John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
My guess is this thinly disguised attempt to get under hunters’ skins will last about as long as it takes for a couple of those expensive drones and their equally expensive cameras to come crashing to the ground. Or, better still, for the people controlling them to be arrested by game wardens and formally charged with hunter harrassment, which is illegal in many states.
Imagine losing your job because you took part in a perfectly legal hunt.
That’s might just happen to Dan Richards, president of the California Fish and Game Commission. Richards killed a mountain lion in Idaho, where it’s legal to do so. Animal rights activists in his home state of California — where mountain lion hunting is illegal — went bonkers. They put pressure on Democratic members of the state Assembly, who introduced legislation to oust Richards from his post.
The legislative effort was short-lived, but the San Jose Mercury News reports that members of the Commission recently voted 4-1 to change the rules by which commission presidents are chosen. Armed with the rule change, they could vote Richards out of his presidential post as early as May 23.
Animal-rights and environmental groups are salivating at the prospect. The Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club openly lobbied for Richards’ ouster.
I think the Commission’s vote says more about the people being appointed to the Commission than it does about Richards. For years, in the interest of “diversity,” animal-rights and enviro groups have sought to load up state game commissions with people who represent their points of view. In California, it would appear that the effort has achieved critical mass.
If the attempt to oust Richards succeeds, where will it lead? Will good people fear to run for office because they had (gasp!) “animal killings” in their past? Would politics become a “hunters need not apply” prospect?
If animal-rights activists are trying to prevent Texas ranchers from game-farming exotic African and Asian wildlife species.
The activists believe it’s immoral to raise large numbers of the animals, allow hunters to shoot a few of them and ship the rest to their native countries to be released back the wild. To be fair, I’m sure they don’t mind the raising and releasing part. They just don’t want anyone hunting them.
The fate of a highly successful wildlife conservation program hangs in the balance. The major media, predictably enough, are lining up and taking sides. CBS News’ 60 Minutes ran a piece that gave the animal-rights side a national voice. The Wall Street Journal, calling the ranchers “enviropreneurs,” took the opposite tack.
One of Outdoor Life’s bloggers put the issue in perspective, outlining how the antis got a law passed that requires an almost impossible-to-obtain federal permit to hunt one of those species, the scimitar oryx. The blogger explains quite succinctly how the new law might ultimately lead to the species’ extinction.
I’m not a fan of high-fence hunting for native species such as white-tailed deer and elk. Those species are abundant and don’t need to be saved. The Texas ranchers have been raising exotics and helping to shield them from extinction for more than 50 years. I see the value in that.
It’s a shame the antis cannot. They argue that raising an animal to kill it is immoral. I wonder how they feel about the morality of allowing a species that could have been saved to slip into extinction.
The ongoing saga of New Jersey’s bear hunt is — well, it’s ongoing. Now animal-rights activists are suing to protest at a game-checking station. From the Associated Press:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Animal rights activists seeking to protest the state’s black bear hunt will head to court Monday to try to persuade a judge to allow them to demonstrate at a bear check station.
The animal advocates conceded Friday that there wasn’t enough time for them to challenge a court decision allowing the state’s six-day bear hunt to begin Monday. The protesters then got the verbal approval of a state Department of Environmental Protection official to demonstrate at the Franklin bear check station in Sussex County, according to Doris Lin, an attorney for the protesters.
But Lin said the agency then formally denied the protest request late Friday afternoon and instead offered two alternate sites that the groups declined because they would provide “much less visibility” than the check station. The activists also want to be at the station so they can document how many bears are killed by hunters.
Lin says the groups will ask a state appellate judge to overturn the agency’s decision on the protest site. The judge’s ruling is expected Monday.
Agency spokesman Larry Ragonese said Sunday that the agency never agreed to the groups’ request. He said safety concerns spurred the decision to keep protesters from the check station, noting its limited space and location on a major highway.
“There’s insufficient space for protesters and others to move around out there, and there’s also not enough parking and inadequate lighting. Combine that with drivers traveling along Route 23, and it’s a potentially dangerous situation,” Ragonese said.
“When we and the Franklin authorities reviewed everything, it was determined that it wouldn’t be safe to have the protest there, so we offered them the chance to use other sites, which they declined,” Ragonese added. “We want to give them their opportunity to express their views, but we don’t want to compromise public safety.
The animal rights groups’ legal bid comes just days after a state appellate court rejected their request to stop the hunt from taking place. They plan to take that case to the state Supreme Court to try to block another hunt from occurring next year.
State wildlife officials have said the hunt is necessary to keep the state’s black bear population, now thought to number about 3,400, in check. The population has remained fairly stable after increasing dramatically since the 1980s. Confirmed bear sightings have been made in all 21 of the state’s counties.
The hunt is only one component of the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy, which also includes public education and nonlethal bear management measures.
It’s always a crapshoot as to whether New Jersey’s black-bear season will be held.
Animal-rights activists always go to court to try to have it stopped. Several times in the past, judges have ruled in their favor. Last year and again this year, judges have ruled against them.
From the Associated Press:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s black bear hunt can go on as scheduled, a state appeals court ruled Thursday in rejecting a challenge by animal rights activists that the state’s bear management policy is flawed.
Two animal rights groups sued the state last year, challenging the bear management policy that allows an annual six-day hunt. The activists failed to stop last year’s hunt, in which 592 black bears were killed, but the lawsuit was allowed to continue on its merits.
Doris Lin, a lawyer for the activists, said Thursday that an appeal to the state Supreme Court will be filed. This year’s hunt is scheduled to start Monday.
“We’re disappointed that the court disregarded the science and instead gave such deference to the Division of Fish and Wildlife as to effectively hold them above the law,” Lin said. “The hunt is a trophy hunt, plain and simple. No state agency should be allowed to misrepresent their own science and push the agenda of a special-interest minority.”
The state maintains the hunt is needed to keep the black bear population in check. Wildlife officials estimate the number of black bears in the state at around 3,400.
The Department of Environmental Protection commissioner said he was pleased by Thursday’s ruling.
“This ruling affirms the science- and fact-based policy that we have adopted as part of a comprehensive approach to managing black bears in New Jersey,” Bob Martin said. “The plan is a legitimate response to deal with a large black bear population and a resultant increase in public complaints about bear and human encounters. This is a public safety issue that requires responsible action by the state.”
Last year’s hunt was the first in five years.
The department has said the hunt allowed the black bear population to remain relatively stable, but Lin argued that a disproportionate number of pregnant bears were killed.
A similar legal challenge succeeded in 2007 and no hunt was held after a court found flaws with the management policy. That court said the 2005 hunt should not have taken place. A new policy has since been adopted.
In its most recent opinion, the court rejected the activists’ claim that the population management policy was developed arbitrarily. The three-judge panel said repeatedly in their ruling that they defer to the agency that developed the document.
“While there may be disagreements as to available data and its interpretation, under our standard of review we defer to agency findings that are based on sufficient evidence in the record,” the judges wrote.
Lin argued the policy was based on skewed data and should be invalidated.
For example, she said the number of bear complaints reported by the state rose in the years from 2007 to 2009, but that’s only because data was collected from 32 police departments in 2009 but just 17 departments two years earlier.
The bear hunt is scheduled to run Monday through Dec. 10, concurrently with the state’s six-day firearm deer hunting season. Bear hunting zones are in northwestern New Jersey, north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287.
There is a limit of one bear per licensed and registered hunter.
Gotta hand it to animal-rights activists in New Jersey; they aren’t quitters. Even though last year’s effort failed to cancel a scheduled New Jersey bear hunt, they’re back in court trying to stop this year’s.
From the Associated Press:
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Animal protection groups are heading to court Tuesday to try to convince a New Jersey appeals panel to halt this year’s black bear hunt in its tracks.
The case is expected to be decided by Dec. 5, the scheduled start of a six-day hunt in the northwest part of the state.
The Animal Protection League of New Jersey and The Bear Education and Resource Group will try to convince the judges that the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy is flawed. The policy includes an annual hunt.
The state maintains a hunt is necessary to keep the black bear population in check.
The Department of Environmental Protection recorded 2,667 reports of bear activity this year through October. That number includes bear sightings, attacks on livestock, 46 home entries and 516 reports of bears picking through garbage.
Bear activity has been reported in 19 of the state’s 21 counties this year.
Hunters killed 592 black bears last year. It was the first hunt in five years.
The animal activist groups failed to get last year’s hunt stopped, but their court case was allowed to continue.
“The black bear policy is full of scientific flaws, self-contradictions and outright fabrications,” said Doris Lin, director of legal services for the BEAR Group. “The lawsuit is not about philosophical objections to hunting; it’s about integrity and science, both of which are missing from the policy.”
For example, she says the number of bear complaints is actually decreasing, and that the state’s claims are based on more police departments being included in the reporting data.
A judge acting on a petition to the state Supreme Court refused to grant an emergency stay last year, after an appeals panel declined to call off the hunt.
A similar challenge succeeded in 2007 and no hunt was held. An appeals panel found flaws with the management policy and ruled that the 2005 hunt should not have taken place.
Some 6,680 bear hunting permits were issued for last year’s hunt, with each hunter entitled to one bear regardless of age or gender. The DEP maintains the right to halt the hunt early based on the number of bears killed.
The hunt is held concurrently with the firearm deer season. Bear hunting is allowed in the area north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287.
Besides a hunt, the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy developed by the Division of Fish and Wildlife includes education, a bear feeding ban and aversive conditioning.
The ever-litigious people at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals believe captive killer whales are “slaves,” and that they should be freed because the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery.
PeTAphiles have filed a federal lawsuit to that effect.
If the courts start down this slippery slope, heaven only knows whether humans in the distant (or not-too-distant future) will be able to hunt game, to farm domesticated livestock, or to own pets.
From the Associated Press:
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal court is being asked to grant constitutional rights to five killer whales who perform at marine parks — an unprecedented and perhaps quixotic legal action that is nonetheless likely to stoke an ongoing, intense debate at America’s law schools over expansion of animal rights.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing the SeaWorld parks of keeping five star-performer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery. SeaWorld depicted the suit as baseless.
The chances of the suit succeeding are slim, according to legal experts not involved in the case; any judge who hews to the original intent of the authors of the amendment is unlikely to find that they wanted to protect animals. But PETA relishes engaging in the court of public opinion, as evidenced by its provocative anti-fur and pro-vegan campaigns.
The suit, which PETA says it will file Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, hinges on the fact that the 13th Amendment, while prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, does not specify that only humans can be victims.
Jeff Kerr, PETA’s general counsel, says his five-member legal team — which spent 18 months preparing the case — believes it’s the first federal court suit seeking constitutional rights for members of an animal species.
The plaintiffs are the five orcas, Tilikum and Katina based at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., and Corky, Kasatka and Ulises at SeaWorld San Diego. Tilikum, a six-ton male, made national news in February 2010 when he grabbed a trainer at the close of a performance and dragged her underwater until she drowned.
Captured nearly 30 years ago off Iceland, Tilikum has enormous value as a stud and has fathered many of the calves born at SeaWorld parks.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the orcas released to the custody of a legal guardian who would find a “suitable habitat” for them.
“By any definition, these orcas are slaves — kidnapped from their homes, kept confined, denied everything that’s natural to them and forced to perform tricks for SeaWorld’s profit,” said Kerr. “The males have their sperm collected, the females are artificially inseminated and forced to bear young which are sometimes shipped away.”
SeaWorld said any effort to extend the 13th Amendment’s protections beyond humans “is baseless and in many ways offensive.”
“SeaWorld is among the world’s most respected zoological institutions,” the company said. “There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment.”
The statement outlined the many laws and regulations SeaWorld is obliged to follow, touted the company’s global efforts to promote conservation of marine mammals, and said the orcas’ performances help give the public a better appreciation and understanding of these animals.
SeaWorld and other U.S. marine parks are governed by the Marine Mammals Protection Act, which allows public displays of the creatures if permits are obtained and the facility offers and education/conservation programs for the public.
Overall, under prevailing U.S. legal doctrine, animals under human control are considered property, not entities with legal standing of their own. They are afforded some protections through animal-cruelty laws, endangered-species regulations and the federal Animal Welfare Act, but are not endowed with a distinct set of rights.
However, the field of animal law has evolved steadily, with courses taught at scores of law schools. Many prominent lawyers and academics have joined in serious discussion about expanding animal rights.
Rutgers University law professor Gary Francione, for example, contends that animals deserve the fundamental right to not be treated as property. Law professor David Favre of Michigan State University has proposed a new legal category called “living property” as a step toward providing rights for some animals.
Favre was skeptical that litigation seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to animals would prevail.
“The court will most likely not even get to the merits of the case, and find that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the lawsuit at all,” he said by email. “I also think a court would not be predisposed to open up that box with fully unknown consequences.”
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who in past writings has proposed extending legal standing to chimpanzees, also expressed doubt that the courts were ready to apply the 13th Amendment to animals. But he welcomed the PETA lawsuit as a potentially valuable catalyst for “national reflection and deliberation” about humans’ treatment of animals.
“People may well look back at this lawsuit and see in it a perceptive glimpse into a future of greater compassion for species other than our own,” Tribe wrote in an email.
Tribe noted that some Americans might find it bizarre or insulting to equate any treatment of animals to the sufferings of human slavery. But he argued that the 13th Amendment was written broadly, to address unforeseen circumstances, and could legitimately be applied to animals.
An African-American constitutional expert, Nicholas Johnson of Fordham University School of Law, said he could understand why some blacks might be insulted by the lawsuit, but didn’t share that reaction: “I’m more entertained by it in the legal context than I am offended by it.”
PETA addressed this issue in the suit, noting that repeated Supreme Court rulings have applied the 13th Amendment to many forms of involuntary servitude beyond the type of slavery that existed during the Civil War.
“The historical context is undeniable,” said Jeff Kerr, the PETA lawyer. “But that’s not what this case is about. It’s about the orcas in their own right, not whether they are or aren’t similar to humans.”
The five orcas are represented in the case by PETA and four individuals: Ric O’Barry, a longtime orca and dolphin trainer; Ingrid Visser, a New Zealand marine biologist who has studied orcas extensively; Howard Garrett, founder of the Orca Network, an advocacy group in Washington State; and Samantha Berg, a former orca trainer at SeaWorld Orlando.
The lawsuit details the distinctive traits of orcas, the largest species within the dolphin family, including their sophisticated problem-solving and communicative abilities and their formation of complex communities.
The suit alleges that captivity in the “barren tanks” of a marine park suppresses the orcas’ abilities and relationships, and subjects them to stress. This sometimes leads to instances where the orcas injure themselves, other orcas or humans that interact with them, according to the suit.
Naomi Rose, the Humane Society’s marine mammal biologist, said there’s a growing body of research suggesting that whales, dolphins and porpoises have the cognitive sophistication of 3-to-4-year-old human children.
As for the orcas at SeaWorld, she said, “They don’t seem to adapt to captivity. I would say they’re miserable.”
At SeaWorld San Diego, visitors are shown a film touting the park’s rescue efforts that have saved thousands of sea creatures. During the main performance, trainers point out how much the orcas are similar to humans: The babies cry before moving on to babbling and finally imitating the crackling sounds of the adults’ voices.
Jenny Raymond, 47, who was visiting from Switzerland, said she was delighted by the show and does not buy the argument that the orcas are slave laborers.
“I think they are in better conditions here than in the wild,” she said.
It’s their money and they’re welcome to do what they want with it, but the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sure come up with some harebrained ideas.
The latest: They want to sponsor a “Fishing Hurts” themed rest stop on Virginia’s Interstate 81. Given the importance of sport fishing to the Old Dominion’s economy, the PETAphiles will probably have a tough time selling the powers-that-be on the wisdom of accepting their offer.
I know I shouldn’t even dignify these bozos’ efforts by posting about them, but they make it so darned irresistible. It’s kind of like throwing a baseball hitter a down-the-middle fastball on a 3-1 count. Just can’t lay off it!
The folks at Taser International believe they’ve found an effective less-than-lethal way to deal with aggressive bears, moose, elk and other large animals.
Essentially, they’ve souped up and weatherproofed the law-enforcement version of the electrically powered stun gun.
According to this Arizona Republic article, wildlife officials seem excited to have the device in their arsenal. The animal-rights loonies at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals don’t like it one bit, naturally. They believe problem animals would simply go away “if left alone.”
At a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1,995, don’t expect to see wildlife Tasers hanging on the hips of too many bear-country hikers or fishermen. My guess is they’ll be used mainly by biologists, park rangers and wildlife law enforcement officers.