Is the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Stepping Away from Science Based Wildlife Management?
Since Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) has existed, we have been proud to be supporters and advocates of the professional work of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW). Throughout the decades, GOAL has battled to keep politics out of wildlife management in Massachusetts. When we helped fight to protect the funding for the agency, we could always talk about our pride to back the agency’s pure science-based approach to management. Currently, the DFW is considering regulations regarding fur bearers that causes GOAL to wonder if the DFW is moving away from science-based management.
The problem began when a local sporting shop on the Cape ran a coyote hunting contest. These types of contests are quite common, especially at local fish and game clubs. Most of these clubs also run game dinners where the harvested animals are utilized. The rest were put in the freezer by the hunter who took them. Most often they are for the biggest buck, best antlers, turkey with the longest beard, etc. The Cape Cod coyote contest differs from traditional club contests in that it was conducted by a for profit organization and rewarded quantity over selectivity.
A small, but vocal group on the cape complained to their local politicians that these contests were unacceptable. The DFW reacted to the supposed controversy by conducting listening sessions in several locations across the Commonwealth. After conducting these sessions, the DFW staff proposed some new regulations to the DFW seven person board that has ultimate control of the agency. The bullet points of those changes are as follows:
- Prohibit hunting contests for predators and furbearers.
- Prohibit “wanton waste” of all wildlife taken during regulated hunting and trapping seasons.
- Change harvest reporting requirements for fox and coyote to be reported within 48 hours, consistent with current reporting requirements for deer, turkey, and bear.
At the July meeting, the seven person board voted 6 – 1 to bring the proposed regulations to a public hearing. Here is where GOAL’s concerns began to mount.
After the meeting we asked for a copy of the proposed regulations. At that time, we were told they did not exist. How could that be possible, the board just voted to send them to a public hearing? When queried, the DFW provided us with a summary, but restated the actual regulations had not been drafted.
Another question came on whether the DFW had the authority over contests that an entity might hold. This is not to say that GOAL is not very opposed to wanton waste that is just killing for killing sake. We always take the position that agencies have to stay within their legal restraints. When GOAL asked about the specific legal authority, we were told that the agency’s legal counsel assured them they had it. Our concern grew when they were not willing to share the legal opinion. This is also when we learned that DFW board member Bob Durand asked for the legal memo as well and was denied. A pattern of secrecy was emerging that GOAL had never witnessed with the DFW before.
Yet another great concern over the proposal appeared in the summary provided to GOAL. This entire process was supposedly intended to prevent so-called “wanton waste” of wildlife. This is perhaps an honorable pursuit depending on how the mysterious regulations are drafted. Except there is a tremendous exemption that appears on the summary, it is that the regulations will only affect animals taken during approved seasons. Why is that a problem one might ask? Because it specifically exempts poaching out of season and, more importantly, the killing for profit brought on by Question One of 1996.
After the passage of Question One, certain species began to be such a problem that a new industry emerged. The new laws actually created the worst example of wanton waste in modern wildlife history in our state. Many animals, including beaver a once valued resource, were now being killed for pure profit with the animal being tossed in the garbage. For sure, there were already businesses that would take care of a squirrel or skunk causing problems, but now we have furbearers killed and wasted for profit.
For decades now, DFW has complained that they have no knowledge of how many animals are being taken by this new industry. The main reason is that a great number of them are taken under permits issued by the health agencies. After being killed for profit, this wildlife is not checked in/tagged to gather any sort of data. There is also no knowledge or accountability as to the disposition of the animal. For many years, the agency has tried to find a way to change that and gather the data to add to its science based process of management.
So, now that the DFW has suddenly decided it wants to address wanton waste because of one contest, they are going to specifically exempt the single biggest example of it. That is simply unacceptable. It clearly represents a drastic policy shift moving away from science based management.
With all of these concerns, GOAL made several requests to meet with the agency director to discuss them. As of the writing of this, none of our requests were responded to. All of this does not bode well for an agency that is funded by sportsmen and women. GOAL would caution all members of the outdoor heritage community to watch this process very carefully and be very cautious about supporting secret regulations, secret authority and a “wanton waste” proposal that exempts the greatest cause of it.