January 29, 2012

The Story Behind the 60 Minutes Report on U.S. Game Ranches

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On Sunday January 29th, 60 Minutes got a story on the positive effects of hunting mostly right. This is a story every sportsmen and American who cares about the environment needs to understand.

For decades Texas ranches have imported and bred exotic species, some of which are going extinct in their native lands. Though many of these Texas ranchers are doing this for altruistic reasons, it helps that hunting gives them an economic incentive. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has long been behind sound wildlife management that uses sportsmen to control and augment wildlife populations. In this case ranchers/hunters are breeding scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized that an economic incentive (hunting) is necessary to encourage U.S. ranchers to breed the scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle. According to the USFWS, “n an effort to support captive breeding of these critically endangered species and maintain genetically viable populations, the Service granted an exclusion at the time these species were listed that allowed owners
of these animals to continue carrying out breeding and other activities, including interstate commerce and hunting for herd management, without
obtaining an individual permit.” The exclusion did not exempt captive-bred antelopes from the specific permit requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or apply to antelopes bred in captivity in other countries. For more on the USFWS position click here.

Nevertheless, the anti-hunting group Friends of Animals didn’t like that these American ranchers were using hunting to control and fund captive wildlife-breeding initiatives. They sued. In 2009, a Federal district court “remanded the regulation back to the Service, directing the agency to provide opportunities for the public to review and comment when authorizing otherwise prohibited activities.”
The USFWS was “unable to identify a viable alternative” to forcing ranchers to get nearly-impossible-to-obtain permits; consequently, the USFWS eliminated the exclusion. The result is that ranchers who have these endangered species can no longer pay for their management with hunting dollars.

The CSF worries that without this incentive these game ranches will seek ways to rid themselves of animals that will only be a liability. (The final rule will become effective 90 days after its publication in the Federal Register on April 4, 2012.) As a result, the CSF is looking at options to give landowners incentives to help wildlife, such as passing federal legislation that will prevent the USFWS from requiring permits from game ranches that breed scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle.  

This is why the CSF supports new legislation from Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus member John R. Carter (TX-31). Rep. Carter is introducing legislation to restore the original USFWS ruling that allows landowners to stock, breed, hunt and preserve these species. “Our goal is to save these species from extinction,” says Rep. Carter. “This ruling, if allowed to stand, could in fact eliminate these magnificent animals from the face of the earth, for no reason other than the advancement of a radical political philosophy.”

The CSF believes “conservation” should be defined as it was originally coined by Gifford Pinchot, who said conservation is the “wise use of the Earth and its resources for the lasting good of men.” This means using scientific wildlife management in an open-minded, honest way.

Jeff Crane, president of the CSF explains, “America’s sportsmen have been behind the greatest conservation success story ever known; species such as elk, turkeys and waterfowl have all recovered and benefitted from the American System of Conservation Funding—taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, license fees and more are raised from sportsmen, America’s foremost conservationists. Sportsmen have saved and managed wildlife species for generations and we need to keep it that way.”

Fund for Animals, conversely, only cares about its anti-hunting ideology.

When asked by 60 Minutes’ Lara Logan why they sued to stop hunting and the transport of these species on American ranches, Priscilla Feral, the president of Friends of Animals, said, “They’re breeding these antelopes, they’re selling the antelopes, and they’re killing the antelopes. And they’re calling it conserving them. They are saying it’s an act of conservation and that’s lunacy.”

Logan: “You would rather they did not exist in Texas at all?”

Feral: “I don’t want to see them on hunting ranches. I don’t want to see them dismembered. I don’t want to see their value in body parts. I think it’s obscene. I don’t think you create a life to shoot it.”

Logan: “So, if the animals exist only to be hunted…”

Feral: “Right…”

Logan: “…you would rather they not exist at all?”

Feral: “Not in Texas, no.”

The Friends of Animals would rather these antelope species went extinct than allow people to hunt and manage them. People have always hunted, but they haven’t always dealt with such blind, ideological attacks on the species we share the planet with. To beat this ideology, and thereby save wildlife species, we need to support Rep. Carter’s bill and to extol the virtues of hunter-conservationists everywhere we go.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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