This piece is co-authored with Jo Miller, Executive Producer of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
High-caliber weapons, GPS tracking, and all-weather tech gadgets have made a mockery of the concept of “sportsmanship” in the hunting of wild animals. Some members of Congress are now proposing measures that would add archaic and sadistic practices to the stacked deck for hunters in pursuit of Alaska’s supposedly protected bears, coyotes, wolves, and other keystone species. The mental images are tough to stomach.
House Joint Resolution 69/Senate Joint Resolution 18 (S.J. Res. 18) would allow the killing of wolf pups and bear cubs, along with their mothers, as they sleep in their dens. It would reintroduce barbaric steel-jaw traps, which slam shut on an animal’s limb, leaving it to struggle in agony for days, sometimes chewing its leg off to escape. The traps have been banned in dozens of countries. Then there are the snares—a wire noose designed to tighten around an animal’s neck, slowly strangling it to death.
Congress is setting about to eliminate the baseline protections for wildlife on the very lands that were designated as safe havens.
These torture devices belong on the set of a horror movie franchise, not on Alaska’s federal lands. The word federal is crucial here. The special-interest proponents of this joint resolution claim that this issue is, at its core, a matter of “states’ rights.” Not true. Federal agencies’ authority to manage federal lands across all fifty states has been reaffirmed countless times. But the more fundamental point is that their argument goes against core American values—the public’s right to connect with nature and enjoy wildlife that is protected and managed on public lands; our right to the assurance that our children and grandchildren will be able to see the iconic species native to the lands we share with them.
On her TBS show, Full Frontal, Samantha Bee pointed out how detached such legislation is from the feeling of most of the nation:
“The vast majority of Americans support wildlife protection [84%]. …‘Animals are awesome’ is the only safe topic of conversation most American families have left. Left, right; old, young; black, white—Americans agree: ‘four legs good.’”
But even if you’re in the minority, note that these draconian practices will infringe on the rights and safety of hikers, wildlife watchers, photographers, and other users of these lands. Their contributions to local economies substantially outweigh those of hunters. In fact, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) report, more than 70 percent of total expenditures tied to refuges are generated by non-consumptive (non-hunting) recreation. These people, along with the responsible sportsmen who hunt and fish relying on “fair chase principles,” are also at risk of encountering traps and snares, as are their dogs. Yes, hunting is already permitted on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges – 76 million acres of habitat that is home to a rich array of plants and animals. The current FWS rule simply restricts the most inhumane practices. So why do proponents of this joint resolution (which already passed the House and could be voted on as early as next week in the Senate) want to pass such an excessive proposal? Because killing off bears, wolves, and coyotes will artificially boost prey populations—in other words, ruthlessly eliminating natural predators to make it easier for hunters to kill other animals. To make matters worse, it will also knock the ecosystem out of balance.
While the rest of the U.S. marks the 114th anniversary of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Congress is setting about to eliminate the baseline protections for wildlife, on the very lands that were designated as safe havens. So we have to decide, as a country, what kind of stewards we want to be for our vulnerable wildlife. Do we at least have enough compassion to spare them from unimaginably cruel fates: suffering for days in leg traps, slowly suffocating in neck snares, mother bears and wolves slaughtered alongside their young? There should be no ideological divide—the Senate must acknowledge their moral responsibility, and the rights at stake for Americans and wildlife, and reject S.J. Res. 18.
Jeff Flocken is North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Jo Miller is Executive Producer of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.