White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy
Gary Marbut, President
Montana Shooting Sports Association
On Thursday, September 25th I received by email an invitation to attend
the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy in Reno,
Nevada on October 1 - 3. After some urgent scrambling, I arranged
to be able to attend this Conference.
In August of 2007, President George Bush signed Executive Order # 13443 entitled Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation.
This EO called for executive branch agencies of the federal government
to "facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities
and the management of game species and their habitat." The full
text of this EO can be viewed at:
This EO also required the Conference held in Reno, a Conference
intended to solicit goals, policies and ideas for a 10-year (and
beyond) North American wildlife management plan. The last time
such a high-level wildlife management conference occurred was in 1908
when President Theodore Roosevelt hosted all U.S. governors at a White
House conference to discuss wildlife management.
People who spoke at this conference included President George Bush (by
video), Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of the Interior Dirk
Kempthorne, and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer. Attending
and sometimes speaking were the directors of many federal agencies and
bureaus (such as the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest
Service, the President's Environmental Quality Council, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service) and many of their senior staff. Also
attending were the executives, directors and senior staff of many
non-governmental organizations (NGO) such as the National Shooting
Sports Foundation, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited, the Wild Turkey
Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and many others. The
Governor of Nevada and the Mayor of Reno both made cameo
appearances. Over 500 people attended this conference.
This was truly a "high level" conference considering the type and caliber of people who attended.
In the video appearance by President Bush, he introduced VP Cheney as
his favorite shooter and hunter, a poorly-veiled reference to the
hunting accident in which Cheney accidentally shot a hunting partner
with his shotgun, imbedding quite a bit of birdshot in the surprised
hunter. In Cheney's speech, he told about how, upon his return to
the White House following this incident President Bush told him, "Here
I am, sitting at a 30% approval rating, and you have to shoot the only
trial lawyer in Texas who supports me." The rest of Cheney's
speech was solid but not as entertaining as that story. Security
was tight for Cheney's speech. All audience members had to show
photo IDs and pass through metal detectors upon entrance to the
The most inspiring speech was given by Secretary of Interior Dirk
Kempthorne, former Governor of Idaho and known outdoorsman and
hunter. Kempthorne made good reference to his many years of
hunting experience, and told a few funny stories about those
I'd guess that between 30 and 40% of conferees were public employees at
one level or another. There were members of fish and game
commissions and the directors of fish and wildlife agencies from
several states. There were a few state legislators and county
commissioners from western states. Many of the NGOs had multiple
representatives present. A few western ranchers attended, as did
some representatives of land trusts and investment groups that seek to
preserve wildlife habitat.
I arrived in Reno late Tuesday. Wednesday was a preparation day,
and an incoming travel day for most conferees. I wanted to be on
hand all day Wednesday to scope preparations and make contact with some
incoming conferees. Thursday was the primary workday for the
Conference. Friday was the wrap-up day of speeches, including
For Thursday, the drill was to split conferees up into four groups of
more manageable size for discussion. In preparation for the
Conference, twenty-some pages of "discussion topics" had been drafted
concerning several topical areas such as enhancing wildlife management
funding, access to huntable land, hunter recruitment and mentoring,
climate change impact on hunting, energy development in re hunting, and
others. The four discussion groups were led by panels of five
panelists prominent in hunting and wildlife management, from both in
and out of government (mostly in). These group discussion
meetings were held both Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon, with
the two sessions led by different sets of panelists for each group.
Theoretically, these discussion groups were to solicit input of ideas
about what policies should go into the intended ten-year wildlife
management plan (and beyond). However, I was disappointed that
most of the discussion was directed by panelists to the "discussion
topics" prepared in advance for the Conference. Although there
was opportunity for conferees to go to the microphone and broach topics
independently, the two sets of panelists for my breakout group never
asked, "What should we be talking about that is not on the list of
prepared discussion topics?" And, the panelists directed
conversation to focus primarily, almost exclusively, on the prepared
I'd guess that the most discussion time in my breakout group was spent
talking about ways to enhance funding for federal wildlife management
programs. Perhaps the second most discussed topic was wildlife
habitat acquisition, maintenance and enhancement. Hunter
recruitment and retention may have received the next most
discussion. I was surprised that climate change and energy
development received little comment in my breakout group.
There were two issues which I wanted to see discussed and considered
for policy inclusion in the resulting plan that were NOT mentioned in
the prepared-in-advance list of discussion topics for the
Conference. Those were:
1) The impact of large predators on game herds and hunting opportunities, and
2) A systematic designation of safe and suitable places for people to shoot recreationally on public land.
I came to the Conference prepared with written policy statements on
both of those topics - four items for predators and two items for
shooting. I circulated copies of those prepared positions to
multiple sympathetic conferees, to make sure that these issues were
broached in each of the four breakout groups. I believe the
positions I prepared were presented in all four breakout groups, and
the written material I provided in my breakout group was the only
written position material provided by anyone. Everything else was
The printed material I provided about predators (both in my group and
to other, sympathetic conferees who presented this in other groups)
RESOLVED by the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy:
1. Pursuant to the "Executive
Order: Facilitation of Hunting Heritage and Wildlife Conservation,"
achieving a natural predator/prey balance is not an acceptable goal or
necessarily a desirable outcome.
2. Introduction or enhancement
of predator populations must not be allowed to conflict with; the
heritage of and opportunity for people to hunt for food, the safety of
people engaged in outdoor recreation or outdoor work, or livelihood
success of people operating businesses on land where predators range.
3. All persons have a natural
and undeniable right to defend themselves and their property from
immediate or apparent injury. This right of self-defense of
person and property applies to defense from animals, even if such
animals are otherwise protected under law.
4. States that conduct active
predator control to protect game herds are engaging in active wildlife
management according to the needs and values of their citizens.
Any such wildlife management activities may not be impeded by federal
agencies, federal regulations, or federal personnel.
In addition to having this material presented to each of the breakout
groups, there was an option to provide written comments to the
Conference generally. I did this as well.
Concerning shooting ranges, I provided this:
Shooting Ranges - Public Lands
1. When the BLM and USFS revise
their resource management plans, they should consider designating one
or more safe and suitable places for recreational shooting within a
reasonable distance from any established community near which BLM or
USFS manages public lands.
2. The BLM and USFS should
develop and implement a streamlined and simple process to transfer or
long-term lease land to responsible local organizations to manage and
operate shooting ranges.
In my breakout group, I said this, "If people are not shooting, they
won't be hunting. To maintain our hunting heritage, people need
safe and suitable places to shoot."
Will these expressions about large predators and shooting ranges find
place in the final ten-year Plan developed using the ideas gathered in
this Conference? I don't know. I did my best to inject
these ideas, both in writing and orally in multiple breakout discussion
groups. Will the federal employees taking notes about Conference
input include these ideas in the harvested material from the
Conference? I don't know. Will the decision-makers who
craft the final ten-year Plan opt to include these ideas as proposed
policies in the Plan? I don't know.
I spoke at some length with the Director of the Arizona Department of
Fish and Game, including about the policies I proposed for
predators. He said that he felt that Conference organizers wanted
non-controversial outcomes from the conference, and that the proposed
predator policies would be too controversial to make the final cut for
the ten-year Plan. Maybe so. Maybe not. We'll just
have to wait and see.
There is a larger question of what will happen with this newly-minted
ten-year Plan when a new administration takes over next January.
I asked this question before and at the Conference. Nobody knows
for sure. However, all NGO folk I talked to (a LOT) seemed
committed to applying as much political pressure as possible to keep
the Conference outcomes on the front burner. Some of the items
recommended at the conference can be done by executive order or by
administrative change. Some will require legislation to be passed
by Congress. We all know how dicey that can be, given the way the
political winds can blow and eddy.
It seemed to me that there sure was a lot of time spent at this
Conference talking about how much it will cost in coming years to hold
on to and care for wildlife habitat and our hunting heritage.
While I'm sure this is true, I also felt almost as if this were a
cheerleader camp to train and motivate a cadre of ambassadors for a
spending surge, mostly by federal entities.
All of the relevant and necessary players seemed to be at this
conference to push and implement what the original Executive Order
charges. There was a lot of political and financial power present
- a lot of commitment. I was very impressed with the quality and
volume of players assembled. However, depending on what happens
with the economy and upcoming presidential election, much of the
financial and political power assembled in Reno this past week could be
gone like campfire smoke in a good breeze.
Although President Bush's Executive Order clearly talked about
"enhancement of hunting opportunities," most of the talk was about
"conservation." While I realize that "habitat biodiversity" and
"wetlands augmentation" (and a bunch of other tangential topics) are
important parts of the larger picture and of the future of hunting,
quite frankly I wanted to hear more about how my grandchildren will be
able to kill and eat wild game animals. Maybe they are the same
things and it's just a matter of perspective.
I sure met a lot of interesting, energetic and committed people - people my son would describe as having "lights on."
Finally, Pheasants Forever has created a program called "No Child Left
Inside." This is as good a catchphrase as any to call attention
to the need for ALL of us to make extra effort to enable and foster
young and new hunters - to introduce non-hunters through experience and
example to our traditions, heritage and culture of hunting that are so
very much our Way of Life.
Other sources of information: