Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Open letter to the Fish and Wildlife Board re: Retrieval and Utilization Rule

Written testimony of Eric Nuse, representing myself and as president of Orion, The Hunter’s Institute.
Members of the Fish and Wildlife Board:

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to comment in writing on this important rule concerning retrieval and utilization of wildlife. I stand in favor of the intent of the draft rule and specifically in favor of the modified language attached to the end of this testimony.

My organization, Orion-the Hunter’s Institute was formed to raise the bar of hunter behavior, promote fair chase and democratic hunting in North America. Our definition of an ethical hunter is: “A person who knows and respects the animals hunted, follows the law, and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of them as a hunter.”
I’d like to look at this definition as it relates to the proposed rule. A major way hunters show respect for “the animals hunted” is what they do with it after the kill. For the majority of hunters this means field dressing the animal, cooling the carcass, using as much as possible of the meat, hide, and feathers. Preserving the meat, sharing the harvest and preparation of the meat in special ways and serving it on special occasions is also part of the honoring of the animal. Compare this with behaviors that the rule seeks to make illegal: attempting to take game and then failing to make a reasonable attempt to retrieve them; if retrieved, dumping unwanted or mishandled carcasses on the ice, on public lands or private lands without permission. Clearly these are egregious behaviors that no hunter would ever publicly endorse or openly admit to doing. Failure to officially sanction such actions could easily be interpreted as condoning this behavior.

The definition goes on to state “…and behaves in a way that will satisfy what society expects of them as a hunter.” A 2007 national survey of Americans done by Responsive Management, shows that 80% support hunting if done with the intent of eating the meat. This support drops to only 20% if the purpose is for trophy. I can only imagine what the percent would be for killing commonly eaten game animals and birds or furbearing animals and then dumping the carcasses in public view without utilizing the meat or hide. I remember learning in the police academy that a good way to test if something was right or wrong is to imagine seeing yourself on the evening news doing what you are about to do. If you are willing to let the film roll it is probably OK, if not don’t do it!

Clearly the proposed rule is in alignment with the definition of an ethical hunter. The question now is should it be illegal allowing for state sanctions and enforcement or should the actions described remain unenforceable and legal? A useful way to analyze this is to determine whether harm is being done by the behavior or if the behavior is simply offensive. If this wasteful behavior is only offensive it is my position that peer pressure, group hunting codes and education are the proper ways to improve it. However, it is my strong belief that this behavior is doing real harm directly to hunters and indirectly by eroding support for hunting.

Access to private land is critical to the future of hunting in Vermont. Surveys of landowners who post their land point to poor hunter behavior as the prime reason for posting. Yet we know that it is only a small fraction of hunters who behave illegally and unethically. The reality is it only takes a few to spoil it for the many. This problem is bad enough where the few are violating enforceable laws, but when their behavior is not illegal and the landowner cannot get any help from the wardens to curtail it, it starts to look like the hunting community doesn’t care. This is especially problematic with the wanton waste issue. Why have hunters and the Board failed to act? Everyone at the hearing I attended professed to never violating the intent of the rule. Why are we protecting those who do violate this ethic?

I think a strong argument could be made that this rule does not go far enough. However, to do so could start to encroach on privacy rights, landowner rights and hunters’ use of common sense in the field. The cure could be worse than the problem. I feel the intent of the rule that came from the committee addresses the core issue, puts teeth into an ethic that most hunters follow and will minimize the harm done by those who don’t voluntarily follow the code.

Some hunters at the hearings raised the concern that the number of violations of this code is so low that we don’t need the rule. I think that is a good thing. I am proud that the majority of hunters use what they kill and trappers skin their take and anglers eat their catch or return the fish to the water. But that still does not make it OK for the few who do violate the code. I know from my years as a field warden that there are hunters who only understand the force of the law. They only did what the law required and even then only when they thought the warden was watching. They didn’t care about other hunters, the game or the future of our sport. These people need a bottom line of acceptable behavior and it is the job of responsible hunters to define that line for them. The way to do that is in the form of a regulation that is crafted by sportsmen.

Several years ago a group of dedicated hunters and professional wildlife managers looked at the success of wildlife conservation and hunting in the US over the last 100 years. They identified seven principles that took our wildlife from scarcity to abundance. Principle number 4 is “Wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purpose.”
I urge the Board to codify this principle and pass this regulation.
Thanks for your attention and your service to the wildlife and sportsmen and women of Vermont.


  1. James Elhers emailed the following:
    It is really a shame, in my opinion, that some hunters, such as Mr. Nuse and the Orion Institute, would resort to painting fellow hunters with whom they disagree as unethical to advance a position that even the professional scientists acknowledge is biologically unnecessary and backed by animal rights activists. Those are facts. All the rest is a matter of personal opinion.

    It certainly seems ironic to engage in the unethical behavior of name-calling supposedly in the name of ethics. Not sure why Mr. Nuse and his organization are so invested as to publicly demonize and divide the very people they claim to represent. Surely ethical hunters can disagree on whether more regulation of their already intensely regulated constitutional right is necessary.
    James Ehlers

  2. Jim,
    I can empathize with the idea of "educate don't legislate" view. However, in this case and at the level proposed that mind set does not hold up.
    I suspect it would not be ok with you if some fisherman decided to dump their small perch in the access areas during the LCI while spectators and the press looked on. Currently it is not a violation, under the draft rule it would be.
    Is this OK with you?

  3. Mr. Nuse,

    Although I applaud your work on ethical hunting, but I have to disagree with support of the Retrieval and Utilization Rule. I think your years as a Field Warden my have tainted your view since you did have to deal with the 1% that didn't care about rules or the fish and game they pursued. I consider myself a very ethical hunter and fisherman and would like to believe I set an example for others. I have been hunting since I was 12 years old and fishing since I was 8. My dad was my mentor and the golden rule was you eat what was shot or don't take the shot, if you don't put it back in the brook or the lake you take it home to eat. Easy rules to follow. These are same rules I taught my sons. Hunting and fishing is our heritage and still today takes up a lot of my free time.
    I am currently the Vice President of the Rutland County Bassmasters, a bass fishing club affiliated with the national organization FLW Outdoors. Our clubs practice only catch and release fishing. A member in a contest is penalized for not keeping their fish alive so that it/they can be released after weighing in the catch. It is a great sport and one that has a practice that should be leveraged to all types of fishing release the fish if you do not plan on eating it. There is nothing wrong with taking home a fish to eat if it is a legal caught.
    As a hunter, we all have an obligation once the shot is made. That obligation is to make all reasonable attempts to recover that game. A wounded animal must be tracked or trailed and quick follow up kill shot made. It is this obligation that must be taught and can not be "enforced" by a law. And this is my point. The comparison I will make is the litter we see along our roads. There is a $500 fine for littering on our highways, yet it happens every day. In the spring you can see it very clearly. Does having this fine on the books prevent littering by those that are ignorant or don't care? No, it don't.
    Another point I would like to make regarding eating of fish and game. The State prints recommendations about eating fish in their publications. They tell the public not to eat some fish because of high mercury levels that some now believe have been there for eons. A fisherman brings a fish home and the wife says I am not eating that, it has mercury in it. So the fish gets thrown out. Further, in the Dakota's a doctor decided to check for lead levels in donated venison at a food shelf. He found trace elements and the food shelf threw out the meat. What a waste. The media jumped all over it. I say this is the wrong message, and is only promoted by the anti's that don't like fishing or hunting.
    Further, we as Sportsman, whether newbies, wantabies or old timers need to make sure the State provides the proper training during Hunter Safety training, print it the rules book, print on the licenses and get it in the media. We need to be policing ourselves. We should be promoting what 99% of all fisherman and hunters practice and not give the anti's ammunition the first time a violation of the Retrieval and Utilization is brought before a Judge. I can see the headlines now. "Hunter is fined for wounding a deer". This is not what we need and therefore I can't support it.

    Tight lines,

    Jim Lynch
    Bomoseen, VT

  4. Jim L,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I couldn't agree more on most of your points. Where we disagree is over drawing a line and making the worst behavior illegal, calling the next notch up unethical and proclaiming the rest OK to exemplary. In this case I think sportsmen should set the line for two reasons. 1st if we don't society will. Commissioner LaRoache told the committee and the FW Board that if the Board does not act several legislators told him they will take the issue up. I'd much rather be discussing this with you than a bunch of folks that have never killed anything. 2nd reason is we should be willing to tell our less ethically disciplined sportsmen that we will not tolerate such poor behavior. You are probably right about my experience as a warden. And you have a point that many violations go undetected and no arrests are made. But, a fair number are apprehended and when you combine a fair enforceable law, with strong public support the combination helps raise the level of compliance to a level that society can accept. In this case the non-hunting/fishing/trapping majority will hopefully say - the sportsmen and the wardens are doing the best they can to police their own ranks, even though I don't hunt it is fine with me that they do because they are trying to do it right.
    Perhaps the divide between those of us who favor a regulation and those that don't is we find this behavior intolerable and the others find it tolerable and are willing to accept the status quo. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.
    The alternative I'm afraid is the view that we just talk the talk and don't walk the walk. And even if we do we don't have the fortitude to impose even a low level of restraint on those that don't care.
    The worry that a hunter is going to be arrested for wounding a deer is not grounded in fact. For over 40 years we have had the regulation in the waterfowl laws that hunters must make a reasonable effort to retrieve and make the animals part of their bag and bring them out of the field. As far as I know their have been very few if any complaints on how that is enforced by the wardens. I don't see why that would be any different for land animals where it is even easier for a person to check for blood sign, etc.
    As far as hunter education training - I think we are doing a good job teaching about the ethics of retrieval and usage. I've been an instructor for over 30 years and teach nationally on effective ways to teach hunter ethics. I wish we could get the job done thru education and peer pressure, but I'm afraid we are always going to have that percent who believe if it isn't illegal it must be alright.
    With regards,

  5. Should every decision be based on biological necessity? Hunting and fishing isn't a biological necessity. Certainly, it has a useful place but the world would not end without it.

    People need to rise about what the lowest common denominator is if they want the respect they think they deserve.

    I think Eric has called a spade a spade in a very non-divisive way.

    Naming anyone "divisive" that doesn't agree with some sportsman's "hands off us, we're all wonderful saviors of wildlife" point of view is more divisive IMO.

    Many "sportsman" aren't and giving them the excuse that properly addressing their dead quarry is "biologically unnecessary" will just give the "kill for fun/animals are little more the live target practice" yahoos another excuse to continue [if not increase] abominable behavior.

    Native Vermont hunter.

  6. Anon,
    I agree, the head in the sand - let's not talk about it because it will give the antis ammo, is a counter productive way to go. sportsmen see more and hear more about hunter behavior than non-hunters. Surveys also reveal that hunters hold a lower opinion of other hunter's behavior than non-hunters. When I was a field warden I would shake my head at what I would see supposed good hunters actions. Admittedly I was exposed to a lot more of the underside than most, but it made you wonder at working for these people.
    One thing I have learned is the way to build credibility is to be the best source of bad news. And then take action to do something about it. If the organized sportsmen don't think we need a regulation on wanton waste - then they need to take action in other ways. Doing nothing doesn't make it!

  7. Killing wastefully is a genetic based and environmentally nurtured activity. Clearly, many people choose to make poor decisions. I think they should be held responsible.

    Worrying that someone is going to get cited for a minor violation [in light of the gross violations that now abound] is like worrying about getting a ticket for going 2mph over the posted limit between Burlington and Montpelier.......it ain't going to happen.

    Native VT hunter

    It's 80%, 20% of the time, not 10%, 100% of the time IMO.

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