Who owns the wildlife in this country? In many European countries, the owner of the land owns the animals living on the land. That’s one of the reasons hunting is not as popular a pastime abroad as it is in the USA. If you own land, if you have a friend who owns land with game animals on it, you can hunt. There are few laws affecting when or how, either. A pheasant is little more than a free-range chicken. A deer is akin to a pastured goat or calf.
One of the first breaks with European laws when settlers showed up in America was to change that concept. Ownership of wildlife in general and wild game in particular was deeded to the people, not to the landowners.
When the Constitution was written, ownership of game and other wildlife was addressed in two different ways. The constitution lists “enumerated powers” or things the federal government can do such as coin money, raise an Army and others. There was no enumeration about regulating or owning wildlife. In the 10th Amendment, wild animals were not specifically addressed, but the 10th states anything not mentioned in the body of the constitution is reserved for state governments. Wildlife isn’t mentioned, so wildlife regulations are the purview of individual states.
Since America’s founding, much of the politics has been an argument between those believing in the right of States to regulate and the right of the federal government to regulate. For the most part, strict constructionists have ruled the day when it comes to wildlife laws and issues. Wildlife, game laws and other issues have remained mostly the responsibility of individual states. That’s why deer season dates are different in Illinois than in Indiana. That’s why we buy hunting and fishing licenses from the state, not the federal government.
The only exceptions are the responsibilities for migratory birds, which long ago the Federal government claimed because the birds freely cross state and national borders and for endangered species. In 1973 the Endangered Species Act gave “ownership” of listed wildlife, migratory or non-migratory, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Hunting, trapping and fishing are used as management tools on many lands and waters owned by the federal government, such as National Wildlife Refuges, military installations, National Forests and of course the vast amount of land owned out west and in Alaska remaining in federal ownership simply because no one ever wanted it. However, since most of the wildlife and wild game on these federally owned acres are non-migratory and not endangered species, state regulations are in effect, just as they are on private or state-owned lands.
That’s why sportsmen and state game agencies are so upset by a recent move by the FWS and its Obama-appointed director. With no fanfare, input by the state wildlife agency or public input, the FWS issued regulations closing 77 million acres of land (an area larger than 45 of the country’s 50 states) in Alaska to state wildlife management, including predator control and other established means and methods of hunting.
The animal rights radicals at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have long pushed for these anti-hunting, anti-management rules and were the first to congratulate the administration and USFWS for this illegal action. The blatant preemption of the State of Alaska’s rights to manage wildlife and set hunting rules on these millions of acres disregards more than 200 years of settled law, as well as recent Congressional enactments in 1980 and 1997.
The Sportsmen’s Alliance and well as many other conservation groups strongly oppose these rules and are working closely with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), Alaska hunters and hunting guides and the Alaska Congressional Delegation to block the Obama Administration from enforcing these new “HSUS rules.” If President Obama and his HSUS pals get away with preempting Alaska’s wildlife authority and imposing anti-hunting/anti-wildlife management rules, you can bet other states – and federal lands – will be next.