Although wildlife and game animals are a publicly owned resource, they are under the statutory control of a small and shrinking special interest group—hunters. N.J.S.A. 13:1B-24 dictates that the wildlife trustees, the Fish and Game Council, be a body of eleven members. Six are hunters, three are farmers –also hunters. The remaining two members are the chair of the Endangered and Non-Game Species Committee, and a person knowledgeable in land management.
Why then are New Jersey statutes able to countermand this basic doctrine? In 1963, Marion Clawson wrote the foreword to Doe Day: The Antlerless Deer Controversy in New Jersey.
In a historical perspective, she recorded that, “These interest groups have taken over this function in large part, because of the general disinterest of the public.” Clearly, the trustee membership is narrow, biased and without regard for disparate public views and values, as per the spirit of the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD). Council members are not democratically elected to represent the broad populace who are equally entitled as joint owners of the wildlife resource.
Clearly, for decades in NJ, citizens have shown themselves to be exceedingly interested in wildlife and attempt to influence management policy. Stakeholders participate within the established system of public hearings, public comment periods, and unsolicited correspondence. These prove to be consistently inconsequential, even when the majority opinions submitted dissent to proposed wildlife policy. Yet, on two separate occasions, one hunter’s request resulted in policy changes in the Game Code, demonstrating prejudicial adoption. The majority of stakeholders have protested hunters’ special interest control in all ways: lawsuits, legislation, public demonstrations, even civil disobedience.
Historically and today, NJ statutes violate both the spirit and basis of the PTD. One proof is in N.J.S.A. 23:1B-25 that calls for the “broadest representation of sportsmen” but eliminates representation of the majority of joint owners—the non-hunting public. The violations to the PTD regarding wildlife management are not just about wildlife. It is about severely flawed government. The failure of NJ to meet its obligations to the PTD resonates at the foundation of our democracy. The failure of NJ to give broad representation to wildlife policy perpetuates the unjust privilege that was granted over a hundred years ago to hunters and farmers. Those historic reasons why hunters and farmers were given authority over wildlife no longer exist and can no longer be justified. We can no longer tolerate this severely flawed inequity; the statues are indisputably archaic and undemocratic. Since 2004, all NJ taxpayers fund the management of wildlife, yet 99% have no consequential voice in policy making. Further proof of violation to the PTD is that policy made by hunters for hunters fails to manage wildlife for the public benefit—the basis of PTD. This is proved by their management of deer for population increase and stabilization in 59% of Deer Management Zones (DMZ).
The Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) objective is for hunter success, satisfaction and economic gain. The DFW is dependent upon hunting license revenue to fund the hunter-controlled agencies to continue to finance recreational hunting activities. By maintaining this priority, the DFW has proven its disregard for: public safety via vehicle-deer collisions, the economic loss of crops, nursery inventory, private landscaping, the ecological imbalance in forests, etc. etc.
As Richard Epstein quotes in, “The Public Trust: Expectations must be deemed to change as time, circumstances and the public attitude change, and expectations which might have been reasonable at one time can cease to be reasonable.”
Clinton’s mayor is misguided in his proposed resolution concerning NJ’s population of White-tailed Deer. He seems totally unaware that the State Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) manages deer for high inventory. Deer are a coveted commodity; so, it’s about the buck$. As per the Public Trust Doctrine, deer and wildlife are a publicly owned resource. Yet for the last century they have been under the political control of hunters, via the archaic N.J.S.A. 23:1B-24. All the reasons for hunter control cease to exist, yet this law persists. As big game animals, deer are the economic engine for the DFW.
Insuring hunter success and satisfaction maintains the sales of hunting licenses, a two-fold income. The obscure second source is the Pittman-Robertson Law, 1937, a.k.a. Wildlife Restoration Fund. The federal government collects excise tax on firearms and hunting apparatus. The higher the annual sale of NJ hunting licenses, the greater the appropriation of these federal dollars.
All NJ hunters must purchase a hunting license annually and allowing access grants them needed additional hunting grounds. The Wildlife Society is a hunting organization and understands that survivors of hunted species reproduce at maximum capacity as more food is available to them. This insures a healthy new generation to perpetuate the perception that further hunting is required. The NJ Audubon Society’s White Paper Report, Forest Health and Ecological Integrity… (pg.9) reports, “Wildlife management to facilitate hunting opportunities has been a key contributor to deer overpopulation.” The DEP will release caution about deer on roadways but it will not publicly take responsibility for increasing that risk, or for any other negative consequence.
Five years of Open Public Record responses show that 59% of NJ Deer Management Zones (DMZ) are managed for deer increase/stability—not reduction. Open Public Records Act (OPRA) surrenders expose that in DMZs managed for increase: #145045 exposed the State conducts no research on vehicle-deer collisions, #145044 no research on forest depredation/impact by deer in any state, county municipal or private lands; #145049 farmer depredation permits attempt to micro-manage deer to alleviate crop depredation. All are the negative consequences of managing deer for shootable surplus. Like most unsuspecting residents, the mayor is clueless that the DFW aim is to perpetuate the culture of recreational hunting. The State’s goals are directly contrary to the premise of the PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE, as the DFW’s deer and game animal management is to the detriment of the 99% of the public, who, though non-hunters, are equal co-owners of the wildlife resource.