I received this letter from a gentleman who subscribes to both magazines. Mike is a hard hunter who not only hunts his own state, but tries to go out of state when he can draw a tag. Mike is like most of us, playing on a level tag-drawing field. Some organizations do a great job giving to the wildlife. But I wonder, like Mike, if some organizations have wrapped themselves in a veil of conservation, but have other agendas. I think he brings up some interesting points, what do you think?
A THREAT TO HUNTING WE CAN ELIMINATE
By Mike Veile (Eastmans’ Hunting & Bowhunting Subscriber)
As a passionate western hunter, I want to elevate the debate on threats to our treasured pastime. One in particular I see is special interest big game tags allocated outside the normal process. These include landowner, outfitter and so-called ‘conservation’ tags. It’s my position that said tags cheat the public and reduce the ranks within the hunting fraternity. Conservation of wildlife and preservation of hunting rights need a growing number of participants, not an atrophying, disenfranchised rabble which these tags inherently create.
My greatest concern is with conservation tags. These are tags given to various organizations which auction them off; organizations that allege their altruistic motivations. The justification is the money raised by the sale of a $20,000 tag. But $20,000 tag buyers expect huge, abundant and easily accessible animals with no hunting competition – a recipe that excludes you. The objective becomes maximizing auction dollars, not improving public hunting.
Advocates point out that one deer tag sold for $150,000 is worth it. But thousands of hunters must give up their hunts to produce an experience that a $150,000 deer tag bidder will purchase. Additionally, the misconception is it’s ‘just one tag’. In Utah, it has grown in one form or another to hundreds. When game agencies eliminate hunting for thousands, they in turn must increase public tag and licenses cost. Utah has more conservation tags than all other states combined, as well as the highest resident tag prices coupled with depressing drawing odds. Sadly, other states seem poised to follow.
The Utah group Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife is the infected carrier of this diseased philosophy and the quarantine of state borders has failed, allowing its spread into Idaho and Wyoming. While this organization was not the first, they are the worst, and others have climbed aboard this gravy train. Each organization retains a portion of the tag dollars and increases their take by charging anyone interested in bidding with attendance and membership fees at their banquets – which include numerous costly games of chance. They tout the attendance of the banquets as validation of the concept. But as Utah’s only legalized form of gambling, it likely plays a larger role.
By now, members of these organizations reading this are screaming that they need this money for their good work. But if the money comes from giving up public resources, there is no altruism involved. Every state has a well trained and modestly paid staff, beholden to oversight and public opinion. Why should we carve out a portion of agency funding through conservation tags to subsidize middle-man, armchair biologists who have overpaid consultants and lobbyists? Lobbyists whose only purpose is to flatter state legislators for more tags. A true hunting conservation organization doesn’t loot from precious resources.
If auction tags are so needed, the state agencies should run the auctions and raffles themselves online. But should tags be auctioned off in the first place? We have special tags and licenses for youth, the disabled, military, and landowners. Why do the affluent need their special allocation? Wyoming’s governor said it best – hunting should embody not only the principle of fair chase but, also that of fair chance.
A few years ago the famed ungulate biologist Valerous Geist stated in a Bugle article that the reason hunting and game management works in the US vs. Europe is that even if you are the ‘Emperor of China,’ you have an equal opportunity at participation. These tags defy that principle and cause successive generations to quit hunting. The parasitic special interest groups advocating this type of tag distribution have become the most effective anti-hunting organizations in America.
Imagine if existing auction tags were not distributed to the so called sportsmen or conservation organizations. There would be no way they could increase their dollars or artificially inflate banquet attendance. They couldn’t be sycophants to the wealthy bidders. There would be no way to direct, or have the authority to distribute the generated funding and pay their ‘consultants.’ If it were only the state agencies that auctioned the tags keeping the money, do you think these organizations would still clamor for more tags to auction, or simply work for more animals?
Also, consider the allocation of marketed landowner and outfitter tags. These tags likewise reduce the number of hunters in the West. Any controlled tag given to entities for sale induces them to lobby to restrict public tag opportunity. Conversely, a balance is struck when clients for the outfitters or unit-wide landowner tags compete in the public drawings. If opportunity is restricted, the chance of a paying client drawing a tag diminishes. So they must balance tag numbers with reasonable quality.
Utah produces the greatest number of 400 class elk through extremely limited public tag distribution, yet has numerous special interest tags exempted from drawings, points or waiting periods. I wonder how many would advocate this management philosophy if the only way to obtain these coveted elk tags was through the public drawing process.
I support controlled tags to increase quality, as long as opportunity is equal. Also, resources funded by the sale of licenses and taxes should be managed by professional, accountable agencies. I support funding our resources and personally spend about $500 every year in application fees without even obtaining a tag. I support conservation organizations that raise money and increase membership through volunteer efforts. The threat to hunting can be countered only by demonstrating significant, diverse numbers of participants. State agencies should employ policies that perpetuate hunting and not be influenced by the interests of a vocal minority. If hunting is our true motivation, we should all work to eliminate special interest tags.