In nearly every state, state wildlife policies and institutions reflect their origins from a century or more ago. The hallmarks of this outdated system are:
- A focus on producing a harvestable surplus of game animals under an agricultural model (i.e. game animals equal “crops”), 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;
- A focus on species and populations, to the near total disregard for the interests of individual animals and their social groups;
- 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.
The fundamental problem is that state wildlife management is stuck in the past, focused more on satisfying hunters and anglers and selling licenses than addressing the extinction crisis. It is rooted in a worldview in which wild animals are seen as soulless resources without intrinsic or ecological values, whose highest purpose is to serve human needs and whims. It is out of touch with changing public attitudes and modern ecological science.
Why It Matters
The world’s wildlife faces a grim future. The fabric of life is unraveling. Habitats are being destroyed and species are being driven towards extinction:
- Vertebrate populations have declined worldwide by more than two-thirds on average since 1970.
- North America has lost nearly three billion birds over the same period.
- Nearly one-fifth of animal species in the U.S. are currently threatened with extinction.
Bold action is needed to reverse these trends.
In the U.S., the first line of defense against this “biological annihilation” is state governments, not the federal government.
And yet…the states are missing in action. Why?
Because state wildlife management has been hijacked by a minority of people whose views are out of step with science and public attitudes towards wildlife.
Rather than evolving to be more responsive to current societal and ecological needs, state wildlife management has become an entrenched system in which the dominant ethos is one of control and exploitation.
This is a system that is fundamentally undemocratic and unjust.