Is This Fair Chase?

In 1887, a then-future president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, with the support of conservationists, such as George Bird Grinnell and Gifford Pinchot, founded the Boone and Crockett Club.  One of the founding principles was to advocate for common-sense, science-based natural resource management. 

Photo credit: Thomas Lipke

“It is the mission of the Boone and Crockett Club to promote the conservation and management of wildlife, especially big game, and its habitat, to preserve and encourage hunting and to maintain the highest ethical standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in North America.” This statement is adapted from the incorporation of the Boone and Crockett club as presented by Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Sheldon, Kermit Roosevelt, George Bird Grinell, et al.

Note the words, “fair chase,” in that statement. The modern day Boone and Crockett Club, now based in Missoula, Montana, defines fair chase as a hierarchy of ethics related to hunting. These include:

1.     Obey all applicable laws and regulations.

2.     Respect the customs of the locale where the hunting occurs.

3.     Exercise a personal code of behavior that reflects favorably on your abilities and sensibilities as a hunter.

4.     Attain and maintain the skills necessary to make the kill as certain and quick as possible.

5.     Behave in a way that will bring no dishonor to either the hunter, the hunted, or the environment. (emphasis added)

6.     Recognize that these tenets are intended to enhance the hunter’s experience of the relationship between hunter and prey, which is one of the most fundamental relationships of humans and their environment.

While many of us associate the Boone and Crockett Club with their records of big game trophies, we need to remember why the organization came into being and their long-standing advocacy of fair chase hunting.

Another Montana-based organization that advocates for ethical hunting is Orion – the Hunter’s Institute, founded by Jim Posewitz, who literally wrote the book on ethical hunting, “Beyond Fair Chase.”

This, I confess, is a long introduction to my thoughts on a recent Trump Administration action, through a National Park Service policy statement that reverses previous Obama Administration rules on hunting on federal preserves in Alaska. 

Effective July 9, the new rules provide that hunting on National Reserves in Alaska will be controlled by the state, which allows baiting of brown and black bears, hunting of denning black bears with artificial light, killing of denning wolves and coyotes, hunting of swimming caribou and hunting of caribou from motorboats.

Those National Reserves in Alaska include places such as Denali National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay Park & Preserve, and Katmai National Park & Preserve, some ten preserves in all.

These changes have been in the works for some time, going back to 2017, when then-Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke issued orders to start drafting the policy reversal to make federal policy the same as state policy.

State policy means that it’s perfectly legal to bait bears with things such as bacon-flavored doughnuts, and to shoot bears in their dens, and while you’re at it, club their cubs to death. It’s perfectly legal to find wolf and coyote dens and shoot female wolves and coyotes and their pups. 

Many Alaska politicians praise the policy change, though that’s not a universal view. Bill Sherwonit, an Anchorage nature writer, wrote an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News in 2018, opposing the proposals, saying, “I would argue that the hunting practices in question should be prohibited everywhere in Alaska, because they violate any reasonable notion of ‘fair chase’ practices.”

Eddie Grasser, a director of wildlife conservation for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told the New York Times that the tactics would be used mainly by subsistence hunters. The new rules do not, however, restrict those tactics to Native Americans, nor would they prohibit guided trophy hunters from using these tactics.

I’ve been a hunter most of my life and I subscribe to principles of fair chase, such as those espoused by Theodore Roosevelt and Jim Posewitz. These tactics dishonor the hunter and the hunted and all fair chase principles.

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