Who Controls Our Wildlife Policy?
The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) is part of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. Division employees are paid by hunting license revenues and must sell more than $10,000,000 in licenses just to cover salaries and benefits. In an appalling conflict of interest, the state agency that should be protecting wild animals instead profits from their exploitation and destruction.
The New Jersey Fish and Game Council (Council) is an eleven-member state board entrusted with the authority to decide which animals can be hunted, the lengths of hunting seasons, and how many animals each hunter may kill. Through legislation enacted in the 1940's, the Council is directed to manage wildlife "...for their use and development for public recreation and food supply." (1)
The eleven-member council consists of six hunters handpicked by the NJ Federation of Sportsmen, three farmers, the chair of the Endangered and Non-Game Species Council and one person as a "public representative."
If you think Council farmer and public members differ from hunters, think again. Former Division director Robert McDowell described past "public representative" John Kuser as a "bowhunter whose tree-stand is in his bedroom." Recent Council chair and farmer representative John Bradway owned a hunting preserve. Current chair and farmer representative Scott Ellis voted for a NJ black bear hunt in 2003, stating that it is "...the council's duty to offer a recreational hunt."
Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) - Firearms dealers (organized as WMI) designed state and federal wildlife laws to sustain gun sales and game animal supply.
WMI operates under "partnership agreements" with the Department of Interior and state and federal agencies: "No other organization," the Institute boasts, "has a greater hand in molding state, federal and provincial resource agencies, typically working away from the limelight to catalyze and facilitate strategies, actions and decisions." (2) The WMI board consists entirely of gun and ammunition makers, including Smith & Wesson. WMI oversees research at most land-grant universities and shares steering committees with the pro-hunting National Audubon Society.
The federal Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 (P-R) created a dedicated fund based on excise taxes on arms and ammunition. Pittman-Robertson revenues are distributed to the states for propagation of hunted animals and hunter recruitment. States with more hunters get more money. Gun and equipment manufacturers don't see benefits in backing legislation in which taxpayer dollars support non-game species, "mainly because they do not see direct link to sales like P-R . . . i.e. more walleyes or pheasants [popular game animals] sell more plugs and shells." (3)
The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA) is a trade organization representing gun and archery manufacturers, fur dealers, hunting groups, state game agencies and federal wildlife employees. While employed as director of the Division, Robert McDowell served as IAFWA president. Based on public attitude surveys, IAFWA manages public relations campaigns re-marketing sport hunting and fur trapping as "necessary management tools." In the major media, IAFWA, sans any mention of trade membership, works to portray hunting and trapping bans as "misguided."
Decline in Hunters
New Jersey has seen an astounding 43% decrease in the number of hunters from 1991 to 2002. To fight this trend, the Division and Council at times with financial assistance from the NRA conduct youth hunting programs in which children as young as ten years old are taught to hunt and kill animals.
In 1998, the Division conducted a study to identify "reasons for decreased hunting activity." Prime reasons cited by hunters were: "not enough private lands to hunt and limited access to these lands." (4) To stem the loss, the Division is working to gain even more access to private and public lands. To reverse declines in license and gun sales, federal and state agencies have developed long term plans to maximize hunting in suburban areas nationwide.
Who Pays for Conservation and Open Space?
One of the great myths perpetrated by the hunting lobby is that hunter license fees purchase public lands. License revenues have not been used to purchase land in New Jersey since 1961, when the Division began acquiring hunting preserves with Green Acres taxpayer-funded bonds. Hunters account for only 20% of Pittman-Robertson revenues, yet they control all of the funds. Federal wildlife refuges are purchased mainly through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is derived from fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas.
Is Hunting Necessary?
Hunting is strictly a recreational activity. Most animals, including deer, are self-regulating, limited by environmental resistance - the availability of food and cover. It is when these factors are manipulated through wildlife management practices, exacerbated in some instances by suburban sprawl, that problems arise.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) distributes Pittman-Robertson funds to the states for game propagation. The agency's 1993 Federal Aid summary states:
"New Jersey Statewide Development Project - To manage habitat on State lands so as to maximize wildlife populations; to develop and maintain facilities and lands for public users; and to provide public access to wildlife resources."
This has been the overarching goal of both the Division and the Council:
"Habitat development and maintenance to benefit deer are conducted on 73 state owned Fish and Wildlife management areas totaling over 192,000 acres. Habitat management is encouraged on other public and private lands. Limited burning, wood harvest and planting of various agricultural crops favored by deer can increase the carrying capacity by increasing the quality and quantity of food available." (5)
Under cooperative agreements with public and private agencies, the Division clear-cuts and alters habitat for game species across New Jersey. Older, forested tracts provide little food for deer and other popular game species. Removing trees allows growth of grasses and shrubs - the white-tailed deer's favorite food. More food means more deer for hunters to kill; more killing means more license sales.
Hunting does not "replace" predators. The country's foremost deer experts opine: "In addition, the idea that predators can serve to maintain prey populations at stable levels may be incorrect. Therefore, attempts to recreate a mythical stable population density through hunting may not be a sound strategy if the goal is to maintain ecosystem health." (6)
Destroying Protected Lands
From the Wanaque Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in the Highlands to Buckshutem WMA in South Jersey, the Division and other agencies manipulate habitat for game species. In a joint project with Southern NJ Quail Unlimited and South Jersey Resource Conservation and Development Council (a USDA program), the Division is clear-cutting 125 acres of mature trees at Buckshutem: "The Buckshutem WMA Habitat Project will demonstrate a unique means of converting wooded areas to a classic Savannah style habitat suitable for quail, turkey, deer and many more wildlife species." (7)
The original clear -cut agreement called for destruction of 400 acres. When wildlife protectionists and environmentalists vocally opposed the plan, the cut was reduced to 125 acres.
Public lands aren't the only acreage altered. Much if not most management is conducted on private lands and tracts leased by hunters.
Over one million animals are killed for "recreation" in New Jersey each year: pheasants, cottontail rabbits, squirrels, deer, geese, quail, wild turkeys, foxes, beavers, opossum, raccoon, muskrats, grouse, woodcock, mink, skunks, river otters and coyotes.
Pheasants are the most hunted species in the state. An average of 300,000 birds, including 50,000 raised at the Division's Rockport game farm, are killed annually. Reared in small cages, captive-bred pheasants are incapable of surviving in the wild. The night before hunting season, they are dumped - in confusion and darkness - at state WMAs.
Geese - In the mid 1950's, USF&WS introduced hand-reared geese at Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge. Seventy pinioned adults were used as live decoys to lure migratory geese for hunting. Artificial nests encouraged breeding. Due to these and other programs, "substantial increase in usage of the refuge areas by flight geese" occurred. (8)
By 1960, geese sought nesting sights off-refuge. These birds showed no migratory behavior and were the progenitors of today's so-called resident goose population. According to New York's Wildlife Resources Cooperative Extension, geese genetically inclined to travel greater distances south may have been steadily hunted out of the population. Black ducks, swans and other waterfowl can barely sustain hunting pressure.
Deer - Game management destroys nature's balance by keeping the herd unnaturally young and reproducing. In the wild, deer can live fifteen years. Under severe hunting pressure, New Jersey's deer live only two years. Breeding declines when limits in food and cover are reached. But management for hunting thwarts the deer's natural coping mechanisms at every turn. State agencies cut forests and plant crops to create food for deer because well-fed does breed earlier and have more fawns. Hunting has the same effect-creating more food by removing competitors-sometimes doubling reproductive rates, or keeping rates high. In the absence of hunting, fertility rates decline.
Game officials admit that "the average number of fawns produced and reared by each doe increases as the total population decreases. . . deer reproduction increases as managers begin to remove deer." (9)
In New Jersey, 1,300,000 deer have been killed in the past 100 years - 600,000 in the last decade alone, yet the population is larger than ever.
Coyotes - A natural predator of deer, the coyote is hunted because "[the] hunting season will allow for recreational use of the coyote resource by New Jersey sportsmen and women.." (10)
Black Bears - In 1971, the Division was forced to close the black bear hunting season. Under state purview, black bears had been hunted and hounded to the point of extinction: only ten animals survived the agency's "scientific management." Requiring 30 painstaking years to recover, the species is again threatened with hunting. The Division is working to "Reestablish a hunting season for black bear to provide recreational opportunity for the sporting public..." (11)
HELP TAKE BACK OUR WILDLIFE
In 1843, the Supreme Court ruled that wildlife belonged "to the people" -- not Remington Arms. Clearly, and from every aspect - wildlife and habitat protection, good government, fairness in representation, environment, biological diversity - the majority, the very public to whom wildlife is entrusted - has been deliberately disenfranchised.
In 200l, only 56,574 hunting licenses were sold; Division officials estimated 50,000 would be sold in 2002. (12) Comprising a mere .5% of New Jersey's nearly 8,500,000 residents, hunters control l00% of the state's wildlife policy.
The management goals and funding of the Division as well as the composition of the Council are in conflict with the broad interests of all the people of New Jersey.
It's time to bring NJ wildlife policy into the 21st century. The Center for Animal Protection is committed to helping the citizens of New Jersey reclaim their rights to stewardship of our wildlife and its habitat.
· Educate the public about the true nature of wildlife management in New Jersey.
·Promote legislation to reform the Fish and Game Council into a democratic board whose real mission is to preserve our valuable landscape, vital ecosystems and precious wildlife.
·Change the Division from an agency dependent and focused on hunting into one that promotes co-existence between New Jersey's wildlife and people.
If you would like more information, or are interested in joining the efforts of the Center for Animal Protection, please contact:
(1) Title 13: 1B-30. New Jersey Statutes.
(2) "The WMI Endowment." Wildlife Management Institute/wwwildifemgt.org, 2001.
(3) "Teaming with Wildlife." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, July 1997.
(4) "New Jersey Hunter Retention and Deer
Hunter Satisfaction Survey."
Fish, Game and Wildlife, 1990
(5) "An Assessment of Deer Hunting in
New Jersey." New Jersey Division of
Fish, Game and Wildlife, 1990
(6) McShea, W.J. et al. The Science of Overabundance.
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997
(7) South Jersey Resource, Conversation and Development Council. Flyer, 2001
(8) "Supplement to Narrative Report, Brigantine
National Wildlife Refuge."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1961.
(9) Cost and Controversy in Managing Urban
Deer." Illinois Natural History
Survey Reports, March-April 2000.
(10) New Jersey Register., August 1996.
(11) "NJ Black Bear Management Plan." New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, 1997.
(12) " State launches a hunt for youthful
hunters." Newark, NJ: The Star Ledger, 3/25/03