Wildlife biologists, just like plumbers, mechanics, doctors and lawyers, have a specific purpose in society. After years of education and field experience, it is the biologist who ensures wildlife and their habitats are conserved. It is the responsibility of the biologist to ensure that decisions made in wildlife management are born from scientific knowledge.
Nonetheless, many people still push their personal agendas and use politics and ballot boxes to supersede the role of the wildlife biologist. Should the public really be the determining factor for wildlife policy, or should designated state agencies and professionals decide how wildlife is managed?
Maine is struggling with this issue. State lawmakers are trying to pass a measure that seeks to ban public vote on wildlife management laws because they believe the fate of their wildlife should be left to experts. In the other corner, opponents believe this is a tactic to prevent the public from having input, establishing a dangerous precedent.
Sportsmen and lawmakers agree with this new measure and believe wildlife management laws should be informed by science and set by the agencies responsible for wildlife conservation. Wildlife laws and regulations should be protected from emotional campaigns led by out-of-state interest groups.
State Representative Steve Wood testified that wildlife ballot measures allow, “for outside influences to discredit our experts, science, and facts that impact our established hunting and fishing laws, laws that have been established by the experts in this particular field of study.”
Leading the charge against this change is the Humane Society of the United States. They state that, “denying Mainers their longstanding constitutional right to vote on important issues affecting wildlife – a natural resource held in the public trust – and how that resource is managed, these bills suppress voters and are a shameful subversion of democracy.”
This issue is also reoccurring in Michigan. Wolf hunting has sparked increased debate over whether the state or the public should decide wildlife policy, such as designating the gray wolf as a game species.
Ultimately it is up to individual states to decide the level of public input on wildlife management, but scientific information needs to be part of the decision making process. Emotions run high when charismatic megafauna, like wolves and bears, are involved. Public opinion could negatively impact wildlife when decisions are based on emotion and not sound science.
The basic framework of science-based management is to ensure the sustainability of wildlife and natural resources. One of Safari Club International Foundation’s goals is to advance wildlife management efforts worldwide. Expertise and research should take high priority when deciding the future of such an important resource.