The Hunting Coalition and its Subgovernmental Allies Continue to Dominate Wildlife Policymaking.
A series of articles in the 2017 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy explores the complexities of “management” of wolves and help to illustrate why the hunting coalition and the related hunting “subgovernment” are able to dominate wildlife policymaking. Vucetich et al. present a case study of “wolf hunting” in Michigan in which they compare the principles of North American Model of Wildlife Conservation with the policies adapted by the State of Michigan towards the management of wolves. The model’s principles include the use of the “best available science” and that wolves should only be killed for “legitimate purposes.” They report how wolves rebounded from extinction in Michigan to a population of 650 in 2013 thanks to the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The State of Michigan in 2013 planned the resumption of wolf hunting and passed a statute that named wolves as “game animals.” Opponents of this plan to hunt wolves achieved enough signatures to subject these statues to a referendum. But another bill was presented that would take away the exclusive authority of the legislature to declare wolves and give this authority to a “Natural Resources Commission” appointed by the Governor and this was done so that the new bill would not be subject to a referendum. The governor and some other elected officials defended the new bill with the argument that giving the control to the Natural Resources Commission” was preferable to a referendum because it would “ensure scientifically sound management of wolves.” In 2014, referenda were held in which majorities (55% and 64%) voted to “prohibit wolf hunting and trapping.” Vucetich et al. describe how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources presented a memorandum on hunting wolves that argued its purpose was to protect human safety and “unacceptable losses of livestock” but Vucetich note that there is very little evidence to show that wolves represent a threat to humans and also that most of the livestock loss occurred due to a negligent livestock owner and the average loss was only 11 cattle per year (2000-2010). However, Vucetich et al. acknowledge that the laws allowing wolf hunting were supported by a “majority of the voters” who lived within the “geographic range of wolves in Michigan” The issue was further complicated by the decision of a Federal judge who reinstated ESA protections to the wolves under the ESA in 2014. Subsequently, the Michigan legislature passed a law to reinstate wolf hunting if wolves were delisted which the governor signed. Currently, the U.S. Congress under Republican leadership appears poised to remove protections from wolves for wolves in the Great Lakes region including Michigan.
The Vucetich et al. Michigan case study closely parallels a discussion of the conflict between institutionalism and referenda in my Wildlife Politics book which covers referenda in Alaska, Colorado, Ohio and other states where consistently voters rejected various measures that allowed what many viewed as unethical hunting and trapping (e.g., shooting wolves from aircraft, use of baiting, etc.) However, in the Alaska and some of the other cases as in Michigan, subsequent actions by the state legislature and governor enabled the hunting “subgovernment” (i.e., hunters and their interest groups, the state departments that control wildlife, and other policymaking bodies such as state wildlife commissions) to regain control of hunting policy, thus effectively overruling the referenda results which the hunting coalition labeled “ballot box” biology. The results vary by state but the generalization appears to hold that in states that are dominated by conservatives, the wildlife coalition is able to dominate wildlife politics despite the fact that the majority of the public does not support their positions. Indeed, in Alaska, the hunter coalition tried to ban ballot referenda for wildlife purposes though this failed. Vucetich cite research that only 30 percent of the public support hunting for trophies though a majority support subsistence hunting. Vucetich et al. suggest that as the percent of population that hunt declines, that the non-hunting majority are more likely to express their disapproval of lethal wildlife management actions and thus there will be increasing use of popular referenda to rein in these practices. However, in my review, it appears that in most states and at the national level, the hunting coalition-subgovernment forces continue to dominate, winning many battles such as hunting in national wildlife refuges and protections from the opposing coalition such as attempts to disrupt hunting. To summarize, although the anti-hunting coalition has won a few battles, it appears that despite their declining numbers, hunters are dominant over wildlife policy and the likely weakening of ESA protections under the Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress is likely to strengthen their control even further. Indeed, I cite examples of Democratic Senators who have supported the hunting coalition on these issues (e.g., Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin on delisting wolves in the Great Lakes area). The preferences of the majority for “ethical” hunting practices in most states do not have enough salience to challenge this control.
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