A recent story in the Sacramento Bee is adding fuel to hunters’ concerns about the relationship between the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and the nation’s largest anti-hunting group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Questions about DFG’s connection with HSUS initially centered on donations made by HSUS to the DFG-affiliated California Turn in Poachers (CalTIP) program. For the past three years, HSUS has donated $5,000 to CalTIP to provide food and care for the dogs in DFG’s K-9 warden program. HSUS also provides CalTIP with donations up to $2,500 to augment rewards leading to the arrest and conviction of poachers, and, as of October 2011, the California state director for HSUS, Jennifer Fearing, is a member of CalTIP’s board of directors.
What’s more, we reprinted a story from Western Outdoor News (WON) in October where the author, WON’s Bill Karr, asserts that individuals working for HSUS have both attended and taught classes through the DFG warden training academy—a claim that DFG denies.
“No one connected with HSUS has taught or attended the DFG warden academy,” wrote Jordan Traverso, DFG Deputy Director of Communications, Education and Outreach, in communication with NRAhuntersrights.org. “DFG currently partners with Butte College in Oroville to conduct a POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training]-certified academy. The academy is for hired warden cadets that have gone through extensive testing, background checks and interviews. There are many instructors that come from multiple disciplines instructing at the academy. There are no instructors from HSUS.”
Contrary to DFG’s claims, Karr reports that Eric Sakach, an HSUS employee listed on the organization’s website as a senior law enforcement specialist, taught a class in June 2010 attended by DFG wardens. Karr writes that “WON is also in possession of documents obtained from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training that clearly list HSUS as a certified law enforcement training agency, and a web page that shows HSUS as being accredited out of the Butte College Academy, where the DFG warden academy is.”
Despite DFG’s denial of any HSUS affiliation with its warden training program, Nancy Foley, DFG’s Chief of Law Enforcement, did not deny CalTIP’s partnership with HSUS and in fact trumpeted her agency’s affiliation with the group in a press release.
“California’s wildlife and habitat are under severe pressure,” said Foley. “We are very grateful for the support from the Humane Society of the United States for our efforts to combat the scourge of poaching and look forward to developing a lasting partnership.”
In spite of Foley’s comments about “developing a lasting partnership” with HSUS, DFG has gone on record as saying its relationship with HSUS goes no further than a common interest in catching poachers, and, according to Traverso, “HSUS does not have any undue influence or oversight on DFG, especially not in light of any CalTIP donations.”
However, information brought to light in that Sacramento Bee article is now alluding to further cooperation between DFG and HSUS.
California is in the process of revamping its statewide bear management plan, and at the very least it looks as if HSUS is having influence over that plan.
According to the Bee story, the new bear plan “will approach the species less as a hunting opportunity and more as a wildlife conundrum of statewide importance.”
“We’ve stepped back and said, ‘We’re going to draft a management plan with the people of California in mind—hunters and nonhunters alike,’” Marc Kenyon, the DFG wildlife biologist in charge of the department’s bear program, told the Bee. “We’re not going into it with a preconceived notion of what our bear hunt will be like.”
“We’re generally encouraged that they’re updating the plan,” added Fearing, state director for HSUS. “There’s an opportunity now to find common ground.”
If you look at what Kenyon and Fearing are saying, it looks an awful lot like HSUS, a group that wants nothing more than to end all hunting, has been given a seat at the wildlife management table.
For the past three years, DFG has been trying to open new areas to bear hunting and increase harvest quotas. As late as last spring, DFG was trying to gain support for increasing the hunting quota on black bears from 1,700 to 2,000, but the department caved to pressure from HSUS and other anti-hunters and withdrew the proposal. That came a year after DFG also withdrew a 2010 proposal to eliminate the harvest cap altogether after anti-hunting groups objected to the plan.
Research from DFG biologists shows that the statewide bear population continues to increase, from an estimated 4,080 bears in 1984 to 40,005 bears in 2009. Just last year, DFG indicated that a hunting quota of 2,000 bears would allow for more hunting opportunities without harming the statewide black bear population, as the department’s population models support a sustainable harvest of 3,100 bears annually.
Now, in light on the comments made by Kenyon and Fearing, one has to wonder what role hunting will play in this new plan. One thing is certain, if HSUS believes it can find “common ground” with DFG on bear management, hunters need to be concerned.
What’s more, unlike the past three springs, DFG has been unusually quiet this year with its plans to increase the bear harvest. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, or perhaps it’s evidence of anti-hunting influence. DFG has already proven it will back down to pressure from HSUS, and it is even willing to accept money from and develop a “lasting partnership” with an anti-hunting group.
If that affiliation is indeed now influencing wildlife management decisions, then it’s a slippery slope towards ending all hunting. Wildlife management is all about science, after all, and hunting has proven to be the most successful and effective tool in biologists’ arsenal. Lest we forget, it is hunters who fund almost all wildlife management in this country through license fees and excise taxes paid on hunting and shooting purchases. Without hunting, there is no wildlife management.
There is other evidence that DFG is losing sight of the importance of its relationship with hunters. Consider this statement made by DFG’s Traverso to WON in April 2010: “The core mission of the department isn’t what it was when DFG was created,” Traverso said. “We do the best we can in providing vital information to our traditional constituencies, hunters and anglers, but the truth is, in the more than 140 years that DFG has been around, our constituencies have grown. They now also include animal rights groups, other law enforcement agencies, business and industry, farmers, boaters, local governments, essentially all Californians.”
All game departments across the country need to remember that hunters are their primary constituents, not animal rights groups. Wildlife management decisions must continue to be made with scientific justification, not emotion, not anti-hunting rhetoric, and certainly not on the basis of whether someone likes hunting or not.
Alarmingly, HSUS’s efforts to worm their way into state game agencies isn’t limited to just California. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources has also begun accepting donations from HSUS to combat poaching on the islands.
“No matter how desperate you might be, you should not team with someone who actively pursues your demise,” said Darren La Sorte, NRA-ILA’s Manager of Hunting Policy. “Like the wildlife departments of every other state in the country, Hawaii’s department is heavily reliant on funding from sportsmen. HSUS’s primary goal is to end hunting and fishing in America. It’s no secret to anyone. This is tantamount to a state department of commerce teaming with Occupy Wall Street radicals. It just doesn’t make any sense and it’s dangerous.”
Considering that it has gone on record as saying it wants to end all hunting nationwide, there’s little doubt HSUS will try to gain footholds with game departments in other states, too.
What better way to end hunting than to forge partnerships with the very agencies tasked with managing this country’s wildlife?
Sadly, it looks like some states might be taking the bait.