Wildlife For All


If the vast majority of the public abhors wildlife killing contests, why are they still legal in 48 states? If the people who watch wildlife far outnumber those who hunt and fish, why do our Game and Fish Departments still focus most of their efforts on game species? Why is it that at a packed Game Commission meeting, everyone in the room can advocate for one thing but the Commission will still do the opposite? The short answer is: our wildlife is being held hostage by a broken and antiquated system that needs our help. 

 

The Vision

In response to this national crisis in wildlife management, the Southwest Environmental Center has developed the following set of ten principles of the Wildlife for All vision:

  1. Wild animals have an intrinsic right to exist and thrive, regardless of their utility to humans.
     

  2. Wild animals don’t belong to anybody, but everybody deserves a voice in deciding their fate.
     

  3. As entities entrusted by the public to care for our wild neighbors, wildlife departments and commissions should be responsive to and representative of the public.
     

  4. All species contribute to ecosystems whether we understand the roles they play or not, and deserve to be protected. State laws and policies should recognize the value of all wildlife.
     

  5. The public benefits broadly from the existence of wildlife, and therefore should share in the cost of protecting it.
     

  6. The public values, interacts with, and benefits from wildlife in many ways. While traditionally important, hunting and fishing should not be prioritized over other ways of valuing wildlife such as wildlife watching.
     

  7. Taking of wild animals is only acceptable if primarily for sustainable human consumption or for a legitimate, science-based, conservation purpose.
     

  8. Wildlife management should give preference to native species over non-natives.
     

  9. Wildlife decision-making should be informed by science and reflective of broad public values, and take a long-term perspective in order to preserve future populations of animals and the benefits of those animals to future generations of humans.
     

  10. Wildlife agencies should have the legal authority and resources necessary to protect, restore, and advocate for large-scale and long-term biological diversity.

Coyote
If wildlife management reflected public values, coyote killing contests would already be illegal.

 


The Problem
 

Wildlife For All is a response to the growing dissatisfaction with wildlife management at the state level across the country. Problems common to many states include:

  • Politically-appointed wildlife commissions that are not responsive to the broad public interest in wildlife.
     

    • For example, in New Mexico the seven seats on the State Game Commission are all appointed by the governor. There are little to no requirements for being on the commission, and commissioners can be fired at any time without cause. This means we typically have Game Commissions overseeing wildlife policy who have no scientific experience whatsoever and are extremely susceptible to political influence. 
       

  • The over-reliance of state wildlife agencies on funding sources tied to hunting and fishing that are flat or declining
     

    • We have all heard the old adage: "Hunting funds conservation." That is true. In New Mexico (as in many states), our Department's funding comes almost entirely from hunting and fishing license sales as well as excise taxes on guns, ammunition, and fishing equipment. At the same time, hunting and fishing license sales are declining nationwide. Our wildlife management agencies do not have the funding they need to protect all wildlife. It is time to look for new ways to fund wildlife conservation.
       
  • Policies that favor the production of game animals over other species and inadequate legal authority to protect all of a state's wildlife.
     

    • Because wildlife agencies are largely funded by hunters and anglers, they are more likely to focus on species of interest to those groups. In New Mexico, the Department of Game and Fish only has legal authority over 60% of our vertebrate species. 

In other words, abominations like wildlife killing contests and trapping are symptoms of a larger crisis in wildlife management across the nation. A small minority of people who are consumptive users of wildlife have a majority of the say in how wildlife is managed. They also bear the burden of funding wildlife conservation when they are not the only people who benefit from wildlife. This is an issue of democracy, fairness, and representation.

 

Taking Action
 

The Southwest Environmental Center convened a national conference in 2018 called Wildlife for All: Re-envisioning State Wildlife Governance to explore these questions. The conference resulted in a national coalition that is working together to reform our systems of wildlife management in every state. Presentations and agenda from the conference can be found here. If you would like to be a part of this movement, send an email to amanda@wildmesquite.org.

 

Here are some of the bills SWEC is working on alongside our partners in New Mexico that will help address the aforementioned crisis:

Bills that address "symptoms":

  • SB 76: Prohibit Coyote Killing Contests
  • HB 366: Wildlife Protection and Public Safety Act bans traps, snares, and poisons on public lands.

Bills that address the "disease":

  • SB 417: State Game Commission Purpose and Species gives New Mexico Department of Game and Fish authority over 100% of New Mexico's wildlife.
  • HB 263: State Game Commission Changes takes four State Game Commission seat appointments away from the Governor and gives them to the legislature. It creates requirements for those four seats (one hunter, one conservationist, one biologist, and one agricultural representative). It also introduces staggered terms and makes sure commissioners cannot be dismissed without cause. 
  • SB 203: Rename Department of Game and Fish as Wildlife Department to reflect a broader mission.