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Opinion
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.

7/31/2015

What's wrong with trophy hunting

The MLF Blog In Our Opinion has traditionally been the voice of the Foundation and written solely by our staff. However, we felt the need to make an exception for Michael Sutton's editorial on trophy hunting because we agree with his thoughts and couldn't have said it any better if we tried.

This editorial piece was originally published by the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, July 30.


The killing of Cecil — Zimbabwe's most famous lion — by an American dentist sparked outrage and reignited the debate over trophy hunting. Closer to home, in 2012, Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards killed a mountain lion in Idaho and openly bragged about it. What Richards did — shooting a treed cougar after it was run down by hounds — was perfectly legal (though it would not have been in California). So what's wrong with killing animals like African lions, cougars, wolves and bighorn sheep for trophies?

For the record, although I'm an avid hunter and fisherman, I'm not a trophy hunter. I mostly practice catch-and-release fly-fishing for trout on wild rivers. And my hunts are limited to game birds like pheasants and quail. I'm proud of America's outdoor sporting tradition and I'd like to see that legacy preserved.

But the vast majority of people in California and around the country aren't hunters and don't sanction the killing of animals for sport. If a ban on all sport hunting were put to California voters on the ballot today, it well could prevail.

In fact, hunting license sales have declined for decades and license revenue no longer pays the bills for wildlife management in America. Accordingly, the duties of wildlife managers have evolved beyond merely promoting hunting and fishing. Today, they must represent all of us and serve as stewards of our wildlife.

Proponents of trophy hunting argue that high-dollar auctions of big-game hunting permits generate much-needed revenue for wildlife management, especially in developing countries. But in my experience killing trophy animals turns the public against all hunting. It brings out the worst in sportsmen and encourages illegal and unethical activity. It's difficult to see how killing for ego rather than food can be justified as part of modern sportsmanship.

As a federal wildlife agent, I've seen the dark side of trophy hunting in North America. Once I arrested an Idaho man for smuggling an endangered jaguar from Mexico, where he had illegally shot the big cat. I've seen trophy hunters hire helicopters to track down prize bighorn sheep. I hauled in a Rocky Mountain hunting guide who got his clients drunk and instructed them to "shoot anything that moves," especially trophy moose and elk. And I once helped catch wealthy Texans who smuggled Tibetan argali, a rare mountain sheep, into the United States from China under the guise of scientific collecting permits. While such incidents involve only a small minority of hunters, they sully the reputation of us all.

The killing of trophy animals sours the public perception of hunting and helps bring about the demise of outdoor sports in America. It's time to recognize that trophy hunting no longer has a place in true sportsmanship, and put this outdated practice behind us.

Michael Sutton is former president of the California Fish and Game Commission and served as a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.