State Wildlife Management: The Pervasive Influence of Hunters, Hunting, Culture, and Money

I was researching the influence hunting exerts on wildlife management, when I stumbled upon an interview given by Jim Unsworth to Outdoor Idaho in 2009.  Jim Unsworth is deputy director of Idaho Fish & Game.  Here is one of the question’s asked and answered during the conversation:

Does the wolf help to make the case that Fish and Game should be funded by more than just sportsmen?

“I certainly think that you could make that argument. The Fish and Game Department manages lots of species that aren’t hunted or fished and also they have a high value for the people of  Idaho. And I think a lot of folks would agree that maybe the general public should share in those management costs.

Right now the overwhelming lion’s share of funds comes from sportsmen. And, you know, sometimes we’re criticized because we manage for sportsman, but, just a reality check, that’s who is paying our bills. That’s who is paying our paycheck and who is paying for the management.”

Could it be any clearer?


In this article, The Humane Society, details the insidious influence hunting and money has on wildlife management policy in the US.   It sums up in my mind why state game agencies should NOT be managing wolves or any predators!  Can anyone say “conflict of interest”? 

One only has to look to Alaska for examples of killing predators to boost ungulate numbers. Recently Alaska Fish and Game were aerial gunning wolves outside the Yukon-Charley Rivers Nature Preserve, to increase numbers of Fortymile caribou and moose populations, for hunters to kill.  They sparked outrage when they gunned down a pack of collared wolves that were part of an ongoing sixteen year National Park Service study. 

These wolf killing methods are outdated and exceptionally cruel but “wildlife managment” of predators is not grounded in science but rather in greed. Wolves are expendable because hunters compete for the same prey species and don’t welcome competition from wolves. It has nothing to do with the love of elk.  They love elk to death.

State Wildlife Management: The Pervasive Influence of Hunters, Hunting, Culture, and Money

By The Human Society of The United States

Wolves do not purchase hunting licenses, and most state wildlife managers draw their pay from revenue derived from sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses. That, in brief, is what is wrong with wildlife management in America….
—Ted Williams, 1986

“The extent to which wildlife and their habitats are managed and manipulated in the United States to produce animals for hunters to kill is astounding: habitat is managed for maximum deer numbers; wildlife is trapped and transplanted to hunting areas; fires are set; trees are planted; trees are mown down; fields are flooded; fields are drained; tests are conducted to determine if dietary supplements will produce larger antlers; research projects aim at identifying the hardiest non-native pheasant species to release; predators of game animals are destroyed so that hunters can kill them instead.

And killed they are—millions upon millions of wild animals each year. These animals are a product of the land, but are claimed by state wildlife management systems and awarded to hunters to ensure that they will continue to buy hunting licenses. Yet the system is bigger than that; for the states, these animals are the means to an end, a guarantee that wildlife agencies will survive without having to change.

A primary reason that wildlife is so wildly abused is because hunters’ dollars constitute a percentage of the budget of all state wildlife departments. Hunters take advantage of this fact to influence wildlife policies to an extent that vastly exceeds their numbers or financial support. However, contrary to what the hunting industry constantly pronounces, hunters do not “voluntarily” pay for wildlife management.

If hunters want to hunt legally, they must buy a license. License sales account for a large portion of state wildlife budgets. And if they want to kill wildlife, the price of their purchase of guns, ammunition, bows and arrows is increased via a statutorily required manufacturers’ excise tax which provides millions yearly to each state for wildlife management.

So while the financial contribution of hunters is hardly voluntary, the money still greases the engine of a circular system designed to ensure its perpetuation. The more licenses that hunters buy, the more influence they have over wildlife agencies and management. The more that states focus on producing the animals that hunters want to kill, the more they can sustain hunter interest and keep them buying licenses, so that hunters can kill more wildlife.

The system must be changed to benefit wildlife rather than to promote its destruction, and to benefit the public, allowing people a meaningful voice in wildlife management and more than a fleeting glimpse of wildlife in nature. Non-hunters must demand a place at the table that reflects their representation in society. To succeed in this task, we must contribute financially. Even backed by millions of dollars from the non-hunting public, change will not be easy. It is certainly possible, however, and increasingly likely as each year passes. The public is beginning to realize the system is dominated from top to bottom by individuals strongly supportive of recreational killing of wildlife. The public is beginning to speak out against the domination of wildlife by individuals whose interest in it might in fact be nearly nonexistent if they could not destroy wild animals for fun.

State Wildlife Commissions

Most state wildlife agencies in the U.S. are controlled by a wildlife commission, board, or council (hereafter referred to as “commission”). Commission members frequently have broad authority over departmental activities, including the selection of the director; the expenditure of revenue; the establishment of hunting, fishing and trapping regulations; the acquisition of lands and waters; and the ways in which these resources will be used.

Members of state wildlife commissions are typically appointed by the governor. Most states impose some requirements on commission membership. For instance, half of the states require members to have general knowledge of wildlife issues, while many impose occupational or organizational affiliation requirements. In addition, states frequently require that commission membership is politically and/or geographically balanced. Seven states require that hunters, trappers and anglers serve on the commission.

The technical aspects of appointments notwithstanding, the most salient aspect of state wildlife commissions is their members’ unwavering support for hunting, trapping and other consumptive, recreational uses of wildlife. Though more than 90% of the public does not hunt and recent poll results (Los Angeles Times 1993, Associated Press 1995) indicate that a majority of Americans oppose recreational killing of wildlife, governors continue to look to the ranks of hunters, trappers and their supporters to fill commission openings.

This bias stems from the early years of wildlife management when American sport hunters pushed for, and won, protections for wildlife from rampant market hunting; their ranks naturally supplied the individuals to serve on the commissions established to adopt and enforce wildlife laws. Although the bias toward hunters has long since lost its rationale, it has not lessened with the passage of time. The bias toward hunters has turned from something which arguably helped wildlife 75 years ago to something which today hurts both wildlife populations and individual animals.

To document the domination of hunting supporters, The HSUS attempted to survey the commissions to ascertain the backgrounds and biases of their members. This information was difficult to obtain, even though commission members are public officials appointed to represent all the citizens of a state or region. Eighteen states did not respond as requested. This reflects, at least in part, the dislike that state wildlife agencies generally feel for animal protection organizations and the threat they believe humane values pose to many of their programs.

The state commissions that responded are, by their own admission, dominated by hunting advocates. Although complete information was not provided, The HSUS nonetheless found that 73% of commissions are dominated by supporters of hunting. Importantly, no state provided information indicating its commission contains non-hunting members; anti-hunters are unheard of.

In virtually every state for which determinative information was provided, the percentage of members with ties to hunting vastly exceeds the percentage of hunters in the state. Clearly, these bodies are not representative of the public whose wildlife they are charged with managing.

The information provided by and about commission members indicates that the real problems facing wildlife—habitat degradation, fragmentation, extinction—do not register with many members. More often than not, members listed as their principal wildlife concern the “anti-hunting element,” the declining participation of young people in hunting and fishing, and the quantity and quality of hunting and fishing areas.

The potential conflicts of interest on state game commissions are also striking. While Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin have adopted limited measures to ensure that conflict does not occur, Louisiana actually encourages such conflict by requiring representation of the commercial fishing and fur industries. Most states, however, apparently overlook that potential and impose no requirements aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest. As a result, members with clear business interests in maximizing the killing of wildlife hold commission memberships.

For instance, members of the Alaska Board of Game include commercial fishermen, a hunting guide, and the owner of a taxidermy business. Taxidermists also serve on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the New Jersey Fish and Game Council. The owners of businesses that supply hunters and/or fishermen serve on the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission, and the Utah Wildlife Board. Hunting outfitters or guides serve on the Colorado Wildlife Commission and Utah Wildlife Board. Owners of gun shops and hunting and fishing camps serve on the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission. The owner of a seasonal hunting and fishing resort serves on the New Mexico State Game Commission; an owner of a shooting preserve serves on the New Jersey Fish and Game Council.

Other appointments that arguably are not representative of the general public’s interest in wildlife include real estate developers, who serve on the California Fish and Game Commission, the South Carolina Natural Resources Board, and the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries. The owners or managers of timber/logging and/or land-clearing companies serve on the Arkansas, Michigan, and Montana commissions.

The current composition of wildlife commissions ensures that these bodies primarily focus on hunting interests. Continued license sales ensure that wildlife department revenue will be maintained. If revenue from license sales continues, alternative revenue sources (i.e., non-hunters) will not have to be located. This cycle accounts for much of the current bias toward hunting.

Conclusions. . . “the non-sporting public,” as the [wildlife] managers refer to it—is free to demand the same kind of representation. Of course, they will have to pay for it, and they will have to fight to pay because managers prefer to conduct business as usual and sportsmen prefer to keep the power where it is.

Williams neatly sums up the two obstacles facing non-hunters interested in influencing wildlife policy making: money and access.Expanding the focus of wildlife agencies to encompass the vast majority of species which are not hunted will take additional funds. Any number of sources for these funds are possible. However, new money won’t fix what’s wrong with the system: its domination by hunters; its view of itself as serving hunters; its goal the perpetuation of hunting. [Wildlife professionals] remain firmly embedded in the historic paradigm of conservation while the public increasingly is converted to the expanding paradigm of environmentalism…. Faced with that knowledge, wildlife professionals, when they notice, argue the public is wrong and attempt to reconvert them.

The remedy necessarily involves a wholesale change in attitude on the part of the agencies, supported by commissions whose members represent the full range of wildlife interests of the public. This is assuredly difficult to achieve, yet has already begun. The next few years will see more ballot initiatives and legislation aimed at curbing the worst abuses, and insistence by an increasingly involved public that the wildlife commissions and state agencies represent their interests. Ultimately, the public will drag the wildlife departments along with them as they demand that the system change for the benefit of the non-hunting majority and, most importantly, for the animals themselves.

References(Gill, 1995) (Williams 1986)

Gill, R.B. 1995. “The wildlife professional subculture: the case of the crazy aunt.” Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Williams, Joy. “The Killing Game,” Esquire Magazine, 1990.

Williams, T. 1986. “Who’s Managing the Wildlife Managers?” Orion (4):16–23.


Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in:  State Game Agencies, gray wolf/canis lupus

Tags: hunting culture, wildlife “management”, state game agencies, wolves

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bravo, Nabeki, for an insightful and penetrating post, which exposes the root issues in play behind the euphemism (oxymoron?) “wildlife management.” Money and Power are the movers and shakers that ensure states’ wildlife are skewed toward consumptive uses. The state Commissions treat wildlife as agricultural crops: to be planted, nurtured, tended, and then “harvested.” Lost in all of this is the concept of animals having an innate (natural) right of presence in our environment. Lost in all of this is the concept is Wildlife Watchers–non-consumptive wildlife advocates–having an innate (natural) seat at the table within state governments.

    While HSUS did not explicitly comment on it, my hunch is that the vast majority of state Commissioners are male. I am sure this is no accident and it fits the pattern of clubby-ness that Commissioners exhibit.

    I believe the tactic of state-by-state voter ballot initiatives in order to reform these institutional governmental biases is the only way to change them.


    • Thanks Rich,
      I think this is the crux of the problem. State game agencies haven’t been challenged about overrepresenting hunters, while ignoring the “non-consumptive” public, as they like to call us. Things have been this way since the 1930’s when hunting and logging practically wiped out the deer population in this country. That’s eighty years of having it their way. As HSUS points out, hunters and state game agencies like things just the way they are and won’t give up that power easily. Wildlife Watchers are slowly waking up to the fact that we have virutally no say in how wildlife is managed. I believe the wolf delisting was a real wake up call as we’ve been forced to sit helplessly by while state game agencies kill America’s wolves for special interest groups (hunters, ranchers and outfitters).

      I’m sure you’re right about the majority of Commissioners being male, the ultimate good ole boy’s club.

      I like the last sentence of the HSUS article.
      “Ultimately, the public will drag the wildlife departments along with them as they demand that the system change for the benefit of the non-hunting majority and, most importantly, for the animals themselves.“



  2. Mottos for Wildlife Management:

    – Fixing what isn’t broken
    – Creative euphemisms solve everything
    – Life is about maths… really…
    – We’ll laugh over beers later

    Sorry, thought I’d add a bit of humour.

    I’m not for “Wildlife Management” as it stands now, because the process does not solve the primary issues regarding wildlife. In fact it could be said that the process itself creates social upheavals, e.g. the hatred of predators, by attempting to appease the populace with a ‘sticky-tape’ solution to a much larger social problem.


    • John…I like “Fixing what isn’t broken” the best. Killing animals is what keeps them in business, even though I’m sure the animals would enjoy living out their natural lives without hunters chasing them through the woods with bows and high powered rifles. Wildlife managment is a misnomer, just as Wildlife Services is. A better name for wildlife management would be “wildlife meddling” or “anti-wildlife management”.



      • Thanks for a great blog post. Gives a lot of food for thought.


      • You’re welcome crystalwolf!

        There is no doubt state game agencies are influenced by hunting interests. IMO this is one of the biggest obstacles to wolf recovery and wolves welfare. We just have to look to Alaska and see BOG openly admitting they are slaughtering wolves to boost caribou and moose numbers. In the Northern Rockies, we have the same problem, the constant drumbeat of hunters complaining about elk numbers, even though elk herds are stable. The deputy Director of Idaho Fish and Game admitted they manage wildlife for sportsman because the money flows into their coffers from licensing fees. How can that possibly be a fair and just system? It’s appalling. Wildlife watchers have zero influence concerning OUR wildlife. This must change and it will. We have to stay vigilant.

        Thank you for reading and your dedication to helping wolves!!

        For the wolves, For the wildones,


      • What is going on in ID and MT is the same thing that’s going on in Alaska. It is just hunters and hunters, they don’t really care about people that want to see wildlife ALIVE, not mounted in a wall.


      • Hi Loua,
        We just won a victory in Alaska when Al Barrette was rejected for the Board of Game. Hopefully they won’t replace him with a carbon copy.



  3. Thank you so much for the very informative post. I love your website and am glad that cyrstalwolf posted the link on the new Facebook / Sarah Palin – A danger to wolves and other wildlife. I hope that with all the recent outrage about the killing of the wolves in Denali that Ken Salazar will finally step in and close the Federal loophole allowing the wolf slaughter. I am sure if everyone would keep writing and demanding he would in fact be forced to.

    I noticed on one of the earlier posts someone had offered to send you Wolf Medication Cards. Can you provide me with her contact information? I am sorry if I over looked, I am work and cannot linger too long. I look forward to visiting again.


    • Thanks for your kind words SoCalWolfGal. You’re right, we need to keep up the pressure and keep writing. Not sure if Salazar is listening but I am fully behind the PAWS legislation, which as you know, would closes the loophole in the Federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1972. Aerial gunning of wolves and bears doesn’t belong in the twenty first century. It is one of the cruelest methods of killing and yet our taxpayer dollars fund this horrific practice. Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act.

      Wolves are being assaulted on every front. Things are bad for them in the Northern Rockies. We’re waiting for Judge Molloy to make his decision and rule on the delisting lawsuit. I hope it’s soon, the longer this drags on the bolder the anti-wolf crowd gets. Alaskan wolves are being hammered continually, they literally have no protections. Even wolves living in a nature preserve were slaughtered.

      I’ll send you an email concerning the Wolf Meditation Cards so you can get in touch with her. I have a set and they are wonderful.

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,


  4. Nabeki,
    Excellent article! This current system is a type of parasitic organization. It feeds on and needs each other. The average non wildlife consumptive outdoor enthusiast has absolutely no input or gain into how wildlife is to be managed or is currently mismanaged! As a matter of fact they are deprived the opportunity to view wildlife because these animals are targeted for killing by hunters and trappers. Are these targeted wildlife not our wildlife also? To be enjoyed as we see fit?. I speak only for myself. I have no reluctance in paying a tax or fee in some negotiated manner to view wildlife. However, There should be a direct, proportional representation at the commission level or any other level to protect and further the wildlife issue’s that wildlife watchers want.


    • Hi Marc,
      I was thinking when I last saw a raccoon or a porcupine? I can tell you it was about seven years ago and I hike all the time, what have the done to our wildlife? Not only are wolves being “managed for sportsman” but Wildlife Services is killing off our native wildlife for agribusiness.

      From Wildearth Guardians website:

      Few taxpayers realize that we help fund an agency called “Wildlife Services,“ a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that wages a dirty war on America’s wildlife. Between 2004 and 2006, Wildlife Services killed over 6 million animals to protect agribusiness. The agency spends $100 million each year, and Wildlife Services’ job is to “eradicate” and “bring down” wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, prairie dogs, and other wild animals.

      In 2007, Wildlife Services killed 2.4 million animals, including 121,520 native carnivores such as coyotes, wolves, bobcats, cougars, badgers, and bears. WildEarth Guardians is holding Wildlife Services accountable by:

      Leading efforts to end shooting wildlife from aircraft, a reckless, life-threatening endeavor;
      Asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the two predator poisons–sodium cyanide and Compound 1080–in part, because Wildlife Services’ handling of these toxicants has harmed federally-protected species such as bald eagles, hurt people, killed pets, and they poses a national security threat.

      We are also helping Congressman Peter DeFazio in his efforts to ban these poisons through Congressional action.

      Demanding that Wildlife Services publicly account for its abysmal track record involving its mishandling of dangerous poisons, aircraft crashes during aerial gunning activities, and other operations.
      I do think Americans are waking up to what’s happening. For me the defining moment was last year when wolves were stripped of their ESA protections and Montana and Idaho initiated wolf hunts soon after. That is unprecedented. Contrast that to Minnesota. Wildlife managers there have vowed if wolves were delisted there would be no legal hunts for five years , to make sure the wolf population was fully recovered. Yet in the Northern Rockies they couldn’t wait to start shooting and killing wolves. What a stark contrast in thinking. It’s shameful. Now Montana and Idaho both want to increase hunting quotas for 2010 and Wildlife Services continues it’s war against wolves.

      HSUS demonstrated that the majority of state game commissioners are made up of men that are pro-hunting and have ties to the hunting and angling communities. Where are the ecologists and environmentalists on those commissions? This has to change.

      I agree with HSUS that the public will demand change. After sitting helplessly by while wolves were being slaughtered and continue to be killed ( the Idaho hunt is ongoing) it has strengthened my resolve to speak up for wolves and all wildlife.

      Thanks as always Marc for your support and caring for wolves.

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,


  5. Yes right now Alaskan wolves have NO protection even the Parks can’t Protect them….I talked yesterday to John Quinley at the National Park service about the meeting that was held in Eagle, they want to close the park down from wolf hunting…(but not subsistence, which bothers me) He told me they are taking public comment and I put it on the facebook site. He specifically said “outside voices” and thanked me for supporting the Park Service. The F& G were at the meeting also. He told me the pack that was killed had wandered off the park boundaries…and although the year before they had a “deal” that park wolves couldn’t be “harvested” this year all they could get them to agree was the not kill the collared ones which they did anyway….its a very, very dismal situation up there.
    Sarah Palin – A danger to wolves and other wildlife
    A post about comment to NPS about Yukon-Charley wolves.


    • Yes crystalwolf, it’s very grim for Alaska’s wolves. People have been fighting the battle up there for so long. Citizens twice voted to stop aerial hunting of wolves and they managed to overturn it. Apparently initiatives are only good for two years and then they can be changed. That seems counter productive to me. It reminds me of the Canadian Seal Hunt. It’s been going on for so long, people have protested it for years and yet the hunts continue. Baby seals are still getting their heads bashed in with clubs while their mothers watch. Wolves need permanent protection otherwise people like Sarah Palin can come in and load the Board of Game with anti-wolfers and the wolves lose again.

      The National Park Service is concerned about wolves being killed BUT they couldn’t protect the Webber Pack from being slaughtered. Two of the wolves were collared and from the reports, the shooter saw the collars and fired anyway. The problem is so much of Alaska is remote, there is no oversight. They can fire first and make excuses later. Who is there to say any different? The really sad thing is those wolves were just trying to survive and make a living. They weren’t bothering anyone, yet they were killed anyway.

      Good information posted on the FB page!!



  6. Nabeki,
    Thank You…
    I have heard some info that things are changing up there…The hunting lodges that once catered to the rich “Kill & Drill” crowd are now splitting their time to accommodate wildlife watchers! I have also heard that the purchase of hunting licenses is down too.
    I do agree Wildlife Watchers have no influence on our wildlife what so ever. Maybe supporting the Parks Service? The Sportsman have powerful lobbies for them not to mention the NRA and in the lower 48 ranchers as well as hunters. 😦


    • I think in Alaska it’s one step forward and two steps back crystalwolf. There are some good people there that are trying to turn things around but hunters and trappers have a stranglehold on wildlife policy in that state. Now Corri Rossi is Alaska’s new Wildlife Director, thanks to Sarah Palin. That is bad news for the wolf. But who knows, maybe they will actually throw him out. The biologists are pretty upset he was named to that position since they believe he doesn’t have the credentials for it. In fact, according to former Alaska Fish and Game employees he “lacks the credentials to get even an entry-level job as a biologist.” So hopefully he will be replaced. Keeping my fingers crossed.

      We as wildlife watchers and “non consumptive users” as they like to call us, need to unite like the hunting coalitions. As it stands, we have zero power and influence on how wildlife is managed. It’s so frustrating to hear about the bad wolf news daily. I hope my blog is inspiring people to get involved. There is power in numbers.



  7. Now hunters are more important then our native wildlife? Jesus! Money sure is powerful!


  8. To resume it all, it is playing to be God. Hunters not satisfied? Why not start controlling the environment and the animals and the ecosystem to satisfy them to have us get more money?


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