A Lost Opportunity – Part Two

A Lost Opportunity – Part Two

(Part One appears on the November 16 blog)

Who’s on the wildlife management plan steering committee, why were they chosen, and do they reflect balanced representation for all citizens? We don’t know why they were chosen (though we can guess), but we do know who they are, thanks to George Smith, who provided the following information in his blog of October 26:

“Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has recruited an outstanding Steering Committee to participate in the big game planning process: Rep. Gary Hilliard, IFW legislative committee, Don Dudley, F&W Advisory Council, Dave Trahan, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine {SAM}, Tom Abello, The Nature Conservancy, Tom Doak, Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine, Barry Burgason, Maine Forest Products Council, Deb Perkins, Jerry Longcore, and Laurent Gilpatrick, Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society, Don Kleiner, Maine Professional Guides Association, Jen Brophy, Maine Sporting Camp Association, Alycn Smart of the Maine Farm Bureau, Chris Cloutier of the Maine Warden Service, Judy Camuso, DIF&W’s Wildlife Division Director, Nate Webb, DIF&W wildlife planner, and Jane Eberle, a former legislator who is representing the public.”

Smith also quotes Webb as follows – “The public expectation is that wildlife will be managed for the full suite of interests and perspectives,” Nate Webb concluded. “The public expects these species to be managed for more than hunting and fishing.”

Does the composition of the steering committee represent a “full suite of interests and perspectives?” Let’s take a closer look:

  • Gary Hilliard is a member of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, SAM, the NRA, and recently sponsored legislation to lower the minimum age for hunters. One of his points was that this legislation would produce more revenue through the sale of hunting licenses. Thanks to support provided by SAM and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the age restriction was dropped altogether and is now law.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council, represented by Don Dudley, is an adjunct of DIFW; its members are approved by the IFW committee and the Commissioner, appointed by him, and routinely supports his decisions.
  • The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine represented by David Trahan, a former legislator and member of the IFW committee, is the state’s most active hunting lobby, with influence far beyond its approximately 10,000 members. Trahan is executive director and a paid lobbyist for this organization.
  • The Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society, the Maine Farm Bureau, and the Maine Forest Products Council all publicly opposed last year’s bear referendum.
  • The Maine Professional Guides Association also opposed the referendum and donated $121,000 for that purpose. Don Kleiner is a lobbyist who was paid $21,000 by the Association this year.
  • Chris Cloutier, Nate Webb, and Judy Camuso are all DIFW employees, with Camuso playing an active public role in representing DIFW’s opposition to the bear referendum.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a dominant role on this committee, but let’s not forget that it’s the servant of two masters – one being the scientific management of the animals entrusted to it, the other protecting and increasing the revenue stream generated by the sale of hunting licenses which provide it with financial support. The push-pull dynamic of these dual concerns can be a clash of values and priorities as well as a loss of objectivity. It is also, like the IFW committee, a classic conflict of interest.

Also of great concern is Commissioner Woodcock himself, who, according to Smith, must approve the final plan after the work of the committee is completed. Unfortunately, his bias became obvious when, back in September 2014, he shared a podium with David Trahan and publically declared that supporters of the bear referendum were, ” a group of well-funded out-of-state activists who are more concerned about advancing their agenda than they are with the welfare of our own residents, our traditions and the natural resource economy,” thereby maligning the many thousands of Maine citizens who ultimately voted for the referendum and seriously compromising the Commissioner’s own ability to be impartial.

Finally, we have Jane Eberle, a former legislator who served on the IFW committee and who is “representing the public,” i.e. the approximately 89% of Mainers who don’t hunt or trap. It’s a formidable and unrealistic task for any one person; however considering George Smith’s 2012 comment that she “rarely disagreed with the rest of the committee’s members on key issues,”Ms. Eberle’s independence may well be a concern. In any case, the question is moot since she has recently withdrawn from consideration leaving no one at all to represent the public.

As part of the planning process, DIF&W has also retained Responsive Management, a Virginia firm whose executive director, Mark Duda, will, for the Department’s first time, conduct public surveys and meetings.

But if Mr. Duda is being paid by DIFW, can we expect that he will simply tell his employers what they want to hear? A review of his client list includes a number of fish and game departments throughout the country as well as Safari Club International. Judging from the encomiums, they are all happy with his work which appears to make hunting practices more acceptable to the public. Here, for example, is his attempt to alter the perception of trapping:

 The public is highly uninformed about trapping. In the absence of information on trapping, the public is free to project onto trapping whatever image first comes to mind. And for much of the public, the image of trapping burned into the American psyche is of a helpless animal doing anything it can to escape a “steel-toothed” trap, including chewing off its own leg.

To persuade us that the above description of trapping is not accurate, Duda suggests that we acquire “ familiarity with trappers, knowledge of beneficial uses of animals harvested through trapping, and knowledge of methods used to make trapping more humane.” He concludes that “ the more information people possess about trapping issues, the more likely they are to approve of trapping.” It seems that Duda’s specialty is manipulating language to make cruelty seem relatively neutral and therefore inoffensive with such words as “harvest” as if it we were discussing a field of broccoli rather than the killing of a sentient creature who wants to live as much as we do and shares many of the same emotions. One wonders how he will phrase his questions when he surveys the public and what conclusions he will draw from their responses.

You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to see what’s going on here – the same old stonewalling in a new format, the IFW committee morphed into a management plan, sham hoping to pass for substance. After all, can we really expect that the lopsided representation of the state’s hunting lobby and their allies by the individuals and organizations on this committee will devise a balanced wildlife management plan that will address the concerns of those who have been excluded from the committee and yet who speak for most of Maine’s citizens?

It should be obvious by now that exclusion doesn’t work unless the intent is to polarize instead of creating an environment receptive to the entire range of “interests and perspectives” that the issue of animal management in our state deserves. A basic tenet of conflict resolution – whether it concerns individuals, groups or nations – is that parties involved have a seat at the table, discuss their differences, and hopefully reach agreement. Anything less is not only futile; it is also deceptive and hypocritical, and it indicates either incompetence or design.

Nate Webb, DIF&W wildlife planner, speaks of “The public expectation is that wildlife will be managed for the full suite of interests and perspectives.” In that case, the public will be disappointed not only by who’s on the committee but who isn’t.

Look again and you’ll notice a telling omission. It’s as if the Humane Society of the United States, the Wildlife Alliance of Maine, the Maine Friends of Animals, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, animals rights activists, ordinary citizens appalled at the cruel hunting practices perpetrated in their name, and the many veterinarians and animal shelters who supported the bear referendum simply don’t exist – not to mention the nearly 278,000 citizens of our state who voted for it.

Any steering committee determines direction. Unless this committee changes course and includes individuals and organizations who represent the vast majority of Mainers who neither hunt nor trap, then the result will be what it’s been in the past – a vocal and influential minority that ignores those who don’t agree with it, this time glossed over with the thin veneer and false promise of democratic participation.

The steering committee as presently constituted has lost the opportunity for consensus. Instead, it is heading straight for a roadblock –one of its own making.

 

 

 

 

 

Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

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