Friday, June 18, 2010

Hunters, you've been played

When I got a press release yesterday from the California Department of Fish and Game urging people to "leave young wildlife alone," I groaned.

The campaign itself is excellent: It's a message urging well-meaning people not to "rescue" baby wild animals they think have been abandoned, because usually they haven't been abandoned, and the "rescue" can be very harmful to them.

But when the HSUS announced last month that it was partnering with the Wisconsin DNR to produce and air a couple 30-second radio spots on this topic, a battle ensued, and I can say unequivocally that the result was HSUS 2, Hunters 0 - something I don't want to see repeated here. Read more...
Before I explain that score, I need to state very clearly that I couldn't care less if HSUS wants to take some of the money it usually uses to fight legitimate, lawful and ethical hunting and give it instead to a cause hunters can support. Seriously, go ahead!

What hunters need to understand, though, is that there are calculated benefits that HSUS can expect to receive in return for its money, which totaled $6,000 for the Wisconsin radio spots.

The first benefit is that HSUS looks good for participating in the program. That one's a no-brainer. We all look good when we donate money to worthwhile causes and get our names associated with those causes. I think it's safe to say that's a huge motivation for a substantial chunk of the philanthropy that takes place in the United States. Any of you who have raised money for a non-profit will agree with me on this one, right?

It's the second benefit that kills me, though, because it's insidious, and hunters played right into it.

You can predict what happened when the Wisconsin partnership was announced, right? Hunters were pissed, and they slammed Wisconsin DNR for taking money from, and partnering with, an organization that's anti-hunting.

Believe me, I understand the resentment. When the agencies we fund take money from organizations that would like to end what we do, it's insulting.

But here's the problem: The non-hunting public doesn't understand our reaction. Members of the non-hunting public, most of whom mistakenly believe that HSUS is an umbrella organization for local animal shelters, look at what the HSUS did, and how hunters reacted to it, and think, "Well, why would a cash-strapped state agency turn down free money for a good cause?"

The folks at HSUS must have been jumping for joy, because here comes Benefit No. 2: In response to the hunter outcry, the HSUS placed a bunch of op-eds and letters to the editor in Wisconsin newspapers sweetly bemoaning hunters' shortsightedness. Check out an excerpt from this letter placed in the Lakeland Times:

It's a shame that some are so ideologically rigid that they believe two groups cannot work together unless their positions on every issue are perfectly congruent.

We at The HSUS see things differently. This project is only one piece of our national efforts on behalf of wildlife. Many of our campaigns are supported by thoughtful hunters. Some are not.

Benefit No. 2 is a two-fer: HSUS gets additional publicity for itself by placing these commentaries in newspapers, and it makes hunters look bad. And make no mistake, every time hunters look bad publicly, it is a nail in our coffin because it costs us public support. HSUS loves that. And all too often, we hand it to them.

Ever watch a manipulative child pull a sibling's hair until the sibling lashes back, and then the sibling is the one who gets in trouble? Sound familiar?

Wisconsin isn't the only place this has happened - hunters in California have also reacted angrily when our DFG has taken contributions from HSUS for its poaching hotline, with similar outcome.

So what do hunters need to do to avoid getting played like this? I have a few ideas to start with:

1. So what if HSUS wants to give money to our wildlife agencies! Instead of complaining, why not take advantage of the opportunity to point out that hunters and anglers provide the vast majority of funding for wildlife habitat, management and enforcement, and to say that we welcome the little bitty contributions that HSUS wants to add to that vast ocean of money?

2. If we don't like being "shown up" by the HSUS, we could ask some of the many organizations that represent us to donate to similar causes, whether it's baby wildlife protection or poaching enforcement. Or ...

3. We could point out that we already provide the majority of funding for these agencies, and rather than make additional contributions, we choose to channel the money we give to non-profit organizations into the most pressing concern there is for wildlife: habitat. Personally, I'm happy that the organization that gets most of my contributions - California Waterfowl - is using that money to give ducks more and better places to live. Without habitat, the rest of this stuff is moot.

4. If we don't want to do any of those things, let's at least remember this: Folks at HSUS love getting the opportunity to make hunters look like we don't care about baby wildlife, or poaching enforcement, or whatever message the HSUS is on at the moment. But they can only do that if we help them, so let's not, OK?

By the way, when I clicked on that California press release about baby wildlife yesterday, I saw no mention of HSUS, so for now we won't have a repeat of the Wisconsin situation. But I guarantee you it won't be long before HSUS donates some cash or sets up some sort of partnership with our DFG. I can only hope we give it some careful thought before we react.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Bpaul said...

Very insightful.

You rock.


Tovar said...

Excellent post, Holly. You're so right that non-hunters do not understand the intense reaction from hunters when HSUS gets involved in this kind of thing.

A friend sent me a link to that Wisconsin story a few weeks ago. In related online discussions, I was struck by how easy it was for hunters to come off sounding like they opposed a good, common-sense campaign. As you point out, that's quite dangerous.

Eric C. Nuse said...

Excellent reasoning and right on! When I was with the International Hunter Education Assn we partnered with some ethical hunting ads paid for by the Sierra Club in our instructor journal. I caught all kinds of grief from some of the "ideologues" for some of the same reasons you articulate. Interestingly the guy I worked with from Sierra caught it even worse - including a death threat. We stuck with it and the tempest died down, but it sure had me shaking my head. I wonder if any HSUS members are raising hell for consorting with the enemy?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Bpaul: Thanks!

Tovar: I jumped in and defended hunters' position on a bunch of those threads before I got worn out by the sheer volume of the op-eds/letters in the paper.

Eric: At least Sierra Club is not ostensibly against hunting (though in California, its leadership is as vegan/anti-hunting as HSUS). I do know that the virulent anti-hunters hate HSUS because it accepts compromise too much. Stupid on their part, because it's the most effective organization anti-hunting has ever had. That's the problem with ideologues.

Josh said...

Excellent ideas, espectially the 'let 'em spend their money on ideas we like'!

I suggest COHA, CWA, SCI, etc., offer matching donations to HSUS donations to the state's anti-poaching efforts. Offer it to HSUS publicly, with as much media as possible, and if/when they turn it down, make it very public that we will do it, anyway, without their agreement (it's a donation to the government, after all). As an addendum, mention how much hunters have already spent on donation efforts, inferring that HSUS should really match those funds, too.

As for Sierra Club California, I didn't know that Bill was a vegan.

Bpaul said...

Great Suggestion Josh!

We should all go back and read the Art of War and The Prince, just to stay sharp in these things.


SimplyOutdoors said...

I think the hunters' negative reaction to the HSUS helping to fund a particularly good cause does make them look pretty bad.
But, and I'm no ideologue, I can understand their frustration because of the misleading umbrella that the HSUS hides under.

And I realize that the majority of the general public doesn't understand their true intentions, but as a hunter, and because I know the truth, it just makes me want to shout out to the rafters what they're really about.

I suppose, though, that doing so under these circumstances isn't probably the place to do so.

But....I understand.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Exactly how I feel, Simply. I understand, and I will always defend hunters' reaction, even though I think it was tactically unwise.

David J Blackburn said...

Why not keep partnering with HSUS on youth hunting and fishing programs!

The best offense is to have an offense.

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, that would be hilarious - HSUS would lose supporters in droves.

Believe me, I'm not for actively seeking partnerships with this group. I just don't think it's reasonable to expect public agencies to turn down free money.

oldfatslow said...

As a boy, I once tried
to help a very small
skunk across the road
after his mom and the
rest of the litter
had made it safely.

It's amazing how quickly
skunks develop their musk
glands. My mom was not
amused when I came home
a little ripe later in the

I don't need the HSUS to
tell me to stay away.


NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL - if only the rest of the animals had such an effective "stay away" warning!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, now THIS is what I'm talking about: HSUS offers a reward in a deer poaching case in Oregon and notes in its press release that it augments an existing reward offer from the Oregon Hunter's Association. HSUS's reward is five times the size of OHA's award, but I'm pretty sure HSUS is, oh, minimum 100 times the size of OHA, so who cares.

Rock on, Oregon hunters!