Private lands, like the farm these goose hunters are on in Goshen County, provide essential habitat for wildlife. Some say federal lands, especially in the West, also are fundamental to wildlife conservation but haven’t been accounted for in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Proponents of that theory estimate that hunters contribute only 6 percent to wildlife conservation nationwide. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Private lands, like the farm these goose hunters are on in Goshen County, provide essential habitat for wildlife. Some say federal lands, especially in the West, also are fundamental to wildlife conservation but haven’t been accounted for in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Proponents of that theory estimate that hunters contribute only 6 percent to wildlife conservation nationwide. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

As Wyoming grapples with how it will fund wildlife conservation, hunters may lose some of their influence as other groups and interests are asked to increase their financial contributions.

Hunters have been key players in conserving wildlife in the post-frontier era, a development that’s come to be called the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Wyoming Game and Fish Department says 55 percent of its budget comes from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and fees, and that hunters contribute even more through taxes on guns and ammo.

Since 2005, however, the agency has received general fund money appropriated by the Legislature, now amounting to 6 percent of its budget. That opens the door for others to demand representation in wildlife management decisions.

But those interests, whether they be against hunting or against aggressive predator control, feel they already have a legitimate reason to be heard but still are being shut out.

“I would describe the North American Model as incomplete,” said Thomas Serfass, a professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland and chairman of its department of biology and natural resources who has studied the issue. “It’s never been a complete story of wildlife conservation.”

Hunters have rightly claimed credit for saving or restoring iconic American species, be they elk, antelope, ducks or wild turkey. Yet some point to imperiled sage grouse, declining mule deer populations and the recent Endangered Species Act protection of the Gunnison sage grouse as examples of a broken North American Model.

One of the elements that is missing from the North American Model’s history of wildlife conservation is the contributions of federal land management agencies, Serfass said.

“Federal funding has never been a prominent part of what’s been, or at least what’s been portrayed (as) the North American Model,” he said. “Setting land aside in the public domain in perpetuity is probably the most substantive thing we do for wildlife conservation.”

When the value of federal land programs are put into the mix of wildlife conservation today, hunters’ contributions diminish to a mere 6 percent of funding nationwide, a paper released in October says. “The basis (the North American Model) of public debate is a myth,” says the study Wildlife Conservation and Management Funding in the U.S. The group Nevadans for Responsible Wildlife, Management issued the paper.

“Times are changing,” said Donald Molde, co-author of the study and a former board member of Defenders of Wildlife. “The issue of wildlife — who pays for that (and) whether the non-consumptive user should have a say — this is a body of concern that’s really relatively new … in the last 10 years.”

“What about this public lands argument,” he said. “Holy Toledo, that’s a huge subsidy to hunters.”

Molde’s paper, written with Mark E. Smith, co-founder of the Nevada group, says the eight largest federally funded wildlife programs contribute $18.7 billion annually to wildlife, land management and related programs. Those agencies include the U.S. Forest Service at $9.7 billion, the National Park Service at $3.6 billion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at $2.8 billion and the BLM at $1.2 billion.

Only 5 percent of those agencies’ operating budgets and land acquisition costs are funded by hunters or related activities, the authors say. A similar ratio occurs in the private sector among conservation nonprofits, the study says.

“The 10 largest non-profit conservation organizations contribute $2.5 billion annually to habitat and wildlife conservation; of this, 12.3 percent comes from hunters and 87.7 percent from the non-hunting public,” the paper says. The Nature Conservancy tops the list at $859 million annually, followed by land trusts, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund and Ducks Unlimited, the latter at $147 million.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was last of the top 10 at $54 million, according to Molde and Smith.

Theodore Roosevelt was a hunter, conservationist and one of the architects of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. That doctrine credits hunters for wildlife health because of their financial contributions to game management through the purchase of hunting licenses and more. As the non-hunting public contributes more to state wildlife agencies, it is asking for a larger role in decision making. (Library of Congress — click to enlarge)

“With increased awareness and interest of the general (non consumptive) public in controversial wildlife management issues such as fur trapping, predator control, trophy hunting, coyote killing contests and wolf reintroduction, a debate is before us as to whether the general public is or should be afforded a proper voice in wildlife management decisions,” the two wrote. “Sportsmen favor the current system, which places a heavy emphasis on their interests through favorable composition of wildlife commissions and a continued emphasis on ungulate management.”

“Nonhuman predators (wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, ravens and others) are disfavored by wildlife managers at all levels as competition for sportsmen and are treated as second-class citizens of the animal kingdom,” the paper says. “Sportsmen suggest this bias is justified because ‘Sportsmen pay for wildlife,’ a refrain heard repeatedly when these matters are discussed.”

Molde has been arguing with Nevada wildlife authorities about lion hunting and trapping for 40 years, he said, but officials hear other voices. “The guys who stand up and shout the loudest are the ones that shoot deer, elk and bighorn sheep,” he said.

Their argument goes like this, Serfass said: “We provided the funding and technical resources, for example, restoring ungulates. In the process hunters vilify predators.” Thus, “they (hunters) should have primary attention in the way predators are managed.

“That attitude has taken us back 70 or 80 years in the progress we have been making in predator and prey management,” he said.

Even choosing to buy a license shouldn’t entitle one to a louder voice, Molde argues. Such influence may even undercut elements of the North American Model.

The North American Model of Wildlife Management:

• Wildlife is a public-trust resource
• Elimination of markets for wildlife
• Allocation of wildlife by law
• Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose
• Wildlife are considered an international resource
• Science is the proper tool for the discharge of wildlife policy
• Democracy of hunting (not restricted to those of means)

From “Large Carnivore Conservation” edited by Susan Clark (Yale) and Murray Rutherford (Simon Fraser University). The two argue in the book that the North American Model is inconsistent in its principles.

In recent years Wyoming has seen the establishment of the Cougar Fund, Wyoming Untrapped, and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, each of which seeks to defend predators. Wildlife Advocates recently sued federal agencies over the elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park and is criticizing the Game and Fish’s killing of a grizzly bear near Clark.

The challenged elk hunt in Grand Teton may be an example of how some people feel left out, according to a masters’ thesis being prepared by Marian Vernon, a teaching fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She interviewed more than 30 people about the park’s elk reduction program.

“(W)hile stakeholders tend to define the problems associated with the park elk hunt in technical terms (e.g., problems of elk overpopulation, human safety), the underlying problem — and the ultimate source of the conflict — is that many stakeholders feel disrespected and excluded from the process by which government agencies make decisions about wildlife management and conservation on public lands,” she wrote in the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative fall 2014 newsletter. “The results of my study suggest that agencies should shift the focus of their attention away from ecological and biological details of elk management and instead focus on improving transparency, participation and involvement with outside stakeholders.”

Serfass, at Frostburg State, agrees.

“Probably a lack of access (to decision-makers) is one of the weakness in how we conduct wildlife conservation,” he said. “As a democratic society, if we’re talking about the public trust, people need more access.”

Despite the argument about the role of public lands in wildlife conservation, state management budgets are still viewed through the lens of the rifle scope, the critics said.

“Access is related to contributions,” Serfass said. “The first thing we have to do is realize we need a broader funding base.

“Non-hunting conservationists need to step up and demand to participate in funding,” he said. “The infrastructure is not in place. The average person who cares about conservation doesn’t necessarily (participate in) those types of activities,” like hunting.

“They certainly don’t have a voice with congressional caucuses that deal with sportsmen activities,” he said. “If they don’t belong to one of the higher-end conservation organizations, it’s a challenge for them to participate.”

Attempts to find new ways to fund wildlife conservation are ongoing not only in Wyoming but also nearby, not always successfully. In North Dakota, voters this month rejected a proposal to set aside 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax for conservation, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

In Montana, Fish Wildlife and Parks stalled a proposal to sell a wolf-management stamp that would have funded non-lethal elements of the agency’s program. Critics on both sides of the predator argument didn’t have faith in the proposal. The nonprofit Wildlife Institute offered reasons in an online essay.

Ducks Unlimited member Fred Kingwill and Sprigger hunt on the Salt River in Star Valley. Waterfowl hunters contribute to wildlife management through taxes on guns and ammo, as well as by buying licenses and duck stamps. Ducks Unlimited is the top hunters’ conservation group in the country, a recent study says. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Ducks Unlimited member Fred Kingwill and Sprigger hunt on the Salt River in Star Valley. Waterfowl hunters contribute to wildlife management through taxes on guns and ammo, as well as by buying licenses and duck stamps. Ducks Unlimited is the top hunters’ conservation group in the country, a recent study says. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“The lack of relationships with citizens who do not hunt or fish can lead to indifference or mistrust that undermines public support for new revenue sources,” the policy group said. “At the same time, the longstanding relationship between agencies and hunters that has fueled conservation for the past century can also create resistance to allowing other interests to help fund state agencies.”

Regardless of the role of federal lands and budgets in sustaining wildlife in Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission decides on game populations, hunting seasons and so on. The governor appoints the seven members of the commission, who represent districts across the state. Laws limit the number of members from a single political party.

Wyoming wants to set up a task force to figure out how to ensure long-term Game and Fish funding, said Neil Thagard, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Western outreach director. The group supports wildlife conservation through the North American Model. Sportsmen, business owners, oil and gas interests would come up with a plan at the governor’s request, Thagard said, and he’s been asked to serve.

While it’s too early to predict what might come out of such a group — yet to be assembled and announced — Thagard would like to see non-consumptive users engaged, he said.

“There’s no one in this state that doesn’t benefit from sustainable fish and wildlife populations,” he said. “I would just like to see everyone step up to the plate and be willing to provide funding for professional wildlife management.”

“As far as the funding to the professional wildlife agencies, it is sportsmen that are paying the bill, and that’s a good thing,” he said. Some hunters want to keep it that way, he said. If the system changes, the fear among some is “We as sportsmen are going to lose control.”

Thagard agrees that federal lands in the West are essential to healthy wildlife populations, hence his stiff opposition to states acquiring them. At the state management level, where most game populations, hunting seasons and limits are set “I think the hunter does have a louder voice — but they’re the ones engaged with the agency,” he said.

He also would defer to technical and biological experts, unlike Yale’s Vernon who is studying the Grand Teton elk hunt and suggesting decisions be made in a broader context that includes interests and stakeholders that have not traditionally been involved.

“What does the science say we need to do to appropriately manage fish and wildlife resources,” Thagard said. “It should be science-based information that influences the decisions.

“Our Wyoming Game and Fish are heavily influenced at times by policies established at the state level and by special interests,” he said. “That doesn’t always bode well for wildlife.”

Thagard said he’d like to see game and fish license prices linked to the consumer price index. If such were to happen, hunters and anglers would see less sticker shock than if prices were hiked once every decade or so, as they are now. Such a move also would keep the Legislature, which today approves license-price increases, out of the picture.

“We have too much legislative meddling in Game and Fish agencies,” he said. “This isn’t just Wyoming, it’s all over. We don’t need politics driving fish and wildlife management.”

If non-consumptive users feel left out of the wildlife management picture, so too do non-resident hunters. They’re one of the largest, if not the largest single group of contributors to the Game and Fish budget, Dubois outfitter and former legislator Budd Betts said.

He is a board member of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, a group that relies heavily on out-of-state clients.

Non-resident hunters can pay more than $1,000 for an elk license, $10,000 all-told for travel and an outfitted hunt. Even if non-consumptive users contribute to the Game and Fish budget, “the lion’s share is still going to come from the non-resident,” Betts said.

Like non-consumptive users, non-resident hunters also don’t have a direct line to the commission, Betts said.

“The Wyoming outfitters are really the only voice for the non-resident hunter – the only organized and sophisticated voice,” he said. “You have to have a commercial group speak for the major license (revenue) source. You have to have a trade organization to speak for that group.”

There’s no proven way to capture revenue from non-consumptive wildlife users, no method like taxing camera or binocular sales, Betts said. Should such a system be developed, or should general fund money increase as a proportion of the Game and Fish budget, that could worry hunters.

Park Service biologists carry a tranquilized wolf pup in Yellowstone National Park before they collar it with a radio transmitter during the wolf transplant project in the mid-1990s. Several groups that support predators are making increasing complaints about how large carnivores are treated in Wyoming. If Wyoming broadens its wildlife funding base beyond hunters, it will likely have to deal with those new constituents’ views. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Park Service biologists carry a tranquilized wolf pup in Yellowstone National Park before they collar it with a radio transmitter during the wolf transplant project in the mid-1990s. Several groups that support predators are making increasing complaints about how large carnivores are treated in Wyoming. If Wyoming broadens its wildlife funding base beyond hunters, it will likely have to deal with those new constituents’ views. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“The issue has always been (that) when you lose your hunter base for funding, it no longer becomes a hunter-based philosophy,” guiding wildlife management, he said. There could be “some sort of a non-hunter incursion into Game and Fish management.”

Wyoming voter approval of a constitutional amendment in 2012 guaranteeing the right of residents to hunt, trap and fish reflects how they feel about preserving their hunting heritage. Meantime, non-residents may be at the limit of what they would pay for a Wyoming elk license, Betts said.

“We’re going to be significantly overpriced versus other states,” he said. “The only way to maintain your competitiveness is to maintain your quality.”

That opens another Pandora’s box, he said. “That circles back around (to) all the issues people have with Game and Fish — herd numbers, late cow seasons, and how they go after predators,” Betts said.

If Wyoming finds a long-term funding solution, it may not satisfy everybody. Thagard and Molde’s divergent views of state wildlife agencies suggests as much.

“What would happen if Wyoming Game and Fish went broke and went out of business,” Molde said. “You’d still have wildlife all over Wyoming. They’d probably be doing just fine.” State game agencies exist, “simply to provide for hunter opportunity,” he said.

Thagard couldn’t see that more clearly – in the opposite direction. From elk feedgrounds to sage grouse conservation to habitat projects, wildlife today needs help.

“They don’t exist by themselves,” he said of wildlife. “We’re intervening to try and sustain it.”

Click here to view a Game and Fish video about its funding history and challenges here:

In this article, backcountry hunters and anglers weigh in on why it is a bad idea to transfer federal lands to the states.

REPUBLISH: For details on how you can republish this post or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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  1. Thank you WyoFile for providing stories like these!

    Looking at the study in reference I have a couple of thoughts…

    In the article “Wildlife Conservation & Management Funding in the U.S.” the authors attempt to address the question of “Do sportsmen really pay for wildlife?” To address this question, the authors assess the total annual funding by agencies and the total acreage of land under management by these agencies. In this study, the authors make multiple “educated assumptions.” One of the first is that state wildlife management agencies provide “sportsmen services rather than wildlife management.” This assumption is hugely inaccurate as many state wildlife agencies fund (and perform) important wildlife conservation work. For example, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department provide funding for disease surveillance, population monitoring, habitat treatment, stream restoration, wildlife crossings, and wildlife research (and much more). By failing to acknowledge the importance of state wildlife agencies in wildlife conservation the authors create a HUGE bias in their study. Another glaring problem with the study is how they allocate funds to “hunter” and “non-hunter” groups. In their methodology section, the authors attempt to assign funding from the Pittmann-Robertson (PRA) and Dingell-Johnson (DJA) Acts to “hunter” and “non-hunter” groups. To do so, they determined calibers of firearms and ammunition associated with hunting activities. From there, they took the percentage of sales of these firearms or bullets associated with hunting and multiplied it by the total funds appropriated through PRA. Again, this creates SIGNIFICANT bias as they fail to account for the possibility that a “hunter” or “non-hunter” may own different types of firearms not associated with their predetermined grouping. Unfortunately, the authors do not provide any data or references that would suggest this methodology would be accurate by any measure. For DJA funds, the authors contest that small engine fuel is the only form of revenue associated with hunting. Again, they fail to provide any data or references that support this assumption. Arguably, the largest piece of evidence the authors produce is the “Summary of Conservation Funding by Source” and “Summary of Land Under Direct Management.” Yet again, this information has obvious biases and problems. First, the authors total the annual funding of federal agencies, PRA, and DJA. Seemingly, the authors assume that all the annual funding is directly associated with wildlife conservation; meaning, the authors do not consider any expenditures not associated with wildlife conservation (i.e. salary, recreation development, natural resource extraction, etc). Of course, the annual funding of state wildlife agencies was not considered in this analysis (seems incomplete/biased). In addition to this, the authors only assess the 10 largest non-profit wildlife conservation agencies. With such a narrow scope, the authors fail to acknowledge the contributions of all non-profits. This begs the question, ff you’re not the largest organization, are your efforts meaningless? Finally, the authors merely skim over their methodologies for determining hunter contributions to these organizations’ funding and land purchasing. The methods they do discuss, are sketchy at best. Googling how many hunting licenses are sold and multiplying it by the reported funding is not adequate by any means. I believe the authors of this study failed to adequately address and answer the question of “Do sportsmen really pay for wildlife?” Their study has multiple problems and biases that the authors did not address nor acknowledge.

    Also, the authors had a typo in the “Duck Stamp Act” section….

  2. Hunters say they are the biggest contributors of conservation.
    This is NOT TRUE. It is a myth that is perpetrated by the hunting/fishing community to try and justify their blood lust.

    As was stated in this well-researched article: “Setting land aside in the public domain in perpetuity is probably the most substantive thing we do for wildlife conservation.”

    “The 10 largest non-profit conservation organizations contribute $2.5 billion annually to habitat and wildlife conservation; of this, 12.3 percent comes from hunters and 87.7 percent from the non-hunting public,” the paper says. The Nature Conservancy tops the list at $859 million annually, followed by land trusts, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund and Ducks Unlimited, the latter at $147 million.

  3. In 2018 more than $1.1 billion in annual national funding for state wildlife agencies from revenues generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration (PRDJ) acts.

    $1.1 BILLION generated from hunters and anglers in 2018

  4. the hunter does nothing for the conservative of the game animals…so then why charge money for a hunting license??..i dont care what anyone else is saying abkout this..we the hunter pay are dues to do what we love..and teach our kids what we have been handed down from our families..not to mention the food we put on our plates….yall need to stop bashing and trying to stop something that helps out the world and animals..if we didn’t harvest the animal their food sources would demise faster then we could grow it..and not to mention if one of yall anti hunter hit a deer and killed one of ur kids in a car you would be heart go fight something that is a real threat to you and your family…

  5. Outstanding study showing the facts. People care about wildlife and want to see it… ALIVE. Especially our native predators. In my many years of hiking and camping I have yet to see a mountain lion. I would relish the experience.
    Killing is not conservation. Time to end that big LIE that the hunting industry pushes all the time. I’m sick of hearing it. We pushed hard for a ban on lead ammo and then the first thing Stinky Zinke did when he got into office was repeal that law. We don’t want lead ammo poisoning our waterways, our birds, our wildlife.

    I, for one, donate a TON of my income to non-lethal conservation groups who are fighting hard to maintain habitat, keep hunting in check and get rid of trapping. It’s high time we all evolved into a newer model of conservation and a more plant-based diet.

    1. The reason you’re not seeing mountain lions, well there are a few, but the top of the list is that they do everything they can to avoid you. That’s good. Apex predators that are accustomed to people, aren’t scared of people, are horrible for both people and their own existence.

      I’ve seen two in my life. Pure accidents both of them, neither were intentional, and, truthfully, I’d rather not see them…

    2. Your opinion is not based on facts or science. You “feel” this way. Do you make all of your decisions based on emotion? If so, I feel sorry for you. Use your brain. Listen to the facts and quit being manipulated by emotions.

  6. I have to agree with opening up the licencing to non-hunters. People who would like to use the spaces recreationally.

    Unfortunately culling isn’t the only method yet it is the most used method. It seems people are lazy and I suppose to a degree the funds aren’t available to move wildlife.

    Hunters do not always hunt for the sake of killing. People who hunt boar and various edible wildlife do so for meat stock. These people are not sick and contribute a ton to conservation.

  7. First of all, these hunters are not “sport hunters” .I actually feel it not . a sport, both sides should know they’re in the game…Second of all, elk and wolves are on the endangered list Wolves are also a sacred symbol of Native American people. There are other alternatives to hunting these animals such as fencing in live stock, So predictors don’t kill them.

    You have neglected to see is that hunters are not in it for conservation, They are people with sick hobbies that only feeds their ego, dominance and greed I have read many comments in hunters forums and one comment really got to me was’ better go and get your hunting in, because they are very close to banning in Africa as well as not being able to ship your trophies to the U.S… and that ant-hunter are growing to the point that they are staring to out weigh the hunter’s..If we continue to build what’s left of their territory, in will appear that they are over populated were they have no where else to go..I read a comment from Donald Trump Jr. that if we don’t rid of the wolves, there will be nothing left for them to hunt,

    I believe that these millionaires and billionaires can support wildlife by not killing them, instead, donate their money to conservation efforts and keep wildlife in the wild. There are many non profit organizations that collect donations from People to protect wildlife..Some Examples are Born Free and Defenders of wildlife. and yes, I donate monthly.. Animals and animals should not have to give up their lives to people for the sake of pleasure. I vacationed in Yellow Stone park hoping to see animals living in their natural habitats and was disappointed when I saw so few….

    1. You’re painting with a pretty broad brush, using what you view as bad characteristics to generalize. I only hunt what I eat, as do my children. We process them all. Field to freezer to table, and we share what we have as well. I most definitely AM in it for conservation, and advocate for hunting practices that will sustain both habitat and wildlife for the future, including clean air and water.

      If you wish to see wildlife acting wild, Yellowstone is probably the worst choice imaginable. I see them all the time, my method is to get as far away from people as possible, dress in muted colors that aren’t doused in scented detergents, and simply be. And observe. And relish every creature you see, including those not on the “apex” list of ungulates and predators. Get a field identification guide, binoculars, a notebook, take notes.

      That list above is exactly what I do every time I hunt. Harvesting food is infrequent. I’m no millionaire/billionaire, I’d like to see more habitat, fewer roads, cleaner water, and animals not accustomed to the noise of humanity…

      It seems that the common interest between non-hunters and hunters is the capability to stand up to the extractors drilling for oil and running pipelines and roads through pristine places, but hey, it’s easier to target me, the backpacking omnivore than oil companies that lock both of us out, right?

    1. You are thinking of Preservation no Conservation. Conservation in wildlife management can and does involve taking the right amount of game whilst maintaining or growing the population.

      1. That’s the city mentality. You’ve pretty much stripped your own state so why not go destroy others. Nature is a fine balance and all humans have done is destroy and take without putting back. How many species have been extincted through mans’ greed and depraved indifference to life? All for the sake of a head to hang on their wall or the next strip mall. And I am not referring to those that do hunting in the humane way. They are doing it for food, not the enjoyment of killing. All you have to do is look at Los Angeles to see the destruction that’s been done. Smog alerts, gangs, lack of any humanity because it’s all about self. I say this from the influx of Californians we’ve received because they wanted more for less than they could purchase there. They are the most rude, inconsiderate and intolerable bunch of people I have ever met. They’ve ruined their state and now are doing the same here.

  8. One means of improving funding for conservation measures is to open up the sale of licenses to non-hunters with lands set aside accordingly for non-hunting enjoyment of wildlife (i.e. photo-tourism). Regardless, the majority of non-hunter taxpayers have for too long been denied proportionate representation in the Federal and State Wildlife “Conservation” (sic) Agencies. Historically these agencies have been and still are dominated by the agendas of those who seek to kill wildlife, or (as in the case of the decimation of predators) have it killed, to protect their use of public lands for commercial purposes. Raising access fees to stop the historical giveaways for such access would also help to fill coffers for conservation programs that truly represent the desires of all citizens, and not just the relatively small numbers of hunters, trappers, and hookers.

  9. Another question I would like to raise. If there is such a conspiracy between g&f and hunters to artificially inflate elk populations, why do they not feed more of them? Wish I had more info on exactly where all the feed grounds are and how many elk winter there. But I do know most of them are in the north west part of the state. But what about all the herds that do not get any supplemental feed on their winter range? South and west of la barge vast amounts of public land are closed due to wildlife winter habitat with no supplemental feed. Red desert elk herd, little mountain area herd, Baggs and mountain view all do not have any elk supplemental feeding. And that is just to name portions I am immediately familiar with.

    Buck Brown
    Green River Wy

  10. Until we agree that all big game are actually wildlife we will probably disagree on the real workings of wildlife management. Simply because managing game,and managing wildlife often occur on different tracks running in different directions. I’m in the camp that Wyoming Game & Fish is in the dollar business of ” game ” management , not in the business of wildlife conservation except as it applies to the former. wildlife for wildlife’s sake, universally. But the red shirts in their dark green trucks are monetizing Put and Take Fisheries, and big game and shotgun fowl ‘crops’ intended for a defined yield harvest.

    Just remember that Wyo G&F is charged by statute to manage ALL the state’s wildlife in the public interest, not just huntables and fishables. That includes all the phyla, genus, and species, not just ungulates, piscids, and our nonnative feathered friends. But boy howdy do they holler about having to pay for wolves and grizz without getting license fees, and the care and feeding of Sage Grouse . E.G. the Coyote is not the Enemy of the People and has a crucial role to play , yet is always treated as a varmint. Wyo G&F is kept on a short leash by the Stockgrowers in too many instances. Hence the feedgrounds ( we have none of those up here around Cody because the elk have an abundance of primary PUBLIC LAND winter range, and only secondarily raid the haystacks and private pastures.

    Before you get too far off in the weeds arguing about ” your” elk and ” your” hunting opportunity, while criticizing “my” overarching wildlife panoply, I suggest you read the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission Annual Report, which includes the entire WyoG&F budget lines, revenue streams, and expenses to the penny.

    It’s buried on the Wyo G&F website, but here’s the link to all 274 pages of it for the most recent full year, 2013. The annual reports usually come out in early Spring.

    Then we can have an informed discourse.

    Footnote: We do NOT owe the commercial outfitters a living.
    Dewey Vanderhoff
    Cody, WY

  11. Yet another bizarre point made in this article:

    “….Yet some point to imperiled sage grouse, declining mule deer populations and the recent Endangered Species Act protection of the Gunnison sage grouse as examples of a broken North American Model.”

    Even a cursory understanding of the issues that have led to the current status of sage grouse and mule deer populations makes it clear that the single biggest contributing factor to the decline of these species is without a doubt habitat loss.

    How does this equate to an example of a “broken North American Model of Wildlife Conservation?” There is no explanation of what exactly the connection is here, and I fail to see one.

    In fact, since most of the critical habitat of both species is on public land, the current status of these species is largely due to the shortcomings in management of the very two agencies – the FS and BLM – that have allowed commercial development of public lands in ways that are not in sync with conservation goals at all, for sportsmen nor non-sportsmen. Rather than somehow being an example of a “broken North American Model,” the current status of sage grouse and mule deer are actually an excellent example of why the entire budgets of the FS and BLM are hardly useful or valid supporting numbers to the premise of this report.

    Bruce Smithhammer
    Victor, ID

    1. It of course doesn’t equate. Bruce is exactly right about habitat loss being the issue with declining mules and sage grouse. Everyone already gets that. The decline of these species has nothing to do with the North American model … nothing … except that “some point to” a connection. Who are the “some” doing this pointing? Is it the Humane Society of the United States, one of the most rabidly anti-hunting organizations in the U.S.? A professional from that organization drew special acknowledgement from the authors of this study.

      This is a “study” in search of a problem. It isn’t looking for ways to solve say, the decline of sage grouse or mule deer. Instead it is a study intended to prevent hunters from taking too much credit for conservation. It’s a political document that compares apples (spending by federal land management agencies) to oranges (the excise taxes and license fees hunters and anglers pay) because the dramatic difference in numbers is intended to diminish the role hunters and anglers play in wildlife conservation. The authors hope that no one notices this an apples to oranges comparison that defies logic. This is a political document designed to undermine hunters, anglers and the conservation work they have supported for the last century.

      Another bizarre statement from one of the authors: “What about this public lands argument,” he said. “Holy Toledo, that’s a huge subsidy to hunters.”

      The use of public lands is a subsidy to the citizens? Who imagines nonsense such as this? Anti-hunters for one. Advocates for privatizing public lands for another.

      Rob Breeding
      Powell, Wyo.

    2. And yet, in several weekends trying to fill cow and bull tags across multiple seasons in Unit 03 in Colorado, I’ve seen both Common Sage Grouse and more mule deer than I can count. That’s due to efforts in Colorado (not by feds, but, on federal land) to manage these species.

      I think what’s broken is the feds being able to have too much influence, if anything, including pipelines and privileges for oil companies…

  12. This is a fair point. Likewise, the idea that hunting license and tag sales, and the matching Pittman-Robertson Act funds, do anything more than fund hunting is general untrue. In fact, in most states the hunting programs run at a defect, leaving less than nothing for conservation. However, when you analyze each line item with this judgement-based approach two things result: you find that the percent hunter contribution remains essentially as we published (that is, about 6% plus or minus perhaps 2 or 3%), and you create needless controversy.
    Mark Smith
    Incline Village, NV

    1. Mark – I would say it’s more than just a “fair point” – acknowledging the fact that lumping in the entire massive budgets of the two largest land mgmt. agencies in the country, even though much of their budgets are not spent on what you are arguing in favor of, seems to undermine the whole point of the report considerably.

      Sportsman dollars have always, and continue to, largely fund the habitat protection that happens in this country, like it or not. One may argue over the intent of that conservation, or the disproportionate focus on amplifying game species and downplaying predator species for the benefit of some users over others (which I don’t necessarily agree with) but the bottom line is that this report is deeply flawed in it’s convenient leap to conclusions.

      As yet another example – public lands budgets are being used as a significant argument in favor of this premise that non-sportsmen contribute more than sportsmen do. However – in addition to millions in taxes generated by the Pittman-Robertson and the Dingell-Johnson Acts (taxes non-sportsmen don’t contribute to), license and fee sales, etc. that sportsmen pay, each and everyone one of the tens of millions of sportsmen in this country are also paying the very same taxes as everyone else which feed land mgmt. budgets. Has the amount that sportsmen pay in state and federal taxes been subtracted from the sum that is being used to demonstrate what non-sportsmen supposedly pay, as reflected in these lump-sum budgets? That doesn’t seem to have been factored in, and it would further reduce the already over-inflated numbers being quoted.

      Bruce Smithhammer
      Victor, ID.

    2. Does your study indicate there is any other group that voluntarily contributes 6 percent to conservation? Isn’t it the case that hunters, along with all other citizens, contribute to that other 94 percent, while no other group essentially self taxes itself to pay for wildlife management? Also, the above point that much of what you’re counting in that 94 percent really isn’t conservation spending at all, and in some cases arguably spending that works against conservation, such as managing grazing allotments, timber sales or unneeded fire suppression?

      I’m sure all of the state biologists out in the field across the west working to manage wildlife appreciate your suggestion that all they really do is manage hunting, and don’t do anything for conservation.

      Hunters aren’t perfect, but this story comes across as poorly disguised anti-hunting propaganda.
      Rob Breeding
      Powell, WY

  13. The very premise of this report, which takes the ENTIRE budgets of the FS and BLM into account as a supposedly persuasive argument for how much non-hunters contribute to conservation, would only be convincing to those with no understanding whatsoever of how or what large portions of the budgets of the FS and BLM are actually spent on. The reality is that both agencies spend a great deal of their budgets on things that have no connection to the improvement of wildlife or habitat, and that, at times, actually run counter to those goals.

    As Molde and Smith are both no doubt intelligent people, and who I’m sure are well aware of the above, I can only guess that they are banking on the ignorance of the general public when it comes to these obvious and inconveneient budgetary realities on the part of the two largest agency budgets that they quote to support their argument.

    The very premise of this study is absurd and self-serving, and no better epitomized than in the quote by Molde – “What would happen if Wyoming Game and Fish went broke and went out of business…You’d still have wildlife all over Wyoming. They’d probably be doing just fine.” – without a doubt one of the most clueless statements I have read in some time.

    Bruce Smithhammer
    Victor, Idaho

  14. A thoughtful, well written piece. It is a side of the story that rarely sees the light of day and I’m happy that Angus took this on. The old myth that hunters fund conservation is based on fact but is highly exaggerated, as this article demonstrates. This type of balanced, transparent dialog is desperately needed – not only for America’s wildlife, but for Americans.
    Mark Smith
    Incline Village, NV

  15. I’m dissapointed to see WyoFile perpetuating this inherently-flawed “study” being fervently perpetuated by some non-sportsman conservation groups.

    The notion that the ENTIRE budgets of the Forest Service & the BLM (together amounting to almost $11 billion of this supposedly “persuasive” report) should be considered in what the non-hunting public contributes to conservation would only truly be persuasuve to those utterly ignorant, or with the most limited understanding, of what those budgets are actually spent on. In truth, vast amounts of the budgets of both the FS and BLM are not spent on protecting wildlife or habitat at all, and at times are spent on things that are actually counter-productive to those goals.

    Yet it is this same constituency, with obviously quite limited understanding of how federal land management often works, that is now whining that it doesn’t have a more significant seat at the table. Anyone wonder why?

    I’m not saying that all wildlife and habitat decisions made on the basis of the desires of hunters and anglers are necessarily the best decisions from a holistic point of view. And I would be the first to decry the management of wildlife merely as hyper-productive game farms for the amplification of a few species esteemed by sportsmen, to the detriment of the whole. As a hunter, I want to see balanced ecosystems, with predator and prey populations intact and at sustainable levels.

    But this report, by it’s very presumptive and fact-twisting basis, is absurd. Given the sources promoting it, and the fact that there are no doubt quite intelligent people behind this effort, I can only assume that this has been intentional.

    And frankly, Molde’s quote – “What would happen if Wyoming Game and Fish went broke and went out of business….You’d still have wildlife all over Wyoming. They’d probably be doing just fine,” has got to be one of the most ignorant and self-serving statements I’ve read in quite some time.
    Bruce Smithhammer
    Victor, ID

  16. Haha this is really entertaining here. Whoever put these numbers together have no idea how that money is spent. The forest service’s costs are tied up in maintain fences to manage grazing of sheep and cows. Fighting wildfires and doing controlled burns as well as maintaining campgrounds for year round visitors. Many who are sports people hunting and fishing through out the year. The blm also operates on mostly these same lines. With a very few exceptions national parks are completely off limits to hunting. Other than managing the people within their boundaries, maintaining buildings and fences they do very little to contribute towards wildlife. The US fish and game services monitor the country as a whole from coast to coast but are unable to focus on local issues as well as state agencies. The links between the money mentioned and wildlife are tenuous at best. Just because someone isn’t counted as a hunter doesn’t mean they support the position of this article. Many still support but no longer participate in outdoor activities for various reasons. The anti – hunting crowd is still very much in the minority.
    Life long Wyoming resident
    Buck Brown
    Green River, WY

  17. Angus – Thank you for the insights and the hard data. Everyone living in western Wyoming knows it is the tourist dollars that drive the economy out here. The visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks come once for the magnificent scenery and natural features but they return again and again for the wildlife. This alone should drive conservation practices in this corner of the state. Any factor that reduces access to the public lands or diminishes the wildlife viewing opportunities for these visitors has the potential to hurt our economy.
    Loren Nelson
    Jackson, WY

  18. This excellent article points out the overblown importance of the hook-n-bullet contribution to wildlife conservation, particularly in the western United States. While a somewhat different topic, the article fails to mention that much of the costs of conservation, today, stem from the days when hunters, trappers, anglers and poachers nearly drove the Northern gray, Mexican and red wolf, grizzly bear, bison, at least 3 species of prairie dogs, beavers, wolverine, otters, various waterfowl, egrets and cranes, native trout and many other wildlife species to extinction.

    Add to this, for example, the fact that hunters hunted the once abundant passenger pigeon to extinction. ­­­In addition, even today, lead-based munitions continue to poison wildlife in states refusing to ban them. As is too often the case, one-sided accounting where only the benefit is presented and the costs are hidden veils the truth regarding “who is paying for

    Any true accounting of the truth must include a complete cost/benefit analysis. One-sided equations are not equations at all. Thank you, Wyofile, for investigating and helping to complete the “who is paying for what” accounting/equation, even if one important underlying cause for today’s wildlife deficit was not represented. All taxpayers pay the costs of “recovery” for endangered wildlife even though in too many cases the hook-n-bullet crowd brought about the need for recovery in the first place.
    Duane Short
    Rollinsville, CO

    1. It is interesting Duane Short that your comments are so filled with erroneous and poorly re-constructed (if at all) “history”. The concept of wildlife conservation or even the idea that wildlife might have intrinsic value other than to serve man didn’t exist when the wildlife numbers were diminishing in the United States due to uncontrolled commercial hunting. At that time, even the construction of the motel at Yellowstone National Park included hiring “commercial hunters” to acquire 40,000 pounds of meat. To write a statement that equates the commercial hunters without boundaries when there was NO CONCEPT of wildlife management in existence to the hunters and conservationists of today shows a clear lack of understanding on your part.
      Sportsmen were the ONLY conservation groups born from that era where Europeans shot and wasted game by the millions, commercial hunters were hired to shoot as many animals as possible using set guns, fires, huge nets and the like to accomplish their goals. There were no other groups who rose up to show concern. There were no “environmentalists” there were no “Conservationists” there were no “preservationists” there were no lines drawn between the “consumptive users” and the “Non-Consumptive users” because those terms weren’t even created yet!
      The North American Model of Conservation was created by hunters, trappers and anglers at a time when there was no other human group willing to stand up for wildlife and create “no hunting areas” and to further illustrate the dedication of these hunters, anglers and trappers it occurred during the Great Depression Era.
      Instead of ostracizing sportsmen and making them the villain of the history that you are obviously trying to re-write – you should be thankful that some forward thinking people who cared enough about the wildlife decline and habitat destruction of the time created the infrastructure that has enabled the United States of America to have the wildlife legacy we have.
      If it weren’t for the sportsmen you so easily despise and misrepresent with your hateful words, you wouldn’t have wildlife issues to criticize. Learn the history before you post what you “think” (term used very loosely) happened as fact.
      Please don’t perpetuate your ignorance, it’s disgusting.
      Toby Walrath
      Corvallis, MT

    2. “Any true accounting of the truth must include a complete cost/benefit analysis.”

      Agreed, Duane. The problem with Molde’s study is that when one actually undertakes a thorough study of large portions of the economic picture supposedly being used to advance, or over-inflate, the amount that “non-hunters” contribute to conservation (the entire budgets of the FS and BLM, specifically) , it simply doesn’t hold water.

      So yes – let’s have a “true accounting of the truth,” and take a hard look at what much of the budgets of the two largest land management agencies in the country are actually spent on – it will become readily apparent that “conservation” is far from the largest budgetary priority, and that Molde’s study is not about a “true accounting” but about grasping at superficially-compelling numbers to bolster a self-serving argument.
      Bruce Smithhammer
      Victor, ID

  19. Finally , the sport hunting myth wall crumbles. Hunters are not bankrolling wildlife conservation for us all. It’s the other way around, as this study clearly shows. Of course it depends on your working definition of ” conservation “, but I’m of the opinion that the North American Model achieved its primary goal back about 1950 of restoring big game populations from near extinction at the end of the 19th century due to market hunting and unregulated sport hunting , and outright genocide to make room for cattle, among other causes. The elite hunters with access to money realized “their” big game was being exterminated by hunting pressure, so the likes of teddy Roosevelt developed a plan to reverse that. And it worked. But by 1960 we no longer needed to rebuild game populations…we needed to switch over to sustainability , primarily assured habitat protection. The North American Model served its purpose, but today is no longer very relevant. Two glaring flaws in the North American Model are its reliance upon hunting as its primary tool, and not really working with ( or even acknowledging) the role of Predators in the wildlife cycle. It’s been said those sorts of ” conservationists” spend 50 weeks of the year preserving big game so they can spend the other two weeks killing it.

    Wyoming Game & Fish’s adherence to the gospel of the North American Model is a false faith , and needs to change. Wyo G&F and everyone else in line behind them need to realize fully the role of apex predators and their essentialness , and habitat sustainability is a heckuva lot more than providing alfalfa. Most of all they need to completely understand that all big game is wildlife, but wildlife sustainability is so much more than catering exclusively to big game. Every herbivore out there has a complementary carnivore , or several. Man is only one of those carnivores , and a long ways down the list at that. Oh by the way , the wildlife belongs to everyone. Those are not ” your” Elk , Mr. Winchester and Mr. Remington.

    I don’t believe we will ever get the Stockgrowers-at-Large to the point of having a real epiphany about predators, but at least we can and should marginalize them. We can start by either getting rid of Wildlife Services as agents for wholesale coyote and wolf removal, or else making the ranchers pay for all their own predator control out of their own pockets, in addition to paying full market value to the taxpayer for subsidized grass , water , and public land rent, etc. Ranchers need to realize that when it comes to public lands, domestic livestock are no longer the highest and best use , nor should they be given top priority.

    We need a North American Model, version 2.0 , and a huge sea change in attitude across Wyoming about the realities of wildlife sustainability. Let’s retire the myths.
    Dewey Vanderhoff
    Cody, WY

    1. You do realize the reason G&F feed the elk is because a large majority of their winter range is private land right? They feed the elk only what is necessary to limit destruction of fences and haystacks.
      Buck Brown
      Green River WY

      1. Not true. The elk herds are artificially inflated, at taxpayer expense, exclusvily to create hunter opportunity. That’s well established even inside the agencies. That then creates the “need” to spend $100 million annually on predator suppression, and deprives farmers billions in productivity as the increased competition – from elk to rabbits – devour their crops. The inflated herd sizes also increases the frequency and severity of auto accidents, killing hundreds annually. You might try doing a little research rather than just repeating old and empty claims. The facts are there for anyone willing to do a little work, though they have been well hidden by the special interests.
        Mark Smith
        Incline Village, NV

        1. Mark –

          Let’s be honest here -“exclusively to create hunter opportunity” is innaccurate. As I’m guessing you’re aware if you’ve done any homework on the issue, there are also immense pressures coming from the tourist industry to keep the elk as plentiful as possible on places like the National Elk Refuge (outside of Jackson Hole). Stating that it is “all about what hunters want” (also not true, as I know many conscientious hunters who are actually quite concerned these days about the implications of such artificially high numbers) is overly simplistic. The reality is that is about what a number of hunters want to see, AND about what many tourists who come to the area want to see as well. The two desires aren’t always mutually exclusive, as this report resorts to desperate measures to try and state the case for.

          Bruce Smithhammer
          Victor, ID

        2. Well good sir you might want to do a little research yourself instead of repeating the same old propaganda. Not sure how they do it in Nevada. But Wyoming game and fish spend approximately 2 million a year on elk feed programs. None of that money comes from taxpayers it is all funded by license sales and tax on outdoor equipment. The problem with predators is they are much harder control. And tend to have proplems with human interactions in larger numbers. Every year hunting seasons and quotas adjust according to population goals. If they wanted to prop up the elk here numbers they would not release additional cow and late season cow tags. I have talked to biologists on this plus individuals that work at the Jackson Hole feed ground. I will believe they are liers as soon as you tell me climate change experts are lying to further their agenda. Historically speaking elk numbers are far below their original numbers. Like stated the mountains have a much higher carrying capacity than winter range. Due to the amount of private property and irrigated farm land that removes most natural feed to feed horses and cattle in the form of hay.

          Buck Brown
          Green River WY

    2. Pretty much everything in this article is a lie. That is what the so called environmentalists do….lie. Federal funding . Even the title, “Nonhunters contribute the most”? Ridiculous. But, the world is full of ridiculous people. Environmentalists are the worst of the lot.

      Harold Johnson