Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing / Animal Rights Groups


Animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, and many others, are widely known to adamantly oppose all hunting and angling and to proactively pursue ways to diminish the ability of sportsmen and women to continue these rich traditions. Using the legal arena and emotional pleas, these groups will try to undermine the American System of Conservation Funding and effective, science-based fish and wildlife management with political campaigns and public relations efforts designed to spread mistruths about America’s outdoor heritage and the important role it plays in conservation. State legislators should be aware of in-state registered lobbyists for these organizations, while also considering the feasibility of establishing a constitutional right to hunt and fish, state wildlife councils, and other means of protecting our hunting, angling, and trapping traditions.


Anti-sportsmen organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), consistently attempt to undermine the incredibly successful American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF) by attacking our time-honored hunting traditions while portraying themselves as having the best interests of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources at heart. These groups do not just go after sportsmen and women. They also target agriculture, research facilities, the horse community, dog breeders, kennel owners, etc. – any group that interacts with animals in a way they deem to be inappropriate.

With regards to sportsmen and women, these “animal rights” groups fail to recognize the crucial role hunters and anglers play in conserving fish and wildlife in the United States. The unique ASCF, based on a “user pays — public benefits” model, is funded by America’s sportsmen and women and contributes approximately 80% of the funds needed by most state fish and wildlife agencies to manage our nation’s fish and wildlife resources and their habitats.

Much of the central activity of HSUS is centered on political campaigns and public relations efforts designed to spread mistruths about America’s outdoor heritage and the important role it plays in conservation. When legislative efforts fail, these groups often turn to the ballot box, as they did in 2014 in both Maine and Michigan.

In Michigan, HSUS led the oppositional charge against wolf hunting and the regulatory authority of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MIDNR) and the Natural Resource Commission (NRC), which resulted in the authorization of two referenda to be included on the November ballot in 2016. These referenda would have undermined the science-based wildlife management tenets that guide the decisions made by MIDNR and NRC, thus stripping the agency of its ability to set sound policy for Michigan’s fish and wildlife resources. Thankfully, Michigan’s sportsmen community and the Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus joined forces to enact the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (SFWCA), preempting the referenda and ensuring that the Natural Resource Commission (NRC) maintains exclusive authority over setting regulations affecting the taking of fish and game.

In Maine, HSUS was the prime driver of a referendum to ban bear hunting by the use of bait, traps, and hounds. Maine has one of the largest populations of black bears in the lower 48.  The population has grown steadily over the past five years to up to 36,000 bears. With proper management, not only are healthy population sizes maintained, but a large amount of funding is also devoted to research, conservation, and to the general economy ($60 million annually). Maine has conducted one of the largest and most thorough black bear studies to date, and their management program is touted as one of the most effective in the nation. However, this did not stop the HSUS from challenging the hunt by driving the issue to the ballot on November 4, 2014. If ‘Question 1’ had been approved by the voters, the three harvest methods that account for 93% of the yearly harvest would have been eliminated.  This harvest is necessary to keep the population at a stable level where cultural concerns such as human safety, property damage, and livestock and agricultural depredation are minimized. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, candidates for governor and the U.S. Congress, and the sportsmen’s community at large banded together to mount a successful counter-effort, and ‘Question 1’ was defeated on November 4, 2014 – 54% to 46%.

In yet another example of anti-sportsmen’s efforts, in 2016 animal protection groups joined together and filed a lawsuit challenging the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission for making the decision to allow grizzly bear hunting once they are delisted from the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed the grizzly from the list and hunting regulations on the grizzly bear were expected to go into effect. Unfortunately, Montana officials decided not to hold a hunt in 2018. If grizzly bears are not allowed to be hunted, it will cause detrimental effects on the prosperity of the species, and also reduced revenue that contributes to the funding for conservation efforts through the ASCF. Further, in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park after the population was deemed to have exceeded its recovery goals, and the anti-sportsmen’s organization joined forces and filed lawsuits challenging the decision once again.

When Wyoming announced it would hold a grizzly bear season with a limited number of tags, anti-sportsmen’s groups filed a lawsuit trying to stop the hunt. They were successful in stopping the 2018 hunt and as of now, the judge has ordered grizzly bears to be listed as a threatened species. These same groups also started a campaign called “Shoot’em with a Camera”. The campaign encouraged activists to apply for a Wyoming grizzly bear tag, flooding the lottery with non-hunters. The goal was to take tags away from sportsmen and women and take photos of grizzlies instead. Many notable individuals such as Jane Goodall helped to promote the campaign.

In 2022, the HSUS with the help of 18 other organizations, submitted a petition to the Illinois DNR requesting that the agency prohibit hunting contests that target coyotes, foxes, and racoons.  Along with this, anti-sport groups proposed legislation in Colorado aiming to ban hunting and trapping bobcats, mountain lions, and Canadian lynx with CO SB22-031, which subsequently failed to advance.

Points of Interest

  • The vast majority of funding for fish and wildlife conservation is derived from sportsmen and women through the American System of Conservation Funding and charitable donations, not “animal welfare” groups.
  • Hunting remains the most efficient and effective method of managing wildlife.
  • The HSUS and similar animal rights groups frequently support all-encompassing proposals that methodically reduce hunters’ rights, often targeting specific hunting methods (harvest techniques, traditional ammunition, etc.).
  • The HSUS has previously had its charity rating revoked by Charity Navigator.
  • Despite its many advertisements featuring shelter animals, the HSUS donates only 1% of its revenue to local pet shelters, and the organization recently lost a federal racketeering and bribery lawsuit.

Moving Forward

Sportsmen and women are major drivers behind the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and embody a lifestyle that has endured for generations. The many benefits associated with hunting, trapping, and angling are far-reaching and positively impact all Americans. States are urged to consider Right to Hunt, Fish and Harvest Wildlife constitutional amendments to provide added protection for our sportsmen’s traditions and help ward off unjustified attacks by the HSUS and similar organizations. Further, states may consider following the lead of Oklahoma’s Attorney General, and initiate “truthful solicitation” investigations into the fundraising practices of these animal rights groups in their state.

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