that "Privatize" Wildlife. Protecting public wildlife
from "privatization" or conditions that can dilute the public trust status of public wildlife is a
key priority in sustaining and protecting the North American Model. Even though many wildlife
professionals have concerns about the impact of game farming/ranching on the integrity of the
Model, the fact remains that these facilities exist in some jurisdictions of North America, and
there is no clear consensus on how to manage or deal with them, including fair chase, disease
transmission, and other social or biological considerations. The absence of a clear consensus is
understandable due to the American system of government, in which there is embedded a body of
rights that citizens hold with respect to their property. While a core principle of the Model is that
wildlife is held in trust for the public good and cannot be privately owned, public wildlife resides
on private land as well as federal and state lands. Balancing the body of law that maintains the
rights of property owners with the successful and enduring legacy of the Public Trust Doctrine is
a continuing challenge. The best outcomes will be enduring bonds between wildlife managers and
private property owners that sustain the Model, and effective and timely processes for the hunting/
conservation community to develop consensus on appropriate responses to examples or conditions
of "privatization" and potential mitigation measures.
Unsustainable Land Use Practices. The U.S. population is projected to increase to nearly 400
million by the year 2050, from the 2000 census count of about 281 million. Current trends in human
impacts on the land, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pose the greatest long-term threat to
wildlife. Unless major changes in social values and corresponding political ideology occur, past and
present wildlife conservation successes will be at significant risk.
Animal Rights. North American wildlife conservation programs have largely adhered to three
fundamental principles regarding use of wildlife: (1) the use must not threaten or endanger the
species, (2) the techniques used to kill animals must be fair and acceptable to society, and (3) the
use must serve a legitimate purpose. These principles are grounded in the concept of wildlife as
a public trust resource that must be perpetuated for the benefit of present and future generations.
However, this runs counter to the animal rights doctrine that forbids the use of sentient beings for
any purpose. Policies that would eliminate traditional human uses (hunting) of wildlife would
denigrate wildlife's value as a public trust resource.
Consequences of Inaction
Government trusteeship of wildlife as a public resource arose in North America during a time
when the stakeholder base was narrower than it is today. Primary stakeholders in that time
were consumptive users and those with agricultural interests. Contemporary society has a base
of stakeholders with more diverse interests, ranging from people whose interests are tangential
and appreciative of the existence of wildlife to those who want to avoid interactions with wildlife
altogether. Moreover, the "digitization" of American culture and society and the concomitant loss
of outdoor experiences and values will likely mean that future generations will value wildlife and
natural resources even less so than today. To ensure that future wildlife conservation policy makers
have the tools they need to conserve wildlife, the Public Trust Doctrine must be strengthened.
Absent this, the North American Model will not be sustainable and will fail future generations.
- Develop ways and means to effectively create and distribute appropriate information on the
North American Model/Public Trust Doctrine for dissemination to a wide target audience, including the general public; academic programs; and state, provincial, and federal
- Develop and implement processes for members of the hunting/conservation community to
reach consensus on specific prioritized examples or conditions of "privatization" that can
dilute the public trust status of public wildlife, and develop associated mitigation measures.
- Develop specific programs to protect the exclusive authority of states and provinces, through
state and provincial wildlife agencies, to conserve, regulate, and manage public wildlife.
- Implement a review of impediments to hunt internationally, such as prohibitive firearm or
importation laws that would undermine incentives for cooperating countries to contribute to
shared wildlife management programs, and recommend solutions to minimize or eliminate
Democratic Rule of Law: Access to and Use of Wildlife Is Best
Managed Through Laws and Regulations That Reflect Inclusive
Citizen Engagement as Implied by the Public Trust
The imposition of values that exclude traditional uses of wildlife resources through access to the
courts and ballot measures not only excludes a specific use, but undercuts the principles and
discharge of the Public Trust Doctrine and therefore puts at risk the public's trust in government
stewardship of wildlife resources.
Develop Better Decision-Making Processes. Improve wildlife decision-making processes to make
them more cooperative, open, and constructive and to maintain the principles and enhance the
discharge of the public trust. Such processes will lead to decisions that are sustainable and uphold
traditional wildlife uses enshrined through the Public Trust Doctrine.
Public Perceptions About the Mindset of Government Wildlife Managers. Public perceptions
about the mindset of government wildlife managers sometimes contribute to irreconcilable
differences, often leading to judicial intervention. There are groups and segments of society that do
not trust government agencies to make decisions. Sometimes this distrust is based on perceptions
that all government wildlife managers cater only to hunters. Others believe that government
wildlife managers are losing (or have lost) their connection to hunters and that regulations are
created simply to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to hunt.
Consequences of Inaction
Decisions based on sound science should promote maintenance of healthy wildlife populations
and habitats. Conversely, decisions based on politics, emotion, and special interests may not serve
wildlife and often result in loss of recreational opportunity. One example is the consequences of
not hunting whitetail deer where overpopulation causes starvation, stress to the animals, and
damage to personal and public property. A more complex example is dove hunting, where science may support recreational hunting, and social or emotional forces are opposed, and hunting is not
needed to maintain sustainable populations. Failure to improve wildlife decision-making processes
will gradually weaken professional wildlife management and our hunting heritage and will further
jeopardize the North American Model.
- Develop decision-making mechanisms that have two simultaneous objectives:
a) more effectively communicate the rationale, results, and recommendations of science to
the general public; and
b) ensure that stakeholder perspectives are used in conjunction with science.
- Improve communication to and participation by the public in decision-making processes
that impact wildlife management.
Opportunity for All: The Democracy of Hunting
Because hunting in North America has not been reserved or perceived as a privilege of the wealthy
or well-connected, it has enjoyed widespread popular support. Increased efforts by wildlife
managers and the hunting/conservation community are needed to ensure that hunting retains
public support and that public hunting opportunity is fair and equitable within the limitation of
laws and regulations.
Ensure Fair and Equitable Opportunity for Becoming a Hunter. Making sure that all citizens have
the opportunity to become hunters, and retaining and enhancing the popular support of hunting
among the nonhunting public, are fundamental to North American wildlife conservation.
Ensure Fair and Equitable Access to Hunting Opportunity. Ensure that all hunters have fair
and equitable lawful opportunity to participate in hunting and promote hunter access to wildlife
resources on public and private lands, without respect to income or group affiliation.
Recognize the Societal Value of Fair-Chase Hunting. While the conservation impact of fair-chase
hunting extends benefits to all members of society, it is also true that for hunting participants the
experience leads to a strong commitment to sustainable wildlife use and wildlife conservation. This
commitment to wildlife conservation arises from the unique spiritual connection to the land and the
rhythms of nature that many hunters experience while hunting.
Access to Wildlife.As stated in the goals above, we must "ensure that all hunters have fair and
equitable lawful opportunity to participate in hunting and promote hunter access to wildlife
resources on public and private lands . . . ." Accordingly, the long-term integrity of hunting
programs requires that all hunters have access to high-quality habitats that provide a rewarding
hunting experience. For many Americans, access to public hunting areas is a critical component of
hunting opportunity. Access to private hunting areas remains vitally important to many American
hunters as well. Enhancing the public's ability to access property for hunting free-ranging wildlife remains a key priority for sustaining and protecting the Model. Federal and state agencies, along
with owners of private lands, should be strongly encouraged to adopt policies and practices that
support an enduring system of land management that assures access by hunters in perpetuity. In
addition, a compelling challenge is to develop consensus-based lists of prioritized examples or
conditions that limit hunting opportunity and to develop associated response options.
Consequences of Inaction
Actions that create an inequitable, tiered, or class-conscious structure to hunting opportunity will
undermine the stability of the North American Model, which is based in part on fair and equitable
access. Real or perceived inequities in opportunities to access game populations lead to resentment
among those hunters who feel excluded and skew the historic alignment of interests among
hunters. Such inequities can also reduce the acceptance that nonhunters have of hunting.
- Develop ways and means to effectively create and distribute appropriate information on the
North American Model/Public Trust Doctrine for dissemination to a wide target audience,
including the general public; academic programs; and state, provincial, and federal agencies.
- Encourage the creation of incentive-based landowner programs to maintain and increase
habitat and to encourage public access for hunting opportunity.
- Communicate the practical applications of hunting as management tools and develop ways
and means to effectively create and implement outreach efforts that convey to the public the
deeper philosophical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of hunting and the influence these
forces have on developing a conservation ethic and commitment.
- Develop and implement processes that assist members of the hunting/conservation
community to reach consensus on specific prioritized examples or conditions that may limit
public hunting opportunity, and develop appropriate response options.
- Encourage federal and state agencies, along with private landowners, to support
management plans that assure hunter access in perpetuity.
Click here to download a complete copy of this document.
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To Revive Hunting, States Turn to the Classroom
by Ian Urbina - The (Polk County) Ledger - March 08, 2008
When David Helms was in seventh grade, he would take his .22-caliber rifle to school, put a box of ammunition in his locker and, like virtually all the other boys, lean his rifle against a wall in the principal office so he could start hunting squirrels and deer as soon as classes let out.
Now, when he takes his 8-year-old grandson hunting on weekends, Mr. Helms, 55, searches the boys pockets before sending him back to school to ensure that there are no forgotten ammunition shells. But most of his grandson's peers never have to worry about that, Mr. Helms said, because they would sooner play video games than join them outdoors.
Hunting is on the decline across the nation as participation has fallen over the last three decades, and states have begun trying to bolster this rural tradition by attracting new and younger people to the sport.
In West Virginia, state lawmakers gave final approval on Friday to a bill that allows hunting education classes in all schools where at least 20 students express interest. The goal is to reverse a 20 percent drop in hunting permits purchased over the last decade, which has caused a loss of more than $1.5 million in state revenue over that period. At least six other states are considering similar legislation.
Moreover, in the last two years, 17 states have passed laws to attract younger hunters by creating apprentice hunting licenses that allow people supervised by a trained mentor to sample the sport before completing the required course work, which typically takes 8 to 10 hours and can cost more than $200.
"For us, guns and hunting was a way of life," said Mr. Helms, the manager of Marstiller's Gun Shop here. "A lot of places seem to be losing that, and we need to bring it back."
In that effort, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina and Utah have enacted laws since 2004 lowering or removing minimum age requirements for hunters, while Louisiana, Montana and Georgia have amended their constitutions to protect the right to hunt and fish. Eight states are considering similar amendments.
Hunting has seen its ranks fall nationally to 12.5 million in 2006 from a peak of 19.1 million in 1975, according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. While the National Rifle Association has enthusiastically backed the campaign to get states to try to reverse the trend, groups like the United States Sportsmen's Alliance have been the strongest lobbying force.
Gun control advocates are not pleased.
"In the post-Virginia Tech era, there is absolutely no reason to be bringing unloaded guns, toy guns or any guns into schools," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control group based in Washington. "What West Virginia is doing is essentially trying to bolster gun sales and hunting participation by advertising to children, which is really cynical."
Wildlife officials and environmental researchers offer different explanations for the decline in hunting, including rural depopulation, higher gas prices and the increased leasing of land by small exclusive clubs or the posting of "No Hunting" signs by private land owners.
Others cite the prevalence of single-parent homes, where the father is not present to pass down the tradition, and the growing popularity of indoor activities that offer immediate gratification, like the Internet, video games and movies.
"Hunting takes time, effort and patience," said Capt. Louis DellaMea of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. Shaking his head, he said that among the few young people who do hunt, the habit is to ride an all-terrain vehicle to a tree platform, pour out a bag of corn and sit waiting for the prey to show up.
"In my day, you went looking for the animal that was the whole point," he said, adding that what makes hunting fulfilling is the exercise involved, discovering hidden trails and seeing sunrises, bobcats and bears while conducting the search. "The actual killing, that's secondary."
Andrew Page agrees about the draw of nature, but as the director of hunting affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, he sees the drop in hunting as heartening, partly because it has come with a simultaneous rise in other types of outdoor activity. The number of birdwatchers, wildlife photographers and other wildlife watchers grew to 71 million in 2006, up from 62.8 million in 1996, according to surveys conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Culture is shifting, and we think that's a good thing," Mr. Page said. Though he grew up in rural Illinois hunting rabbits, squirrels and pheasants, Mr. Page, 32, said he gave up hunting in his late teens when he realized that he could enjoy nature without killing animals.
But the shift away from hunting has other consequences, too.
In West Virginia, the Department of Natural Resources has lost at least $1.5 million in revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, which affects the department's ability to conduct conservation work, state officials said.
Hunting is the largest factor in controlling the deer population, and without enough hunters, the deer population can grow and has contributed to an increase in road accidents, said Steve Brown, the state's fish and wildlife planner. West Virginia has the highest rate of vehicular accidents caused by deer, according to State Farm Insurance. In 2006, the state Division of Highways reported 15,918 deer were killed in motor vehicle collisions.
Lt. Tim Coleman, the state's hunting education coordinator, said in the last several years, the Department of Natural Resources had increased the number of hunting trips it offered for women, children under the age of 15 and disabled people.
Other states are trying different approaches.
In Illinois, game managers are holding learn-to-hunt classes for single mothers. In Vermont, the Fish and Wildlife Department sponsor's youth hunting weekends three time a year. New Hampshire started a "Leave No Child Inside" initiative last year that encourages families and children to try fishing and hunting.
Evan Heusinkveld is the associate director of state services for the United States Sportsmen's Alliance, which is part of the Families Afield campaign, a coalition of hunting groups that has lobbied for lowering or removing minimum age requirements for hunters. He said that hunting is more fulfilling for families that children's sports because it is more participatory.
"While the soccer mom watches her son or daughter play a sport, hunting involves both parent and child learning and experiencing together," he said, adding, "Hunting is actually safer than boating, biking or swimming."
Thirty states have no minimum age to begin hunting, but all require supervision or the completion of hunter education courses. Among the 20 states that have age limits, most require children to be 12 before they can hunt big game, which often involves using a rifle or shot gun and can include targeting white-tail deer, wild turkeys and black bears.
Rather than teach hunting in schools under the guise of fostering gun safety and promoting exercise, Mr. Helmke, of the Brady Campaign, said that states like West Virginia should focus on bolstering gun-safety laws and financing other types of outdoor activities.
West Virginia has some of the weakest gun restrictions of any state, he said, adding that so far, despite the recent creation of federal incentives in response to the Virginia Tech killings last April, the state has not submitted a single name to the federal database that is meant to prevent dangerously mentally ill people from getting access to firearms.
Gov. Joe Manchin III has not said whether he would sign the hunting education legislation, but an aide said issues that had concerned the governor appear to have been resolved.
The sponsor of the bill, Billy Wayne Bailey, argues that the state has a responsibility to protect its cultural traditions.
"It's hard to find too many 55-year-olds that are still playing basketball or football, but a lot of people well into their 80s enjoy hunting," said Mr. Bailey, a state senator from Wyoming County and a Democrat. "For us," he added, "this is a pastime we want to preserve."
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Nowadays we idolize nature–or fear it
by Richard Louv - from the San Diego Union Tribune, 14-May-2000 Sunday, Page A-3, The Future's Edge. Fourth in a series on the changing relationship between humans and other animals.
In the mid-19th century, a boy ran along a beach with his gun, handmade from a piece of gas pipe, mounted on a stick. The pipe was loaded with gunpowder and slugs made with "gleaned pieces of lead," as the boy recalled later. The boy aimed, a companion "applied a match to the touch-hole," and he "fired at the gulls and solan-geese as they passed." Today, such activity might be cause for time spent in Juvenile Hall, but for young John Muir, shooting sea gulls was just another way to connect with nature.
"Whenever I read Muir's description of shooting sea gulls to my students, they're shocked. They can't believe it," says David Sobel, director of teacher certification programs at Antioch University's New England graduate school and co-director of the Center for Environmental Education. Muir, of course, was responsible for saving the mountains surrounding Yosemite Valley from development by helping to establish Yosemite National Park, and was the father of modern environmentalism.
Sobel tells this story to illustrate just how much the interaction between children and nature has changed. Practitioners in the new fields of conservation psychology (focused on how people become environmentalists) and ecopsychology (the study of how ecology interacts with the human psyche) say that, as Americans become increasingly urbanized, their attitudes toward animals move in paradoxical ways.
To urbanized people, the source of food and the reality of nature are becoming more abstract. At the same time, ironically, urban folks are more likely to feel protective toward animals – or to fear them.
The good news is that children today are less likely to kill animals for fun; the bad news is that children are so disconnected from nature that they either idealize it or fear it – two sides of the same coin. Indeed, it's a truism: Humans tend to fear or romanticize what we don't know.
Sobel focuses on "ecophobia," which he defines as fear of nature. In its older, more poetic meaning, the word means fear of home. That older definition
carries special poignancy in Southern California, a region rich in ecological diversity, which is rapidly being paved over and sliced away for development. But, for a moment, set aside such apocalyptic visions. "My contention is that it's psychologically essential for a child to bond to the natural world," says Sobel. He says urbanization makes that difficult, but adds that many educators, with good intentions, are making matters worse.
"Just as ethnobotanists are descending on tropical forests in search of new plants for medical uses, environmental educators, parents and teachers are descending on second- and third-graders to teach them about the rain forests," Sobel writes in his slim but eloquent volume, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education. "From Brattleboro, Vermont, to Berkeley, California, schoolchildren... watch videos about the plight of indigenous forest people displaced by logging and exploration for oil. They learn that between the end of morning recess and the beginning of lunch, more than 10,000 acres of rain forest will be cut down, making way for fast-food, ‘hamburgerable' cattle." In theory, these children "will learn that by recycling their Weekly Readers and milk cartons, they can help save the planet" and they'll grow up to be responsible stewards of the earth, "voting for environmental candidates and buying energy-efficient cars." Or maybe not.
"My fear is that just the opposite is occurring," says Sobel. "In our zest for making them aware of and responsible for the world's problems, we cut our children off from their roots." Lacking direct experience with nature, children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse, not joy and wonder. "If we fill our classrooms with examples of environmental abuse, we may be engendering a subtle form of dissociation." He offers this analogy: In response to physical and sexual abuse, children learn to cut themselves off from pain. Emotionally, they turn off. "My fear is that our environmentally correct curriculum similarly ends up distancing children from, rather than connecting them with, the natural world. The natural world is being abused and they just don't want to have to deal with it."
To many environmentalists and educators, this is contrarian thinking – even blasphemy. But some hunting and fishing organizations make a similar case; they point to the rising average age of hunters and, consequently, falling financial support for conservation through hunting and fishing licenses. Yes, they say, fishing and hunting are messy – morally messy – but removing that experience from childhood will do neither children nor conservation any good. The movement to stop hunting and fishing, they say, is led by people who have little direct contact with nature; anti-fur Hollywood stars, for instance– perhaps the last weasel they met was a casting director.
"You look at these kids (in the animal rights movement), and you largely see urban, disaffected, but still privileged people," says Mike Two Horses, a former San Diegan who now lives in Tucson. Two Horses is the founder of CERTAIN (Coalition to End Racial Targeting of American Indian Nations). His organization supports native people such as the Northwest's Makah tribe, traditionally dependent on whale hunting. "The only animals the young animal rightists have ever known are their pets," he says. "The only ones they've ever seen otherwise are in zoos, Sea World or on whale-watching (now whale-touching) expeditions. They've disconnected from the sources of their food -- even from the sources of the soy and other vegetable proteins they consume."
Sobel isn't defending hunters, fishers or Indian groups; he's just concerned about spreading ecophobia. "Children are studying the rain forest, but they're not studying their region's forests, or even just the meadow outside the classroom door," he says. "It is hard enough for children to understand the life cycles of chipmunks and milkweed, organisms they can study close at hand. This is the foundation upon which an eventual understanding of ocelots and orchids can be built." Sobel contends rain forest curriculum is developmentally appropriate in middle or high school, but not in the primary grades.
Some educators won't go that far, but they do agree with Sobel's basic premise – that environmental education is out of balance. "This is also the fundamental crux of the curriculum wars, particularly in the area of science," says Dennis Doyle, assistant superintendent in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, who has worked for years to increase students' direct experience with nature. "The science frameworks bandied about by the state have swung back and forth between the hands-on experiential approach and factoid, textbook learning."
Rasheed Salahuddin also sees wisdom in Sobel's thesis. As principal of the San Diego Unified School District's one-week outdoor education program on Palomar Mountain, he sees ecophobia every day. "Too many kids are associating nature with fear and catastrophe, and not having direct contact with the outdoors," he says. But don't just blame education. "This is also part of the way the media portrays everything, in end-of-the-world terms."
Salahuddin brings sixth-graders to the mountain and shows them the wonder. "Some of these kids are from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. They view the outdoors, the woods, as a dangerous place. They associate it with war, with hiding, or they view it in a solely utilitarian way, as a place to gather firewood." Inner-city, Hispanic and African-American kids show similar responses. "Some have never been to the mountains or the beach – or the zoo, even though it's within sight of their homes. Some of them spend their entire childhood inside an apartment, living in fear. They associate nature with the neighborhood park, which is controlled by gangs.
"What does this say about our future? Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back."
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What Does The Decline In Hunting Mean For America's Kids?
Richard Louv Interview conducted by Bill Heavey for Field & Stream Magazine - June 18, 2007
"I like to play indoors better," a fourth grader told Richard Louv, "because that's where the electrical outlets are." In his bestselling 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, journalist and author Louv argues that never before has a generation of children been so separated from the natural world. The consequences, he says, can be seen in trends such as increases in obesity, stress, and psychiatric disorders among our kids. With the declining number of outdoorsmen indicated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's most recent National Survey, F&S thought it was a good time to ask Louv about his theories.
F&S: The USFWS is now reporting another drop in the number of sportsmen. What do you make of that?
RL: No surprise whatsoever. It's consistent with what we're seeing all over the country. In a typical week, only 6 percent of kids aged 9 to 13 play outside on their own.
F&S: You coined the term nature-deficit disorder. What, really, do our kids miss out on by not being outside?
RL: We don't know yet. But the scientists I've talked to point out that only in the natural world are all five senses engaged at once in a positive way. Many of them believe the rise in sensory- and neurological-integration disorders in our kids are the results of our changed lifestyle. We're genetically hardwired to be hunter-gatherers and to be outside. You can't replace that with an Xbox and not see consequences.
F&S: You have a section in the book called "The Case for Hunting and Fishing." Do you think sportsmen's advocacy groups are getting more kids out there?
RL: A lot of organizations are trying to do just that. But I question how much everyone is really doing their part. While I was working on an earlier book, I joined a bass tournament on Lake Erie, and I kept hearing guys in bass boats saying they didn't have time to take their own kids fishing. And I'm not picking on bass anglers. My son and I belong to a flyfishing club in San Diego with 400 or 500 members. We've been going for about a decade. And for years, my son has been the only one at meetings without gray hair.
F&S: You talk about how it only takes one adult to ignite a passion for the outdoors in a child.
RL: Yes, absolutely. My Grandpa Barron used to give me old issues of Field & Stream, and I'd devour them. Ed Zern was my role model and hero. The first thing to remember about taking a kid outside is that it's not about the skill of fishing or hunting itself. Don't get hung up on doing it right. For a child, turning over rocks and finding insects or worms is where the wonder comes in. The biggest gift you can give a child is your enthusiasm.
I almost feel like your readers are ahead of the game because they're among the ever-dwindling number of people who get it. The problem is that most adults in this country don't participate in hunting and fishing. I think we'd get a lot more support if we emphasized our sports as ways to save children's health, rather than saving fishing and hunting for their own sake. There are millions of people who couldn't care less about hunting. I've yet to meet anyone who was apathetic about raising happier, healthier children. I think we could get a lot of those folks on our side.
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The Public Trust Doctrine: Securing its Future
Prepared by: Steve K. Ferrell, Deputy Director, Arizona Game and Fish Department, August 20, 2007
Threats to the Public Trust Doctrine
Unfortunately the Public Trust Doctrine, at least as it pertains to wildlife resources, faces increasing threat. Privatization and commercialization of wildlife are two of the most common threats. However, other threats are emerging. These include: an increased indifference towards wildlife by the general public; an increased misunderstanding of natural systems by the general public; a lack of understanding of trust responsibilities among wildlife professionals; public access issues; increased schemes by segments of the public to advantage themselves in the use of wildlife by disadvantaging others; jurisdictional disputes among natural resource agencies; personal liability issues; private property rights; and issues involving wildlife habitat.
Privatization of Wildlife
Privatizing a public trust asset without compensation to the beneficiaries of the trust is perhaps the purest form of violating the trust principles. This may apply to both lawful and unlawful privatization - from passive "ownership" of wild populations confined to private property behind high fences to the possession of wildlife taken unlawfully. Fees paid to a private party for the sole purpose of taking publicly owned wildlife are contrary to the tenets the doctrine. Often these fees are determined by the size or age (i.e. trophy value) of the animal taken. Acceptable forms of payment include fees for services provided by outfitters or guides, or "trespass fees" for the privilege to enter private lands. These do not violate the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine. With the increasing value of hunting and angling opportunities and the concurrent decrease in the number of those opportunities, the incentive to privatize opportunity increases dramatically (Simmons, 2007).
Conflicts over ownership of wildlife must continue to be resolved in favor of the public interest. This would not be the case if wildlife was recognized as being privately owned.
Commercialization of Wildlife.
In some cases there may be little distinction between privatization of wildlife and its commercialization. Placing monetary value on dead or live wildlife has the potential to threaten the Public Trust Doctrine as it relates to wildlife resources. This may apply to the illegal trafficking of live wildlife by collectors (e.g. the exotic pet trade), or the illegal sale of wildlife parts (e.g. migratory bird feathers, or bear gall bladders). Illegal takings of wildlife are a theft from the public trust. Placing monetary value on such wildlife and parts thereof provides incentive and reward which have the potential to impact wildlife populations significantly.
Even the commercialization of domestic wildlife species (e.g. as in game farming) may threaten the public trust. This threat may be realized in several ways. The markets created from this industry may provide incentive to some to exploit those markets with publicly owned wildlife or their parts. Further, the harvest of domestic wildlife species from small enclosures surrounded by high fences may be portrayed as hunting, causing public contempt for an important tool in managing public trust assets. Moreover, the mismanagement of domestic wildlife may cause threats to wildlife populations through the introduction of exotic species and disease.
The strength of the Public Trust Doctrine is determined by the value the public assigns to the trust‘s assets. If the public grows indifferent to wildlife, or worse to view it in a negative perspective, the doctrine has no value in a wildlife context. Historically, this has occurred on continents where wildlife resources were owned by a monarchy. In these cases where the general public had no ownership of wildlife, nor had a right to make use of it, citizens tended to be indifferent to its welfare. In extreme cases they may have despised it as another possession of the privileged. On occasion, conquering invaders destroyed wildlife in newly acquired territories as an expression of their contempt for the conquered, much as they treated other captured assets.
There are several factors that potentially threatened the doctrine in this way even today. The increasing urbanization of North America has caused wild things and wild places to become more foreign to an increasing percentage of the population. This lack of relationship to wildlife may cause indifference in some. Fewer citizens may enjoy wildlife for either a consumptive or non-consumptive purpose. Some may even despise it for the damage it causes to their property or the competition it creates for their livelihood. Others may even fear wildlife as a danger to their personal safety. If the beneficiaries of the trust cease to value the trust assets, the trust becomes vulnerable to those who wish to take it from them. While stewardship by the government may be prominent, guardianship by the public may be insufficient to effectively conserve wildlife.
Should people become disenfranchised by the management of the trust's assets, their interest in conserving them may wane. As they sense less personal ownership, less utility or inequitable access to their assets, their proprietorship may decrease. As the beneficiaries' interest decreases, so too may their perceived value of their assets. Indifference by the public for their wildlife resources makes the trust's assets valueless, eliminating the need for stewardship. Therefore, the steward has an important role in ensuring the beneficiaries' interest in their trust's assets is maintained.
Lack of Understanding of Natural Systems
As in the previous discussion, the urbanization of North America may cause another form of threat to the Public Trust Doctrine as it applies to wildlife resources. As people grow more distant from the land, they may become less understanding of natural systems, and their knowledge of ecological and conservation principles may decrease. Anthropomorphism and mutualism may minimize the utilitarian and aesthetic value of wild populations and their management, by causing people to relate to wild animals as individuals, rather than as populations. It may further promote the urge to treat animals as a personal responsibility rather than manage the resource for the public at large. The consequences of this shift in value may at a minimum complicate the role of the stewards in managing the public trust for the common good. A common example of this challenge is found in managing nuisance wildlife within urban settings.
Changing Perspectives among Wildlife Professionals
Just as the changing demographics of the general population have caused a change in public values and understanding of natural systems, so too have they affected wildlife professionals. An increasing percentage of wildlife professionals have a poor understanding of the value of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the Public Trust Doctrine, or their role and responsibility as stewards of the public trust. More commonly wildlife professionals devalue utilitarianism and the critical role that hunting and angling play in conservation. There is an increasing trend among wildlife professionals to be indifferent toward their responsibility in allowing access to publicly held resources. An increasing trend in natural resource agency policy is to respond to resource issues by placing greater restrictions on people, sometimes to the point of keeping them from the landscape. Sometimes individual attitudes can infect the policies of an entire agency. This may be the equivalent to a trustee denying access by the beneficiaries to the trust assets that they own.
Interagency Jurisdictional Disputes
Occasionally the stewards of the public trust engage in jurisdictional disputes that threaten the very doctrine that empowers them. Conflicting missions and values are often the cause of the threat. For example, legislative mandates that transfer a portion of the state's wildlife management responsibilities (e.g. predator management) from the state wildlife agency to the state agriculture department may threaten the Public Trust Doctrine depending on how the agriculture agency manages the public trust resources. If their management is not in the best interest of the beneficiaries or advantages a segment of the public to the detriment of another without compensation, the doctrine may be compromised.
Schemes to Disadvantage Others
There is an increasing trend within the public to create a personal competitive advantage over others in accessing wildlife for utilitarian purposes. This violates the tenets of the Public Trust Doctrine by disadvantaging other trust beneficiaries for the personal gain of the advantaged. Further it violates the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation principle of equal opportunity for all. The most common form of this scheme is leveraging ones ability to pay over another's inability. Hunting opportunity based on private land ownership (e.g. transferable landowner permits), industry affiliation (e.g. transferable outfitter permits) or opportunities provided through auction are common examples. Depending on the public benefit leveraged by these programs, they may contradict the Public Trust Doctrine.
Hunting is perhaps the most direct barometer of the welfare of the Public Trust Doctrine. The threats to the Public Trust Doctrine are relative to the threats facing the future of hunting. As hunting is compromised by privatization, or by social privilege, public ownership is compromised. As wildlife assets are removed from the public trust through privatization or social privilege the trust is no longer managed for the common good of the beneficiary. Deer held on private lands behind high fences may no longer be true public assets. The general public has no access to them and they do not realistically own them. They are in essence a privately owned asset. Likewise, when a segment of the public has an unfair advantage over others in accessing game populations, the trust is being managed for a segment of the beneficiary at the exclusion of others. When game species are managed for the advantage of a privileged segment of the beneficiary, the others may become disenfranchised and ultimately indifferent.
Eventually, hunting suffers from the negative perceptions of the disadvantaged. Further, hunting of privatized wildlife may promote practices of unfair chase (e.g. will-call shoots, shooting domestic game, and pursuits within small enclosures behind high fences) that are portrayed as hunting and cause negative perceptions of hunting by the general public. A strong public ownership of wildlife promotes discourse on such practices.
Public Access to Trust Assets
When the public cannot access publicly owned resources the Public Trust Doctrine is challenged. In many jurisdictions submerged lands under public waters are lawfully classified as the private property of riparian land owners. In these instances the surface water may be considered public property, but wading, anchoring, or otherwise making contact with the submerged lands constitutes trespass. Within jurisdictions that classify submerged lands within public waters as public land, the public can generally access the waterway via a public easement (e.g. public road crossing) and move lawfully between the ordinary high waterlines. In these jurisdictions the Public Trust Doctrine is better served. This observation is not intended to disparage private property rights nor condone trespass. However, the former jurisdictional example restricts public access to the use of publicly owned resources, which may arguably contradict the Public Trust Doctrine.
Private lands surrounding large blocks of public land is another example of precluded public access that is becoming increasingly common in the west. In these instances large blocks of public land and the public assets found therein are inaccessible to the public because they are adjoined by private lands (sometimes only small parcels) without public easements through them. Often landowners will oppose government efforts to acquire or otherwise provide public access through or around their private lands to afford access to the public lands beyond. In these instances private landowners essentially privatize public assets, intentionally or unintentionally.
Personal Liability Issues
Civil judgments for personal loss caused by a public asset also threaten the doctrine. For example, property damage caused by wildlife or incidents that cause personal injury or death may affect the ability of the steward to manage the trust's assets for the advantage of the beneficiary. For example, civil judgments rendered as a result of vehicle collisions with wildlife or injury from human/wildlife encounters adversely affect the management of the trust.
Private Property Rights
Programs that provide a personal proprietary interest in publicly owned wildlife resources solely as a means for compensating personal property loss may also threaten the Public Trust Doctrine. These programs, such as transferable landowner hunting permits, may arguably be allocating publicly owned assets to private interests, unless they provide a net advantage to the beneficiaries of the trust.
The Doctrine Itself.
In its traditional form the Public Trust Doctrine applied to navigation, commerce, and fishing. As previously mentioned it has expanded in its scope to include a diversity of issues including all forms of recreation, environmental protection, water use, flood control, aesthetic values, and religious or cultural interests. This responsiveness to contemporary values is considered a strength of the doctrine, a prerequisite of its continued effectiveness for future generations. On the surface, an expanded application of the doctrine appears to be only positive. However, as the diversity of its assets grow, so too may conflict among the assets as well as the beneficiaries of the trust. For example, may flood control and environmental protection conflict? Will water use and navigation always be compatible? Will religious and cultural assets always coexist harmoniously with utilitarian purposes? As the public needs change, the doctrine by definition must change with them. Will changing public needs, and the increased diversity of public trust assets, as defined by evolving case law, cause the doctrine to implode?
Scholars of the doctrine have speculated that perhaps the stewards may someday be required to categorize the public assets by relative importance, where Tier 1 assets, receive preference over Tier 2 assets (NY/NJ Baykeeper, 2001; Henquinet and Dobson, 2006). Perhaps religious and cultural assets will take precedence over navigation or fisheries management. These choices would be contentious and litigious.
The Public Trust Doctrine is after all judge-made law. It is made by the courts. While perhaps it has been a slow, incremental form of law-making we are an increasingly litigious society. In the future, change may come at a faster pace.
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