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Commoners’ Right To Hunt Under Threat

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Commoners’ Right To Hunt Under Threat


In Olde England, hunting was the privilege of the landed and the rich. The right to hunt depended on the number of acres owned or one’s income.

This inequity led English jurist William Blackstone to complain in the late 18th century that “50 times as much property (is required) to enable a man to kill a partridge as to vote for a knight of the shire.”

English colonists settling America wanted no part of the old country’s class-based rules. Anyone could hunt or fish in America.

But that is slowly changing, as the rich and politically connected employ new tactics to close off opportunities for hunting and fishing to the common folk. The most intense conflicts between the wealthy and locals are taking place in the American West — where there’s room for everyone, or so we thought.

First, a plea to non-hunting environmentalists to join sportsmen in the battle to preserve access to wildlife. Ordinary hunters seeking sport or food were not to blame for the near loss of the bison and the extinction of such species as the passenger pigeon, heath hen and Labrador duck.

The villains were commercial hunters who slaughtered wildlife for profit, shipping millions of hides, feathers and racks of game meat to American and foreign markets. Hunters started the American conservation movement over a century ago to stop the destruction.

Today, the biggest threat to wildlife is loss of habitat, a concern for all environmentalists. Another issue, the movement to privatize public lands, should also link hunters and vegan hikers in common cause.

Back to the politics.

In Montana, public access to the state’s wildlife now dominates the governor’s race. On one side, incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is fighting private efforts to close off hunting and fishing grounds that Montanans have enjoyed for generations.

On the other, Republican Greg Gianforte is seeking to empower big landowners (like himself) to limit such access. In 2009, he sued the state to remove a public easement that gave anglers, walkers and others access to the East Gallatin River via his property. He accused the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks of using “extortion” to keep that river path open.

Through much of the rural West, wealthy out-of-state buyers are amassing huge tracts of land to create their personal duchies. (Gianforte is a multimillionaire from New Jersey.) They often break with the neighborly ways of an older West where landowners didn’t fret much over locals’ crossing their property.

The North American Wildlife Conservation Model is clearly under threat. Formulated by a group of wildlife biologists about 20 years ago, it regulates hunting, protects habitat and defends the right of every citizen to hunt and fish.

Colorful misfits like rancher Cliven Bundy make headlines for occupying federal land, but of more concern are serious proposals to turn land owned by all Americans over to state politicians and allied moneyed interests. Calling this a “land grab” is not an exaggeration.

The 2016 Republican Party platform officially calls for handing federal lands to the states. That’s after Utah passed a bill in 2012 demanding that more than 20 million acres of federal land be transferred to state officials. Eleven Western states have considered 37 similar bills. Six of them got through.

Happily, there has been pushback. Lawmakers in Wyoming and Oregon turned thumbs down to the awful (and radical) idea. Colorado and New Mexico actually passed bills affirming support for national forests, parks and wildlife refuges.

The battles over public lands and access to wildlife will rage on — among mining companies, Native Americans, sportsmen and their fellow environmentalists. We must not let money determine the outcome.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached atfharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Stephen Paraski August 16, 2016

    They want the Federal land closed to 99% so they can extract the recourse’s.

  2. waggaze August 16, 2016

    This story is full of half truths it’s insane. Take for instance the bison or buffalo herds. The Army and Congress initiated the Scorched Earth policy to destroy access to food by American Indians by putting a bounty on bison. This encouraged wholesale slaughter and decimation of the herds that once numbered in the tens of millions. The tactic worked as the Plains tribes, men, women, elders and children literally starved to death and/or froze to death from lack of access to food and natural resources for clothing and useful goods from bison. If people are going to write about last events they should do some real research and not fluff. Tell the whole truth.

    BTW, American Indians are responsible in bringing back pure blood stocks of buffalo from herds found in places like the Black Hills. They have cared for and raised the numbers again for a food source and not as an exotic animal from the past

  3. Beethoven August 16, 2016

    As an avid fisherman who used to enjoy hunting, I must say this article’s analysis is spot on. The ability of an average middle-class person to find access to streams or lakes for fishing, or lands for hunting, is steadily diminishing because the available lands are being sold to private individuals or corporations for the purpose of creating private estates, or clubs with high membership fees, or for shopping center developers, or for the extraction of mineral resources. Generally (but with exceptions), the sport hunters and fishermen have been the leaders in trying to protect the species they want to hunt or fish, by limiting take, or by protecting the environments the species need to survive and flourish. Those people who don’t hunt or fish, but just enjoy experiencing the outdoors by hiking, kayaking, or camping, have benefited from the work of the sports hunters and fishermen.

  4. elw August 17, 2016

    As a retired Public Health Professional, a environmentalist and Bird watcher/photographer, I have to say from personal and professional experience this article is absolutely correct. Over my career I worked many times with hunting and fishing groups and sports industry when developing health and safety programs for the Public. As a environmentalist and volunteer for Fish and Games, non-profit nature groups there were often hunting and fishing enthusiasts working right along with me to ensure that our open spaces and nature areas stay open, safe and healthy. What people forget is that if the environment that supports the life and health of wild life is not protected then the sea life and land mammals that live there will die off. Over a multi-decade professional career and as a life-long bird watcher/photographer I know from personal contact with the hunting and fishing enthusiasts I know that many work hard to ensure that public lands stay open and healthy and take a leading role to ensure that.


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