In an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican and posted on nmpolitics.net Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, emphasizes the value of the Sabinoso wilderness as a site for hunting exotic African wildlife, namely Barbary sheep. Hunters’ organizations including NM Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which counts Donald Trump, Jr, as a life member, misleadingly describe their campaign for increased hunting as “public access.” VeneKlassen, who resents the incumbent land commissioner for raising hunting fees, is now running for land commissioner himself.
As the New Mexican’s coverage of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent visit to the Sabinoso points out, the issue is not some generalized “public access” but specifically access for trophy hunters who refer to themselves as “sportsmen.” (The headline of the article which appeared in the July 30 print edition of the New Mexican, “Sportsmen hope Zinke visit is key to unlocking Sabinoso site,” was edited out online, where it is available under the subhead Interior Secretary Zinke, N.M. senators horse around in Sabinoso Wilderness.) US Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who has endorsed VeneKlasen’s campaign for state land commissioner, has long campaigned for more trophy hunting, most recently as a lead co-sponsor of S. 733, which would mandate increased “sportsmen’s access to federal land.” Interior Secretary Zinke restricted press access to his recent Sabinoso tour with Sen. Heinrich, but it is reasonable to assume that the two hunters discussed the need to increase hunting on national monuments.
Increased public access to previously inaccessible areas is a threat to wild areas. Fifty years ago Garrett Hardin warned about the problem in his essay Tragedy of the Commons. He raised concerns about “cattlemen leasing national land on the western ranges” constantly pressuring federal authorities to increase the head count to the point where overgrazing produces erosion and weed dominance.” Zinke has recently increased grazing on National Wildlife Refuges, most of which also allow hunting.
“The National Parks present another instance of the working out of the tragedy of the commons,” Hardin wrote. “At present, they are open to all, without limit. The parks themselves are limited in extent—there is only one Yosemite Valley—whereas population seems to grow without limit. The values that visitors seek in the parks are steadily eroded.”
Paul Ehrlich, who has long identified increased population as a threat to the natural world, has co-authored a new study warning of impending biological annihilation. Estimating that wildlife populations have decreased about 50%, Ehrlich emphasizes the need to protect all remaining wildlife, not just species legally classified as endangered.
Big-game hunting, including African wildlife hunting, was a major interest of Theodore Roosevelt. Zinke calls himself a Teddy Roosevelt guy. The self-described Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which endorsed Zinke, now finds him a disappointment, but they now have other priorities, such as legalizing wolf hunting. Perhaps Sen. Martin Heinrich, who helped push Zinke’s nomination through the Senate against the opposition of the majority of Senate Democrats, also finds him a disappointment. Or perhaps not, as the recently circulated male-bonding photo at Sabinoso wilderness shows.
We need to return to the vision of the Wilderness Act to establish areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It is time for the 95% of the public who do not hunt to protect the few remaining wild areas and the wildlife who live there. We cannot let Heinrich, VeneKlasen, Zinke and the Trumps define wilderness.