The real reason that Montana voted down game farms was purely a financial one and not one of animal health. We are all for healthy animals, but the pressure on legislators was brought to bear by the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and by hundreds of guide service owners (voters) who believe they already have too much competition for paying customers.
Even though ‘hundreds’ sounds small, you have to remember that the population of Montana is still less than 1 million people compared to 4.5 million in Minnesota. Tourism (including hunting) makes up a huge share of that state’s economy. The state would lose out on selling licenses since game farm hunters are not required to buy them.
Game farm hunts average less than 3 days. Regular hunts run about 8 days. That’s 5 less days of lodging and meals that could’ve been purchased from an outfitter. If an outfitter doesn’t make money, he won’t spend it either.
Each year more and more hunters are booking hunts into big game farms for some very good reasons.
- They are guaranteed to see and get chances at multiple trophy animals. That’s something that just doesn’t happen to 99.9% of all hunters throughout their lifetime of hunting.
- They don’t have to compete with other hunters for their secret spot on public/private land. This alone allows hunters to relax so much more and really enjoy their time outdoors. It removes a lot of anxiety about hunting that many of us suffer through.
- They don’t have to worry about or deal with slob hunters who screw up your hunt by stealing your stand or your animal or intrude illegally onto your turf.
- They have the opportunity to “pass” on “book” bucks for an even bigger one.
- In most cases they come away with a feeling of fair chase and thus can feel good about harvesting their trophy.
The first and last points made here are particularly what brings past hunters back to the game farm, along with a new game farm “recruits.” And that is exactly what the DNR can NOT offer. We all want to see trophy bucks walking around in front of us during the hunting season, but it just doesn’t happen that way in the wild, does it?
Here’s the nut of it: game farms are a far greater financial threat to the DNR than a health threat to the wildlife. The DNR knows that the real problem with game farm hunting is that it works. Each year more and more hunters are finding that there are fewer places to hunt that hold mature animals capable of scoring in the record book classes. Today the DNR doesn’t really miss the income lost by hunters going to game farms. But if the number of hunters buying licenses were to decrease by as little as 0.5% per year, it would grab the attention of the DNR in a hurry. That’s the nut.
Because game farm hunting is becoming more and more attractive it also becomes more and more of a financial threat to all DNR organizations. DNR officials have effectively argued that disease control is their only concern. It’s a great argument because we all agree that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) should be eradicated.
What most of the public does not see is that cry for disease control is merely a lily white smoke screen used to divert attention from the real motivation within the DNR, which is self-preservation. We all understand self-preservation.
From a business perspective, the future of every DNR is tied directly to its ability to generate revenue. That’s the cold hard truth. They are responsible for the management of wildlife which includes the revenue generation that goes along with wildlife. If they can’t justify their own existence by generating enough revenue to sustain the budget, they will be replaced with another organization that can. Sound familiar? It should, because the financial world of the DNR functions much like that of a machine shop, assembly plant or newspaper: make money or hit the road!
Game farms threaten the financial stability of the DNR. What really scares many Conservation Officers is that they recognize that the private sector manages animals and land more efficiently than any governmental agency. That’s always been true.
A game farm manager can feed the best feeds, vaccinate and supplement feed with vitamins and minerals. They can minimize stresses such as parasites and predators. They can select the best genetics and ensure that those genes are passed on. They can isolate, quarantine and test animals for health assurance and maintain those records. All these things help them to grow many animals capable of reaching their full potential. Most game farmers will guarantee that you will see and have the opportunity to take a trophy class animal.
Consumers agree that competition is good for business. It makes for a better product and service and a lower price. Since the DNR can’t control wild animals like a game farmer can theirs, they (the DNR) can’t compete head to head. They can’t guarantee anything to the hunter consumer. So the dilemma for the DNR becomes a question of competing or deleting. In Montana they succeeded in deleting their competition.
It makes me wonder if any DNR employees have ever raised the question of anti-trust or monopoly during any of their meetings while discussing the role of the DNR and the future of game farms and shooting preserves within their states.
In the case of Montana, the DNR and guide service owners were successful at preventing their competition from getting a foothold there. Public opinion was manipulated through the media by carefully releasing articles or statements inciting highly emotional responses from readers and listeners.
Statistics and risk assessments were exaggerated along with a failure to inform the public that the CWD problem we have now originated from (and is still present in) captive herd animals owned by the Colorado Department of Wildlife. In essence they’re shouting “FIRE”, but conveniently forget to tell us that they lit the thing and that they’re still holding the arsonist’s torch behind their backs. Why are animals infected with CWD that are owned by the state allowed to live with the disease, but private farm animals must be destroyed immediately? You would not believe the answer if I told you. Go ask the Colorado DOW.
Reporters have fallen victim to the political agenda of the DNR and have unwittingly been doing their bidding for them. It’s not their fault, but they should own up to their involvement and begin asking serious questions, like, “At the current trend in game farm hunting, how long before the DNR begins to feel the impact of financial losses?” There is an answer to that question that the DNR would rather not talk about, especially in print. Whether the answer is 5, 10 or 100 years it still makes the point that the DNR admits that they are knowingly competing with private business people for hunter dollars.
It’s a curious thing that we as a country are extremely passionate about granting a woman the right to choose to kill a baby, but we won’t allow a hunter the choice to kill a wild animal raised behind a fence in Montana or Minnesota.
By Dean Murray