Thursday, December 17, 2015


A backlash of outrage continues to rumble among grassroots hunters and anglers who are furious at leaders of the Ducks Unlimited organization. DU recently chose to fire one of their columnists who has been 'free lancing' for their magazine for 15 years.  The offense was that Don Thomas  had published an article in another magazine, Outside Bozeman, critical of the anti-public access actions of a major DU financial supporter: James Cox Kennedy. DU was not mentioned by Thomas in his article thus begging the question of why DU would act unless Kennedy's financial support is more important to DU than the vast public recreational access obtained by the Montana Stream Access Law. Destruction of this law is the avowed goal of Kennedy's actions.

So is this dispute an isolated event? Or do other NGOs (non-government organizations) self-censor or suppress support for public access to obtain backing of wealthy donors who want more wildlife but also want exclusive private access to it?   My observation is that such suppression is widespread, even endemic, to the DU-type fundraising model employed by many habitat conservation groups.
Thirteen years ago I wrote on this very subject in my old NIMROD'S TRACE column once published in the Montana Wildlife Newspaper of the Montana Wildlife Federation.  That column was about the challenges for hunters in the 21st Century as predictable at the end of the 20th Century.

Judge for yourself whether the 20th Century has inflicted hard challenges on conservationists of the 21st Century.

~~ Ron ~~ 

October 2002


   A bighorn ram paces the Montana spine of the continent --a whitetail
buck ghosts through a Dixie hardwood bottom -- a mallard hen leads her
yearlings high and fast south out of Canada.
 In their existence today, all such wild creatures are threads woven
into what remains of our wild cloth -- a fragile fabric on a
conservation loom crafted by modern hunters.
   A glaring truth shadows our modern wildlife miracle, however. When
the weaver's hand leaves the loom, the cloth unravels.
   The human support system that underpins the preservation of our 21st
century wild heritage is inextricably dependent on the North American
hunter picking up the bill -- and paying her dues.
 Many hunters want "to give something back;" they donate generously to
organizations that proclaim a mission of habitat preservation. Everybody
knows that wildlife cannot live without a place to live. So hunters have
become obsessed with saving and improving habitats.
 The problem in this focused generosity is that habitat is actually only
one-third of the conservation equation.  Indeed, over-emphasis on
habitat funding has resulted in conservation being propped up by a
one-legged stool. That conservation stool actually has three legs.
Scientific management of the wild animals, themselves, is the second
leg.  Leadership of people through law and ethics is the third leg.
 Whatever the success of habitat preservation, both the wildlife and
people legs of the stool are rapidly becoming toothpicks.
 The social equation that produced the almost miraculous restoration of
North American wildlife is, today, in serious jeopardy. Extinction of
the hunting tradition among ordinary people is a real possibility in the
21st Century.  All that may remain will be a residue of the old
European-style of hunting as the privilege of the new American
 Social extinction happens in human cultures for similar reasons that
species become extinct.
 Hunters lose their hunting grounds and become discouraged. They become
socially isolated and fail to adapt to a changing environment because
they cling to an obsolete status quo. Recruitment of youth dwindles
because adults are too busy filing their house with trophies to maintain
the 'village." And so on.
 But the real, core reason for extinction will be that hunters simply
lose the will to keep their tradition alive.
 Character, Courage and Commitment kept Rome on top of the world for
more than a thousand years. When those social qualities faded, so-called
eternal Rome, an empire still financially rich, fell.
 Thousands of American hunters write checks for millions of dollars
every year to buy and improve wildlife habitat. This accumulation of
financial power, like the wealth of Rome, however, will prove
meaningless if only a few aristocrats remain in the field to enjoy the
fruits of conservation.
 Indeed, current trends in the organizations dedicated to funding of
habitat may speed up the end of democratic hunting. More and more,
tycoons take over these foundations and direct the investment of
publicly raised funds toward habitats locked up exclusively for those
who can afford to pay.
 Ordinary public hunters should know before they write their checks
whether their donations will fund habitats open to public hunting.
Otherwise they are likely buying their own eventual social extinction.
 An even greater irony lies in the contrasting financial starvation of
the few state and local hunter-conservation organizations which are
leading the charge for protection of our democratic American hunting
   More public access to public land is locked up every year. Bad laws
harming public hunters are passed every year. All because hunter
conservation groups get no money from public hunters -- the same public
hunters who have, in recent years, written more big checks to buy
habitat some of which will be closed to the public.
 The democratic principle of wildlife being owned by the people, and
managed by public hunting under rule of public law is under general
attack across America -- both in state legislatures and in Congress.
 Hunters who thought their habitat funding donation paid their dues to
wildlife are getting a rude awakening each fall as they find access fees
and trophy prices are beyond their means. They often discover, unknown
to them, that a law was recently passed that made it easy to price them
out of fair hunting opportunity.
 Yes, they paid their dues; but they are functionally extinct as hunters
just the same.
 The majority of nimrods in this situation don't even know that groups
of organized hunters are trying to save their way of life. Political
activism, however, is a lot less fun than bidding on auction items at a
banquet. If they ever heard of such a thing as a state wildlife
federation they may actually have avoided it because they shy away from
 In America, public leadership always is controversial. And controversy,
everybody knows, cannot be resolved with only a checkbook. Courage,
Character and Commitment (and that most precious resource - your time)
are needed.
 For more American nimrods every year, apparently, it's becoming easier
just to go bowling.

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