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Lessons Learned - Where To Now?

by Pittman-Robinson Working Group


          Unite States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Region 3 says it's currently studying the legal and policy implications of granting an Illinois DNR request to reestablish very limited field trialing and put & take pheasant hunting for fall 2000 at Green River. The proposed requirements, outlined for very limited reinstated activities there, are extremely onerous. At the same time the Service has effectively acknowledged its Michigan field trial use audits have failed to discover the basis for its Spring 2000 shutdown of four state wildlife areas. Nevertheless, sportsmen stake holders haven't been permitted to review the little documentation available to the state.

          An USFWS Mid-west region-wide eight state, one size fits all, dog sports permitting regulation is under development at federal insistence and is expected around yearend.

          Has USFWS surrendered on the issue of banning field trials from Pittman-Robertson supported areas? Will CARA, HR3671 or next week's elections change anything permanently? Hardly; the group of anti-hunters and environmental zealots which has taken over Region 3's federal aid program may be chastened, but they're far from defeated. Career bureaucrats routinely lie dormant, while the political winds sweep over them, only to arise stronger than ever when the storm passes. Ongoing use audits in Indiana, Ohio and Missouri or some unforeseen incident may give these people the ammunition they need to go on the offensive again.

What can sportsmen do?

          Several lessons are clear from the Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan v. USFWS experiences:

          1) Hunters and hunting dog owners need to improve their relationships with their state game professionals, commissioners and elected politicians. Regardless of the argument's merits, no state wildlife biologist or game manager will willingly battle the federal government on a narrow hunter/trialer issue without political support. These men, state and federal alike, have gone to the same schools, go to the same conventions and read the same journals. They tend to think alike and few state employees ever got promoted by fighting the feds. It's too easy to go long with USFWS federal aid's demands; they control $ millions of a state's budget. Invite these men to trials and tests, take them hunting and fishing. When the good ones run for election, work for them and support them financially. A dog sports apathetic or antagonistic game department is the kiss of death as Green River, Illinois proved.

          2) Horseback trialers especially, take particular pains to be considerate of other users. Non-riders can easily and inadvertently be intimidated; cowboy antics belong in a rodeo. Make an effort to invite questions from other users and welcome them, when practical. No one's asking for you to give up your date, but a little courtesy could pay big dividends. Another positive action is to invite a local reporter to your events when you have a newsworthy story. Give the man or woman a gaited horse or soft chair and let him enjoy himself. Our sport is likely to get good press you couldn't afford to buy.

          3) Get organized. One person or one club is largely ineffectual in combating politically correct anti-dog actions at the local or federal level. Every hunting dog owner should belong to a state-wide organization dedicated to protecting his sport as a priority. Pointing dog owners, walkers and riders, retriever owners, beaglers and hound owners need to join together.

          If nothing else the USFWS attacks in the Mid-west should demonstrated that we are all vulnerable. Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Izaak Walton League are all worthy, well organized and dedicated groups, but their primary objective is habitat improvement, not defending your right to hunt, train and compete with a dog.

          Broad coalitions with multiple goals can get too big and cumbersome to properly react to serious threats; unfortunately this was the case in Michigan. No hunting dog owner should expect that a bureaucracy the size of a small telephone company with 120,000+ members and 500 clubs will be responsive or responsible enough to protect his interests from dedicated anti-hunters' attacks. Rule of thumb: If you belong to an organization where you don't know the top man's home and work phone #'s, can't call him by his first name and he doesn't return your calls within a reasonable time, consider alternatives.

          Once your state hunting dog group is established, institute a premium entry fee surcharge to fund a war chest. Many dog trials and tests collect a nominal surcharge for grounds development; contributing an equal amount to insure that your sport can withstand attacks from anti-hunters is an excellent investment.

          Be Proactive!! Develop communication trees and resource lists. When these anti-hunting forces surface, devise a plan and hit back!

          4) Use the Internet. This is an incredibly powerful media. While we received largely positive coverage from the sporting dog press, much of what was written was dated and overtaken by events, as circumstances and positions changed.

          Virtually all of U.S. Dog Owners v. USFWS group's success was the result of the internet and email. We were able to recruit committed and talented dog owners from across the country, use a website to alert others to send the necessary communications to disrupt a premature Michigan state-federal land swap compromise and to call for Congressional action, all on the net. This was done quickly, effectively and cheaply.

          Professional lobbying organizations have developed the cyber email political "contact button" technique to a fine art. Every state group of hunting dog owners should have its own webmaster and communications site. Our experience is that many hunters possess the necessary talents and enthusiasm for such efforts.

Conclusion:

          The volunteer dog owner group that joined together to counter the December 1999 USFWS threat in Michigan successfully diverted that anti-dog sports attack through effective cooperation and internet use. That same group, months later, changed key federal wildlife legislation, against all odds. We can protect our sport. Get involved. Help establish a proactive hunting dog association in your state. Learn your legislators' phone numbers and check their voting records. Be vocal, organized and dedicated. Your children and grandchildren's outdoor futures depend on you.

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