Building Some Bridges

Feb 20, 2019

A 2017 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that wildlife-watching is really increasing, and the number of fishermen nation-wide is finally stable after declining. However, in some states the number of fishermen is definitely declining.  California is the worst. In 1982 the number of fishing licenses sold in California peaked at 2,541,627. In 2018 1,777,008 Californians bought fishing licenses. 

Nation-wide, participation in hunting has dropped from 14.1 million hunters to a total of 11.5 million. Today, only about 5% of Americans, 16 years old and older, actually hunt. That's half of what the percentage was 50 years ago. Total annual expenditures by hunters have also declined 29% from 2011 to 2016, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion. That cuts into the Pitman-Robertson funds from taxing sales of hunting gear, which means less money for state fish and wildlife agencies.

California again has the biggest drop in hunting license sales of any state. In 1982, 763,671 hunting licenses were sold in the Golden State.  In 2018 254,833 Californians bought hunting licenses. 

In response to the declines, there is a national movement underway called  The Three R’s to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters and fishermen, .  3 R’s programs are targeting state agencies, encouraging them to create special programs to recruit, reactivate and restore, hunters and fishermen. Strategies include reducing license fees in some places, increasing access, offering many programs to teach skills and finding ways to get more people out in the field and on the water.  It’s hard to argue against the 3 r’s, but is that all that’s needed?

The 3 R’s are heroic, but it’s also important to recognize the reasons for the decline in hunting and fishing from state to state. In some cases there’s loss of easy access to places to hunt and fish.  In other cases some species are declining, such as salmon along the West Coast and diseases like CWD are increasing. A survey by Responsive Management finds that lack of free time, family and work obligations, and lack of access are the most common reasons why people give up hunting.  

However, this is the Information Age when mass media has a very strong influence on people. Many people spend seven hours a day watching electronic screens. This definitely cuts into time spent outdoors and is related to increased anxiety, hypertension, obesity and drug addiction.  Add to that, mainstream TV shows and newspapers giving out weekly information about where to hunt and fish is rapidly fading. Yes, there are several TV channels offering shows about hunting and fishing, but aside from Duck Dynasty, how many of these shows reach large mainstream audiences?

When mass media do focus on hunting and fishing, all too often they focus on poachers, scandals and conflicts about trophy hunting, as well as tales of woe about wildlife crises and endangered species.  In many cases, the real endangered species are hunters and fishermen being seen as targets of hatred, rather than heroes. According to a Gallup poll, nearly a third of Americans believe that “animals deserve the same rights as people.” One result is that, according to Penn State sociologist Simon Bronner, 56% of hunters say that they have been confronted by anti-hunters. 

Are you one of those folks who has been targeted because you hunt or fish? If you have been a target, you are not alone.

In times like this, outdoor sportsmen need allies, for as Benjamin  Franklin said just before signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 -- "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Franklin’s advice is wise, but who are some potential allies of hunters, fishermen and trappers, beyond the businesses who sell them goods?  What about others who may not hunt, but do not oppose hunting and fishing and seek humane ways to interact with animals?  In other words, what about the folks who support “animal welfare?”  

A few years ago, when my book, In Defense of Hunting, came out, I was contacted by Patti Strand, founder of the National Animal Interest Alliance,   and a breeder of Dalmatians in Portland, Oregon, since 1969. 

I’d heard about Patti. She’s  co-author of the powerful animal rights expose, The Hijacking of the Humane Movement: Animal Extremism.  Her articles and views on animal welfare, public policy and animal rights have appeared in a wide variety of publications; and she’s appeared  on dozens of radio talk shows and TV news shows, as well as being a featured speaker at many conferences for zoos, state and national veterinary groups, physician groups, lab animal scientists, kennel clubs and federations; and agricultural, hunting and humane associations.  In 2004, Patti was appointed by Ann Venneman, then Secretary of Agriculture, to the National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee.

Patti said she’d read In Defense of Hunting  and invited me to speak at one of the NAIA annual conventions. I asked who’d be there. She replied, people from zoos, circuses, medical researchers, ranchers, farmers, pet breeders, and animal wranglers from films and TV  -- all potential allies – and some hunters and trappers. So, I decided to give it a try. 

AT the NAI convention  I found that my research about the psychology of ethical hunting  was well-received.  Then I was invited to join a panel with lawyers and an FBI agent. Our focus was animal rights activists, law enforcement and the law. That led me to participating in another NAIA convention in Washington, DC, with politicians, attorneys, more law enforcement agents, and some people from Europe with similar problems, as well as all kinds of people who worked with animals. These folks all had stories to tell about encounters with animal rights people.

So, as the 3 R’s movement begins to gear up for work on restoring hunting, I felt it might be a good idea to check in with Patti and NAIA to see if they were sympathetic and what issues could they help with.  We spoke for over an hour and Patti related her own story, which goes like this: 


"Back in 1991, Oregon had long been a hotbed of animal rights extremism, but when the legislative session of that year began and anti-breeder legislation took aim at those of us who were dog breeders, most of us hadn’t paid much attention to news reports about the firebombing at Oregon State’s mink farm, the trashing of the University of Oregon’s research laboratory, or the countless media reports of vandalism and intimidation carried out by animal rights extremists. They were just so much background noise. 

"When we started the 1991 legislative session we were a group organized to fight over-reaching canine legislation, “Responsible Dog Breeders of Oregon.” But as we met representatives of many other animal-related groups, we realized that we needed to form a working coalition. So, we ended the year founding the National Animal Interest Alliance, as we  realized that a group of people from many different fields of animal welfare work would be more effective against the radical ends-justifies-the-means movement that had us in its crosshairs. 

"For example, we met biomedical research scientists who feared for the mice in their labs and for the patients who were depending on them for treatments and cures, as well as their safety. AIDS was a leading focus of animal research in the early 1990s and we were all praying for breakthroughs. We met patient advocates for research who were alive because of transplantation or other modern medical miracles that were developed using animals. We met farmers whose fences were routinely cut releasing their horses and other livestock; hunters who were prevented by law from harvesting predator species that were now killing livestock and pets in suburbia; and store owners who could no longer afford insurance because of the steady vandalism waged against their businesses, e.g., broken windows, glued locks, cut phone lines, etc.   Many of us, in fact, had been targets of vandalism and threats.

"Even the most compassionate among us understood at some level that the tactics being used against us were incompatible with a free society as well as harmful to the animals. This was an anarchist movement that disguised its fundamental goals by using the animals for cover and to raise money. 

"The lynchpin for me that launched NAIA, occurred in the aftermath of an article I wrote for Kennel Review. We’d won our legislative battle in Oregon and the article described some of the characteristics and tactics of the animal rights movement. Upon publication, our lives changed. Our large country mailbox became the repository for dead animals and unsolicited letters threatening me to stop writing, some giving vivid descriptions of our son, his new green jacket and the route he took to school. Our phone started ringing at 3 am.

"If there was any doubt about the malevolence and danger posed by this movement before – and the need to oppose it – these attempts at intimidation erased it for good. History teaches about such movements and calls us to take action against them. In its simplest terms, those of us who recognized the scope and danger posed by this gang of thugs felt a responsibility to organize against it, not only to preserve our animals, but to protect society from what was obviously a powerful and destructive movement. It was, after all, the only social movement in the US then with its own terrorist factions, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. (If you haven’t seen the documentary, “If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,”, please do.)

"We recognized that unifying the various animal-related groups was essential. None of us was capable of beating this behemoth alone. To this day, NAIA has a board made up of people from diverse animal-related backgrounds: circus owners,  veterinarians and animal scientists, equine experts and enthusiasts, livestock experts, zoo keepers,  rodeo producers and purebred dog enthusiasts, and hunters, fishermen and trappers.

"We learned quickly that much of what we knew about each other came from the stereotypes promoted by the activists. So, from the beginning we set out to educate each other about the realities of our groups and to provide the public with a balanced, fact-based approach to animal welfare issues. We wanted to help people better understand complicated animal welfare issues and counter the all-too-common misperceptions held by the public. Clearly every group has its bad actors, but the extremists’ art form is to paint entire groups using the black sheep in it that do not represent the majority.  And, we agreed that we’re in a public relations war even when we defeat bad legislation, the media campaigns that run concurrently are able to shift public perception in the direction of the activists’ claims. Media today is much more negative and sensational than ever, and that feeds the antis. 

"Specifically, we agreed that many of the groups opposing us are part of the conflict-fundraising industry. They understand as de Tocqueville stated a century and a half ago, that “it is easier for the public to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” These folks depend on crises and conflicts to raise money to keep them going.  When looking at the animal rights playbook, it’s easy to see that hardcore propaganda is its primary tool: distortions, disturbing imagery, half-truths, big lies, sensationalism, emotionally charged buzzwords, celebrity support, front groups, false premises, etc., etc., etc.

"The important thing for everyone to understand is this: Propaganda fosters the perceptions that lead to legislation; so by the time we’re battling legislation, we’ve already lost the public relations war! In other words, we need to focus on raising our image, fixing problems where they exist and changing the conversation. Kim Sturla, then the director of the Peninsula Humane Society who spearheaded the San Mateo spay or pay ordinance in the late 1980s expressed the extremists’ objective very clearly: "Our goal is to make the public think of breeding dogs and cats is like drunk driving and smoking." 

"So, NAIA focuses on raising the image of the hands-on animal experts who are engaged in husbandry, whether breeding, training or hunting with their dogs, raising livestock, caring for laboratory animals, running zoos, working with animals on-camera in the movies or just sitting by the fire with a favorite pet. We want to preserve our endangered domestic breeds, conserve wildlife and protect the human animal bond in all its many traditional forms for future generations. 

  "Our diverse and respected board of directors and officers, (  ) along with our grassroots base, enables us to work within and across industry, science, business and hobby communities; to bridge gaps between urban and rural, and to open communication between breeder and retail sectors of the pet industry. Further, this network enables us to be effective in multiple states and at the federal level where we’ve hired one of the most respected lobbying firms in Washington DC, the Russell Group. 

"One of the biggest issues we are currently working on deals with dogs. Some polls show that over 60% of the population thinks we have an overpopulation of dogs. Actually, in 35 states there is a shortage of dogs. And, many species of purebred dogs are in very short supply.  A related problem is illegal importation of dogs from Asia and the Middle East. These dogs may carry serious diseases harmful to animals and people. There’s also a problem with shelters for all kinds of breeds. In many cases they are unregulated. 

"NAIA’s success  comes from our subject matter expertise and the programs we’ve developed that provide reliable information on a host of animal-related topics. Our goal has always been to “take back the conversation” from the fund-raising groups that have dominated it for 30 years by declaring crises and targeting people who work with animals, so that our constituents can represent their own issues in a heartfelt but factual way. The media and lawmakers now call on us.  We welcome hunters, trappers and fishermen to participate with us in protecting all animal welfare.”

So, just because someone doesn’t hunt, doesn’t mean that they can’t support ethical hunting, fishing and trapping. Proper care of pets and treatment of wildlife is something for everyone to be concerned about. Hunting dogs are definitely of great value to hunters.

 Check out the NAIA Position Statement on hunting, fishing and trapping on their website:  and then check their Board of Directors.  These are all pros –lawyers, doctors, and professors as well as ranchers, breeders, zoologists, animal wranglers and farmers. They all know what it’s like to humanely work with animals, and to be targeted by animal rightists.

If you feel drawn to NAIA as a potential ally, there are a number of ways to connect with them, starting from joining for $35 a year.  Patti says that they are currently looking for some hunters, fishermen and trappers to serve on their Board. One of the Directors who was a hunter recently passed away. Another is in his 90’s.  

NAIA is based in Oregon, but their conventions are held across the US and their membership is international.  Remember what Ben Franklin said.

— James Swan, Ph.D.