Woody Allen once said that 95% of life is showing up. Like all humor, that comment has a basis in fact. Two cases in point occurred recently, proving that those who show up have a much greater impact than those who don’t.
As a result of a great deal of public support – i.e. people who showed up, testifying before the California Fish and Game Commission and writing more than 3000 letters – the Commission denied a proposal by the California Trappers Association to repeal the bobcat trapping ban that was put in place last year.
Closer to home, on April 13th the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department rejected a proposal that would have opened the first bobcat hunting and trapping season in the state since 1989. Thousands of New Hampshire residents weighed in to express their support for bobcats remaining safe in the wild and not cruelly trapped or shot for “sport” and profit.
In both instances, a principle was recognized and acted upon that still eludes many of our fellow citizens in the Pine Tree state– that is, wildlife is a public resource, like the lakes and streams and land that are held in common by all Mainers, and they should all have a voice in how they are managed. The mission statement of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, for instance, says in part that it will ‘preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the state.” That raises the question: who is the state if it’s not the people who live here?
Trappers in the Granite State were, of course, disappointed that the bobcat measure was withdrawn,and some brought out the same old “from away” complaint, suggesting that – even though some hunters opposed the hunt – the vote was hijacked by so-called ‘out-of-state activists’. This will sound all too familiar to Mainers since this bogus and misleading claim surfaces every time a measure to end cruelty to animals is introduced as if the only people opposed to animal cruelty don’t live here.
We don’t know how many trappers there are in New Hampshire, but it’s very probably a small fraction of the state’s population as it is in our state. In 2015, for example, there were 2872 licensed trappers in Maine as compared to approximately 1,330,000 residents, and yet the trapping of wild animals – holding them captive in place by snares or cables, terrified and hungry and possibly injured, until a human comes along and executes them on the spot- continues with the full force of law as if the numbers just cited were the other way round. We’d probably agree that any policy regarding public resources that is dictated by such an incredibly small minority is, on its very face, unrepresentative and undemocratic, and yet it continues.
One New Hampshire resident, when he heard that the plan to trap and hunt bobcats had been dropped, commented “The public finally gets heard.”
In other words, the public showed up – most importantly in the hearings held on this issue, but also in the form of letters, e-mails, FaceBook postings, and even videos. Why? Because even though animals are ‘owned’ only by themselves, their management -if they’re managed at all – should include participation by citizens as befitting a resource shared by all.
The lesson in both California and New Hampshire is heartening and it’s clear. Show up, speak your mind, say what you believe is right and humane. Stay at home, forfeit your right to an opinion, and others will speak for you –but you may not like what they decide. As one local animal rights group proclaims (and yes, they are activists who live here) ‘ Silence is the voice of complicity.” It is that, but not just that. It is also the voice of complacency and indifference, and it is the voice as well of enablement and empowerment for those whose opposing views will prevail – if you let them.