By Wayne Pacelle
Poachers are enemies of wildlife. They are “game hogs”—shooting animals out of season or shooting animals beyond legally established limits. They are “wildlife butchers”—shooting protected species and often using illegal methods of killing. They are motivated by greed and often a lust for slaughter.
Their victims are helpless wild animals, who just want to live free of molestation from humans. But wildlife watchers and lawful hunters are cheated by the actions of these people, too, since the poacher kills and depletes wildlife and denies opportunities for others.
The politically oriented hunting rights groups, such as the NRA, the Safari Club International, and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, offer mild protest of poaching. They offer anti-poaching bromides, but no real action to halt the slaughter of millions of animals by poachers. In contrast, The HSUS has an anti-poaching rewards program, offering more than $250,000 in rewards since 2008, and we are working with more and more state fish and wildlife agencies on the problem. We are also working with lawmakers to strengthen penalties to lock up poachers wherever they do their killing.
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Some of the biggest hunting rights advocates have had their brushes with the law when it comes to illegal wildlife killing. This week, law enforcement nabbed a big buck within the hunting rights field: Rocker Ted Nugent pled no contest in a California court to poaching activities—baiting a deer and not having a properly signed hunting tag.
If Nugent were just some rank-and-file loudmouth, the court proceedings wouldn’t have stirred much attention. But Nugent is not only a long-serving board member of the NRA (15 years), he’s a self-styled voice for hunters across America. We’ve always thought he’s an embarrassment to the hunting lobby, providing an unceasing bilge of callous and crude beliefs and behaving in ways that are directly at odds with the self-portrait offered by hunters.
Nugent says one thing and does another. He says that sport hunters are great conservationists, and then he goes on to defend the most unsporting, reckless, and irresponsible forms of hunting, such as canned hunts, bear baiting, or pigeon shoots.
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Earlier this month, his poaching came to light when state authorities, acting on an investigation by wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game, brought 11 charges against Nugent, including killing a deer too young to be legally hunted. In a deal with Yuba County prosecutors, Nugent's attorney last Friday entered no contest pleas to two misdemeanor charges.
On its website, the NRA says that “All sportsmen and women have a responsibility to other hunters and landowners, the public, wildlife, and above all, to themselves. It is essential that all hunters abide by a code of ethics.”
If the NRA truly had hunting ethics as a paramount concern—rather than as a placeholder on the website—it would oust Nugent from its board. If The HSUS had a board member who pled guilty to animal cruelty, he or she would be gone in a flash. But tolerating Nugent and his behavior is just par for the course for the NRA.
The NRA gives lip service to combating poaching, but really does nothing meaningful on the front. In this case, we’ve got unmistakable evidence that one of its leaders got in on the action himself.