Two years ago, animal lovers across the globe were shocked and appalled by your agency's premeditated slaughter of over 300 Florida black bears. The 2015 bear hunt was a watershed event in our state's conservation history, creating an entirely new class of citizen-activists and exposing the undemocratic, unscientific, and grossly immoral character of wildlife “management” to millions of people. Crucially, it also presented an opportunity for you and your agency to reconsider the way in which you practice your profession. While we welcomed your vote earlier this year to refrain from holding further hunts until a new Bear Management Plan has been written and approved, we have been disappointed by your renewed emphasis on the centrality of hunting in the FWC's approach to conservation. We fear that the opportunity for institutional evolution is being missed, thereby setting the stage for many more years of conflict between the non-hunting general public and the ostensible trustees of the public's wildlife.
For you must be under no illusions, Mr. Chairman: we have not forgotten; we have not forgiven; and we are not going away, until conservation becomes about harmony, not harvests.
Sadly, missing opportunities for institutional growth seems to have become a venerable tradition in your profession. Long before the 2015 Florida bear hunt, American conservation history offered clear directions toward a form of conservation that respected all human stakeholders and, more importantly, placed the needs of our flora and fauna ahead of the wants of “consumptive users.” At this time of remembrance, therefore, let us examine perhaps the greatest of all these missed opportunities – the failure to fully comprehend the legacy of the father of your own institution, Aldo Leopold. At first blush, you might find it surprising that we should appeal to such a figure; after all, you invoked his participation in hunting to bolster your thesis in The Hunter-Conservationist Paradox. But Leopold was a man of singular depth and complexity, and deserves closer scrutiny than a short press release permits. And we need him now more than ever.
What's Love Got to Do with It?
In 1922, toward the end of his tenure as Assistant Director of Operations in the U.S. Forest Service's Southwest District, Aldo Leopold submitted his plan to designate the Gila National Forest (in what is now New Mexico) as a wilderness area. Approved two years later, the plan was revolutionary within the Forest Service, testifying to Leopold's boldness in confronting bureaucratic dogmas and linking him to a tradition of wilderness preservation stretching back to John Muir (and his under-appreciated allies) and forward to the Wilderness Act of 1964. After this effort, he surely deserved a break, and set off with his brother Carl on a three-week hunting and camping trip in the Colorado River Delta. He did not write about the experience until 1945, fearing the pain of knowing that his memories could never be duplicated. Included as The Green Lagoons in the second part of his most famous work, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, first published posthumously in 1949, the piece can fairly be described as rhapsodic:
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As you are no doubt aware, your decision to authorize a hunting season (“harvest”) for Florida's black bears in 2015 attracted worldwide attention to the role of your agency in wildlife management. We do not know to what extent you anticipated such intense interest in your activities, but we assume you realize that a decision to hunt Florida's bears again in 2016 will incite even greater fervor among the general public, particularly since it is likely to coincide with the planned delisting of the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In the wake of the killing by a trophy hunter of the lion known as Cecil in Zimbabwe, popular awareness of the plight of charismatic megafauna is perhaps at an all-time high, amplified by the power of social media.
To many observers of wildlife management in the United States, at both the state and federal level, it appears that such public attention is often dismissed as lacking in substance, ill-informed, or overly sentimental. It is important for you to understand that such characterizations are overbroad and unwise, for the most fundamental principle of wildlife management (in both the U.S. and many other jurisdictions worldwide) is the concept of wildlife as a public trust. Under the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD), wildlife belongs to the public and is held in trust for the public by government. The public, as the beneficiary of the trust, has the right to ensure that its trust is being respected by the professional wildlife managers who act as trustees, and a concomitant right to hold them accountable for their accomplishments and their failures.
Our organization can fairly claim to represent tens of thousands of people, mostly Floridians, but also many other U.S. citizens who take a keen interest in our state. As representatives of the public, we hereby assert our right to hold you to account for your choice to include hunting in your management of the Florida black bear. Our evaluation of your performance will proceed along two broad fronts: conformity with the strictures of the Public Trust Doctrine, and adherence to the related requirement that wildlife management be guided by the best available science.