The Kangaroo Court of Wildlife

Words are the basic way in which we humans communicate because they are versatile tools that can be used for different purposes, including (ironically) the disruption of communication itself. When a personal attack, for instance, is substituted for open dialogue, and opinion is categorized into an ideological box, then civil discussion is obstructed, and views that might be considered get ignored. This seems to happen more and more these days, especially when the topic is of a political or controversial nature.

Words are also sometimes used to conceal rather than describe, undermining one of the very purposes for which they were created. For instance, a hurricane or a blizzard is not an ‘event’ – it’s a storm. It isn’t any less destructive, but it may seem so because of the neutral word ‘event.’ You can’t buy a used car anymore – they’re all ‘pre-owned’ which, if you think about it, means they’re owned before they’re owned. Is a vehicle any less used if it’s pre-owned? Probably not.

‘Collateral damage’ is an attempt to sanitize the unintentional killing of civilians, including women and children, and ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ doesn’t have anywhere near the emotional impact of Shell Shock. Calling a military attack an ‘incursion’ is a mealy word that masks the drama and violence of what’s actually involved.

When language conceals or neutralizes, it runs counter to its original intent. Call a spade a spade, not a garden rake, and don’t say ‘harvest’ or ‘take’ when you mean ‘kill.’ All of which is the reason why it’s more accurate to call the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee what it is and has been for some time– the Kangaroo Court for Wildlife. Consider the following example:

Sally Citizen is sued by Paul Plaintiff. When the case comes to trial, Sally finds that the Judge is Paul Plaintiff’s brother-in-law and all the members of the jury are his cousins. She loses. When Sally appeals, the Appeal Court says that the Judge and jury heard the evidence and this gives them expertise in the case, and denies the appeal. Again, she loses. The question is: What chance did Sally have to win in a situation like this? No chance.

Now translate that example to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. Sally has been elected to the legislature and wants to end cruelty to animals. She doesn’t want bears hounded by dogs or held in traps and sponsors a bill to that effect. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine opposes the bill. Sally finds that the chair of the committee is a member of SAM. Not only that, he sits on their board, as does another committee member. Plus, of the other voting members, at least 8 are either SAM members, or highly rated by that organization. One member even runs a bear hunting business! Sally loses because the committee votes Ought Not To Pass, as it has done for other anti-cruelty bills in the past. She has the very slim (and very unlikely) hope of an appeal if the entire legislature passes her bill despite the committee’s recommendation. What chance does she have to win in a situation like this? No chance. Again, she will lose. But it’s not just a loss for Sally. It’s a defeat for all of her fellow citizens who believe that if an animal must be hunted and killed, it should be done fairly and without unnecessary pain or suffering.

What recourse does Sally have? She can’t present her bill to another legislative committee, because only the IFW (KCW) committee can hear the bill, and they will do what they’ve always done, and as they are likely to do regarding similar bills heard just this past week. They will probably kill it in committee, depriving Sally’s bill of being debated and voted on by everyone else.

Of course, as Sally and her supporters know, this is not the way it’s supposed to work. The committee should represent all citizens, not just the small minority who hunt, and it should treat the state’s wildlife as a public resource like the many lakes and streams and ponds and lands that are held in common by all who live here. Instead what we have is seeming more and more like a private club where SAM’s approximately 10,000 members dictate to the other 1,320,000 Mainers, many of whom are not against hunting for food but who are opposed to cruelty.

Sally wonders when this sham will become the truly representative body it should be. She takes heart (and so should we) from the words of Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish political philosopher and statesman who famously said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” It’s not accurate, of course, to label the KCW as evil, but it’s certainly blatant cronyism on a fairly large scale, conducted in an ole boy atmosphere that is neither conducive nor welcoming to opposing views. It’s also important to remember that it’s the general public’s indifference and acquiescence that allows these legislators to undermine the intent of democracy.

So when will all this change? Only when the people heed Burke’s advice and stop empowering the committee with their silence.

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.