The Arizona ballot initiative and campaign to end trophy hunting and trapping of Arizona’s wildcats came to an abrupt end recently when it was suspended. If you aren’t familiar with the campaign, run by the group Arizonans for Wildlife and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), you can read the background here. I was a huge supporter of the initiative which launched last fall, so when I first heard it had been suspended I was in disbelief.
Unfortunately the official statement sent to supporters and volunteers via email from Acting President & CEO for the HSUS, Kitty Block, confirmed the end to what could have been a precedent setting campaign. “Facing an increasingly competitive state and national landscape, we are suspending efforts on our citizens’ initiative to ban trophy hunting of wild cats in Arizona. This difficult decision is the result of a perfect storm of local obstacles and emerging national issues and does not reflect Arizona voters’ enthusiasm for this proposal to ban inhumane trophy hunting practices.”
Part apology, part explanation a shocking and upsetting disappointment for supporters, endorsers and dedicated volunteers. The backlash and negative comments on social media against the campaign and the HSUS was immediate. For those who opposed the ballot this defeat is seen as a huge win for them, but is this really the end for advocates fighting to help Arizona’s wildcats?
What we do know is the movement against trophy hunting is not only growing in Arizona but throughout North America and the world. Another very recent article appropriately called The Cult of Hunting and its Timely Demise, by David Mattson, serves to reinforce this.
“The American public is, in fact, evincing increased alienation from the precepts of current wildlife management. A recent nationwide YouGov survey showed that 71% of those who were polled thought that sport hunting was morally wrong; 76% thought that killing animals for furs was unethical; both within a 3% margin of error. I’m not saying here that a super-majority of the American public “did not support” or “skeptically viewed” sport hunting. They felt something stronger. They thought it was unethical, even morally repugnant. And this objection, even revulsion, was exhibited across all age groups and political perspectives.”
With this in mind I touched base with Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director and project lead on the ballot initiative, who spoke candidly on a our recent call about the end of the campaign and what comes next. She stressed that the decision to end the citizens initiative was not easy and there were many variables that had a hand in that decision. “The HSUS doesn’t start an initiative like this with the intent of suspending it and we knew by doing so, in one of the toughest states on the issue of trophy hunting, that it would have a domino effect.” If the Arizona ballot had been successful it meant the possibility of future similar initiatives elsewhere. However the political landscape, which plays a much bigger role than many realize, changed drastically. It impacted the cost of media buys for advertising and paid secured signature gathering which are integral parts of any state-wide ballot initiative especially where there is strong special interest forces of opposition.
While the HSUS was criticized for starting the campaign when the two bills that eventually had a huge impact on it, HB2244 and HB2404, were introduced months prior Kellye told me that sometime things are not as simple as they appear such as the impact they had on secured signature gathering which brought costs beyond what was predicted. “The HSUS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and that means there is a lobby spending cap that you can use for certain things – but when your cost increase you can’t go over that cap.” Though they knew the law had changed compliance and even with budgets and planning there were many changes that could not have been anticipated. Kellye said that she sees bills like the ones recently introduced as part of a larger plan and trend and, as opponents recognize that organizations like HSUS have a powerful tool in the grassroots movement “they will do anything they can to roll back citizen initiatives.”
Kellye said that currently the best way for the public to help is via the November elections and stressed that “people need to know who they are voting for and who those members alliances are with.” The public must continue to stay vigilant, public input and comment is vital for wildlife management agencies and policies. “Currently there is not a supportive commission and that’s part of the problem. Why is policy geared towards a small minority? Lets not pretend it’s management – it’s for the anglers and hunters.”
Besides politics it can’t be forgotten that there is another important element to this story in the form of 1,700 volunteers who invested their time for a cause they believe in. Kellye got emotional when we spoke about this and told me that in her 3 years as the Arizona State Director she has had many inspiring moments, but nothing so much as during this particular campaign. She told me that during the weekend they suspended the campaign she didn’t want the volunteers to just get a statement. All the people she spoke to including the dedicated diehards as she calls them were saddened and devastated, but they quickly said to her “What’s next? What else do we need to do? How can we stay engaged?”
To say in the worst of times we often see the best in people is no different in this case. In the worst moment Kellye said she looked at the volunteers and knew what kind of character they had. “I never knew how strong our movement was until I think going through that…so in many ways the worst weekend for the campaign was also the most inspiring. I got to really see people’s passion at a moment when you don’t expect it.” Without the volunteers hard work the citizen education could not have been done. Each time a volunteer had a conversation with someone at a signature gathering event or with friends or family people became aware of the issue, surprisingly 65% of people didn’t know that it was legal to kill these animals or trap bobcats, in the same way that Cecil the lion captured an international community.
The Arizona campaign didn’t end the way they wanted in a November victory, but what was accomplished in terms of education was tremendous. It inspired others to get active, become advocates for wildlife and other issues and this will continue on Kellye tells me. “The fact is unfortunately the successes that this campaign had and will continue to have isn’t easily quantified by votes and an election, nonetheless it’s important and it happened. Anyone that thinks otherwise does a disservice to our 1,700 volunteers.”
The HSUS will continue to be active on this issue, monitor and submit recommendations to Arizona Game & Fish as they did even before the campaign was suspended. Volunteers will also continue to be engaged on the issue, but moving forward it will look different from the formal campaign. Despite what anyone thinks, the movement is not going away as the issue still exists whether there is a campaign or not. The war on wildlife continues but each step made to help end it, even those seemingly small, is important. Unification among advocates, education and perseverance will be tools that help us ultimately win that war one day. In the meantime Kellye said Arizona is now “on the map for issues like this” and the fact that it had support from other states as well as other countries says a lot about a growing global movement towards a more humane approach to living with wildlife.