The Problem with State Wildlife Management Today

  • If the vast majority of the public abhors wildlife killing contests, why are they still legal in most states?
  • If the people who watch wildlife far outnumber those who hunt and fish, why do our wildlife agencies still focus most of their efforts on game species?
  • Why is it that at a packed state Game Commission meeting, everyone in the room can advocate for one thing but the Commission will still do the opposite?

The short answer is: our wildlife is being held hostage by a broken and antiquated system that needs our help.

The world’s wildlife faces a grim future. Species and populations everywhere are disappearing at a rapid rate due to human activities. Vertebrate populations have declined worldwide by an average of 68 percent since 1970. Numbers of North American birds have dropped by nearly three billion birds over the same period.  Eighteen percent of animal species in the U.S. are currently threatened with extinction.

Bold action is needed to reverse these trends. Because they share management authority over wildlife with the federal government, states have a critical role to play in responding to the extinction crisis. Unfortunately, state wildlife policies and institutions today are ill-equipped to deal with the challenge before them.

In nearly every state, wildlife management is in crisis, mired in an outdated but entrenched paradigm, the hallmarks of which are:

  • A focus on producing a harvestable surplus of game animals rather than conserving all species and ecosystems;
  • Preference given to consumptive wildlife users (hunters, anglers and trappers) over the broader public;
  • Politically appointed wildlife commissions that are stacked with consumptive users and agricultural representatives;
  • Hostility towards carnivores like wolves and coyotes, which are seen as competitors with hunters for game animals, or as threats to livestock;
  • Lack of legal protection in state statutes for many species;
  • Wildlife agency revenues that are tied to consumptive uses; and,
  • Declining agency funding (or at least the threat of it) as the number of hunters and anglers falls relative to the general population.

With crisis comes opportunity. Faced with the prospect of losing their traditional revenue sources as well as their relevancy to the general public, state wildlife agencies face a choice. They can embrace a new paradigm, which includes a more comprehensive mission and a broader constituency, or they can double down on the status quo and try to recruit more hunters and anglers.