AR-FAQ - #66

#66 Aren't hunting fees the major source of revenue for wildlife management and habitat restoration?

We have seen in question #65 that practices described as "wildlife management" are actually designed to increase the populations of game species desirable to hunters. Viewed in this light, the connection between hunting fees and the wildlife agencies looks more like an incestuous relationship than a constructive one designed to protect the general public's interests. Following are some more facts of interest in this regard. Only 7 percent of the population hunt, yet all pay via taxation for hunting programs and services. Licenses account for only a fraction of the cost of hunting programs at the national level. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service programs get up to 90 percent of their revenues from general tax revenues. At the state level, hunting fees make up the largest part, and a significant part is obtained from Federal funds obtained from excise taxes on guns and ammunition. These funds are distributed to the states based on the number of hunters in the state! It is easy to see, then, how the programs are designed to appease and satisfy hunters. It is important to remember that state game officials are appointed, not elected, and their salaries are paid through the purchase of hunting fees. This ensures that these officials regard the hunters as their constituents. David Favre, Professor of Wildlife Law at the Detroit College of Law, describes the situation as follows:

The primary question asked by many within these special [state] agencies would be something like, "How do we provide the best hunting experience for the hunters of our state?" The literature is replete with surveys of hunter desires and preferences in an attempt to serve these constituents. ...Three factors support the status quo within the agency. First, as with most bureaucracies, individuals are hesitant to question their own on-going programs...Second, besides the normal bureaucratics, most state game agencies have a substantial group of individuals who are strong advocates for the hunters of the state. They are not neutral but very supportive of the hunting ethic and would not be expected to raise broader questions. Finally, and in many ways most importantly, is the funding mechanism...Since a large proportion of the funds which run the department and pay the salaries are from hunters and fishermen, there is a strong tendency for the agency to consider itself not as representing and working for the general public but that they need only serve their financial sponsors, the hunters and fishermen of the state. If your financial support is dependent on the activity of hunting, obviously very few are going to question the ecological or ethical problems therewith.

Many would argue that these funding arrangements constitute a prostitution of the public lands for the benefit of the few. We can envision possible alternatives to these arrangements. Other users of parks and natural resources, such as hikers, bird watchers, wildlife enthusiasts, eco-tourists, etc., can provide access to funds necessary for real habitat restoration and wildlife management, not the perverted brand that caters to the desires of hunters. As far as acquisition and protection of land is concerned, organizations such as the Nature Conservancy play an important role. They can do much more with even a fraction of the funding currently earmarked to subsidize hunting ($500 million per year). DG/JK