“Defenders of the shortsighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying ‘the game belongs to the people.’ ” — Teddy Roosevelt (1916)
This week’s column begins an exploration of the Public Trust Doctrine and how the current “North American Wildlife Model” of farming for killing privatizes our wildlife for killing, while excluding the majority “non-consumptive” public. Please read this and network! More to come in two weeks.
Wildlife is a public trust. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is entrusted with natural assets to be cared for in the interest of all citizens as a long-term benefit. The Wisconsin DNR is in flagrant violation of that trust.
The Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) holds that navigable waters and wildlife are a public resource, held in trust for all citizens. The doctrine is seen as the underpinning of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, developed in response to “the continental demise of once abundant wildlife resources due to the unregulated economic markets that placed value only on harvested wildlife …. It is widely recognized that the unregulated commercial use of wildlife is unsustainable.”
Market trapping in Wisconsin is such use.
The Wildlife Society, a pro-hunting organization, did a 2010 technical review of the Public Trust Doctrine describing societal changes and animal rights as threats to the prevailing paradigm (although nonconsumptive wildlife appreciators are the majority of the public). The review noted that threats included a claim “asserting that nonhuman animals are sentient” (have the ability to suffer) and therefore, like humans, cannot be owned. The review pointed out that this concept conflicts with the PTD, which holds that “wild animals are a publicly owned resource that can be renewably and sustainably managed.” (farmed for killing like cattle)
In the Wildlife Society’s review of the PTD, it was noted: “Placing monetary value on dead or live wildlife has the potential to threaten the public ownership of wildlife resources by raising the incentive for privatization.” But it was also noted: “Lawful trapping guided by the oversight of wildlife professionals is consistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.” Hunting and trapping licenses definitively place monetary value on dead wildlife. However, living wildlife and intact ecosystems of inestimable value are not granted monetary value.
Here is the rub. In the North American Model, wildlife belongs to the public until it is “lawfully killed” and then it becomes the property of the taker and moves out of the public realm to private possession. “Lawfully taken” is the distinction — and who makes the laws? The takers. Only death is monetized.
Decline in interest in killing wildlife is portrayed as an end game to public interest in wildlife. In the hunter view, interest in living wildlife is seen as a fundamental threat to the powers that control wildlife for killing. “Participation in consumptive activities may decline and opposition to those activities increase,” according to the Wildlife Society’s review, “threatening the funding base for all wild species, not just game species.”
There is a simple democratic solution. Funding by the nonconsumptive majority can enrich nature and wildlife nonviolently and counter the ongoing extinction and threats of climate change. This is a long overdue counter-balancing of current overkill, wantonly squandering our public domain.
This is the democracy required of a public trust: fair pay, fair say, fair play.
Interest in living wildlife is profitable. In 2006, Wisconsin wildlife watchers brought $111 million directly to state tax coffers and $90 million to federal. Hunters brought in $10 million to state coffers and $45 million to federal. Hunting licenses brought $40 million and trappers $98,000. Multiplier effects were comparable.
The compromised DNR fails to educate the public about the ecological services of beavers and intact healthy ecosystems. Instead it plays up deer/car collisions, any “predation” of crops or other wildlife as threats to farm and hunting interests (wildlife is not supposed to eat), and exaggerates the “hazards” of bears, coyotes, wolves and cougars instead of their ecological essential value.
The Wildlife Society cautions, “Any model statutory language must be carefully drafted to avoid the PTD being used to eliminate the ‘traditional recreational sporting benefit’ of wildlife. Traditional and natural uses must be provided for as part of the public trust … and hunting has been identified as such a use.” (by hunters themselves)
“Traditional and natural uses of wildlife” are beavers building their dams, which protect and clean water systems and create nursery habitat for half of the rare and endangered species on earth. Natural uses of wildlife are natural predators in natural numbers keeping deer herds, vegetation and river systems healthy and in balance. Natural uses of wildlife are wildlife existing without human violence, contributing their natural role in adapting to the ever expanding threats humans have created to climate, oceans, biodiversity, and our life support systems.
We have been the enemy. Wildlife needs friends to survive. The least we can do is stop those killing wildlife for fun, trophy and profit.
Note: There will be a protest against using monkeys in biomedical research at noon Tuesday, May 13, at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus.