By Kim Thorburn
A well-funded coalition of radical animal rights groups succeeds in taking control of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Their latest move was October 19-20, with a Washington Fish and Wildlife Cull Convention, free to invite-only attendees at Vashon Island’s Camp Sealth, including vegan meals. The website containing the conference program mysteriously disappeared on October 18, but not soon enough to lose the list of steering committee members who represent the pantheon of state and national animal rights organizations and who frequently provide quotes. media and opinion editorials attacking the WDFW. Speakers were also familiar faces of state animal rights covering the usual topics of hunting bans, halting hatchery production, denying hunter and angler contributions to conservation, and the opposition to lethal harvesting as a sometimes necessary tool to protect endangered species or mitigate human conflict.
The stated purpose of the convention has not attempted to mask animal rights rhetoric: transforming the WDFW “into an agency that prioritizes conservation over consumption, emphasizes intrinsic value individual animals and healthy ecosystems, and represents the values of all the peoples of the State.” Grandiloquence aside, let’s be clear. Animal rights ideology is not conservation.
The WDFW is a conservation organization and even in the case of game species, conservation must take priority over hunting or fishing opportunities. Seasons are often limited or closed for conservation reasons. It is only in the minds of extreme animal rights supporters that wildlife consumption practices, i.e. the hunting, fishing and killing of wildlife for management purposes , are contrary to conservation.
To deny the historic and ongoing contributions to wildlife conservation by hunters and anglers is revisionism. Along with the on-the-ground conservation work of hunter and angler conservation organizations, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited, a long-established federal funding model for game conservation continues to be the main source of revenue for many national fish and wildlife agencies. These government organizations are responsible for the conservation of all wildlife, but struggle with resources to fulfill their non-game species responsibilities. For several years, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies led a broad coalition to advocate for stable federal funding for nongame species conservation in a bill called the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. The WDFW also requests a large general fund appropriation for non-game species conservation work.
Wildlife conservation and management emphasizes wildlife populations and communities in their ecosystems. Outside of animal rights rhetoric, the meaning of “intrinsic value of individual animals” is unclear. My dog’s intrinsic value is probably more important to me than to you. It is also unclear which species have intrinsic value. I once heard in a heated discussion on the subject that lions are more valuable than butterflies.
The WDFW has limited authority in ecosystem conservation. The agency owns nearly one million acres of land in Washington and manages it for healthy wildlife habitats. It is strengthening its partnerships with other public land agencies to be a voice for wildlife conservation. The animal rights uproar is frankly straining the agency’s work with private landowners and some conservation districts due to constraints in meeting landowner needs.
Finally, to claim that the purpose of this convention was to represent the values of all the people of the state is a complete lie. Animal rights is a quasi-religion driven to prohibit other cultural perspectives on wildlife that include consumption practices. These include people who hunt and fish, Indigenous peoples who interact with the land, people whose livelihoods are impacted by wildlife, and people who manage and recover species at risk who have no of “intrinsic value”. Banning cultural practices for ideological reasons is akin to actions such as banning the wearing of the hijab, i.e. bigotry.
It will be a sad day for cultural diversity and wildlife conservation if these well-heeled and misinformed animal rights organizations achieve their goal of transforming the WDFW.
Kim Thorburn is Fish and Wildlife Commissioner of Washington. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the commission.