Cathy Stepp recently declared that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which she heads, will take direct control of the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center, currently operated by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
What vital interest do Wisconsin taxpayers have in taking jobs from the private sector and adding them to the government payroll? Secretary Stepp explains that the state needs to recruit more hunters, anglers and trappers. Left largely unanswered is why all taxpayers must ante up to promote pastimes practiced by a dwindling few. The secretary has attempted to cost-justify her decision this way: “Hunting, fishing and trapping is our heritage, it is in our DNA, and it makes us Wisconsin.” More on that notion in a moment. First, consider the DNR’s current numbers about one of our legacies: trapping.
The DNR’s most recent fur harvest summary, for 2011-12, shows the commercial nature of trapping. Muskrats and raccoons comprised 87 percent of fur-bearing animals trapped and killed in Wisconsin, and the skins of 90 percent of them were sold. That 90 percent is about the same percent for the total of all 12 of the fur-bearing species tracked by the DNR. Of the 588,000 mammals snared and skinned, trappers made money on 516,000 of them.
These statistics raise the question: Who is buying all these skins? Most of the trappers’ “harvest” in the U.S. is sold overseas, especially to China.
The Chinese and other countries with low labor costs convert the fur into clothing, much of it exported back to the U.S. as trim on parkas and other winter wear.
But these days you seldom see a “made from” clothing tag that lists muskrat or raccoon, or the third most trapped animal in Wisconsin, opossum.
That’s because the clothing manufacturers know that most Americans have become repelled by the idea of wearing fur. Today many humane alternatives exist. So some manufacturers and marketers mislabel the actual fur as “faux fur” or “fake fur.” It’s a good deal for the trapper and dishonest dealer, but not for all involved.
Within the first 30 minutes of capture, a trapped animal can tear her flesh, rip tendons, break bones, and even knock out teeth as she bites the trap to escape.
Some animals will even bite off their own limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. The fact that an animal would sever her own limb shows how horrible the experience of being caught in a trap is. One study found that 28 percent of mink, 24 percent of raccoon, and 26 percent of trapped fox would actually bite their limbs off in hopes of surviving.
In Wisconsin centuries ago, clothing options were few. People often needed to trap to survive. But what in those days was a violent necessity — and they didn’t call it a sport — is today just a cruel money-maker.
Perhaps barbarity like this is part of our DNA, as Cathy Stepp suggests. But not all human urges deserve celebration or taxpayer support. If we want to use our past as a guide to our decisions and actions today, look to Wisconsin’s progressive heritage of adapting to the times — of challenging traditions that have become unjust, unwarranted and unnecessarily violent. That would be a vision of leadership desperately needed right now at the DNR.
Charlie Talbert is president of the board of the Madison-based Alliance for Animals and the Environment.
“The Four Immeasurables” (traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayer)
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.
Meditation does not make one more compassionate. I wish dearly that it were otherwise, but wishing won’t make it so.
The practice of meditation is very old. It has existed in cultures around the world in the form of chants, mantras, repeated prayer and affirmation, stilling one’s mind, a silencing of thoughts and an effort to be aware of the presence of some universal being or force. The goals of such practices are usually referred to as enlightenment, satori, communion with God, spiritual growth or something similar.
Hinduism has many sects with long traditions of meditation. Indian ascetics combine intense meditation and often extreme physical privation in their effort to achieve some union or merging with a cosmic consciousness or to reach the blissful mental state of nirvana. Sometime between 400 and 500 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama, a Brahmin prince from the highest caste of Indian society, left his wealth behind and joined the ranks of ascetics looking for spiritual truth. After six years of this practice, he was dissatisfied with the results and vowed to do nothing but meditate until he had achieved his goal.
Legend says that after a period of time he had the penultimate ah-ha moment and in an instant was aware of all his previous lives, the spiritual physics underlying the causes of suffering and rebirth, and a way that this endless cycle could be escaped. He became, at that moment, the Enlightened One: the Buddha.
Legend says that he soon began teaching others what he had learned. He taught a way to escape from the endless wheel of birth and death. His basic formula for avoiding the effects of the karma that keeps us on the endless cycle of birth and death is a moral code called the five precepts: Avoid harming any sentient being, stealing, adultery, lying and intoxication. Other practices are needed to achieve enlightenment, but without adherence to the precepts, an endless cycle of rebirth and the resulting suffering is inevitable.
About 100 years after his death, a schism developed among the Buddha’s followers and two main branches developed that are today known as Theravada and Mahayana. Early Mahayanists began worshiping the Buddha as a deity while Theravadins continued to see him as a man who had had an insight of the highest importance. Over the centuries, Mahayana with its many sects has become the most popular and largest branch of Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism was carried to the Tibetan plateau sometime in the 8th century. The version that reached the region was Tantric Buddhism, a Buddhism that incorporated yoga and ritual sex practices. As traditional Tibetan beliefs were assimilated, the resulting belief system became known as Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism incorporated many of the traditional folk beliefs into its philosophy and practice; even today, native Tibetan Buddhists commonly maintain what are thought of by Westerners as superstitions about magic and demonic beings in the spirit world.
Over time, a theocracy took control of what is now Tibet. Based on the dual beliefs of the transmigration of souls and the power of divination to identify the soul of a recently dead Lama in the body of a child, the Lamas have remained in control of the society for about 800 years. Often living in opulent palaces, Lama’s and monks are free from the concerns of the average person and able to pursue a more spiritual existence as they seek to achieve enlightenment.
Geographically remote, rumors of a timeless mystical land high in the Himalayas fueled myths and wild claims about the abilities of the Lamas in the monasteries. Stories about their ability to fly, to travel in the spirit world, of telepathy and prescience led to a mythos that sunk deep roots into the Western view of Tibet.
Today, the supreme spiritual leader of the Tibetan people is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion. He is essentially a god king to most Tibetans. Whenever the Dalai Lama speaks in public people flock to hear him, hoping or believing that they will hear sage advice from this living embodiment of a character out of James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon.”
But the myth that surrounds Tenzin Gyatso is not a close match to the reality of who he actually is. For instance, in spite of the straightforward first precept that tells Buddhists not to intentionally hurt any sentient being and the Buddhist belief that we have lived countless lives as animals, the Dalai Lama supports the experimental use of animals, even highly invasive brain experiments on monkeys intended to elucidate the biology of fear. He eats animals too. A lifetime of presumably intense meditative practice has not seemed to imbue him with much compassion for the animals he eats or for the animals experimented on in the laboratories around the world — animals animated by souls that have presumably been and will yet be in an infinitude of humans and other animals.
If meditation actually does make one more compassionate, it stands to reason that someone intimately involved with promoting this idea would be a living example. In Madison, the person most often associated with the Dalai Lama and meditation is Richard Davidson, director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His long relationship with the Dalai Lama seems to have led people in Madison to think he is nearly as exalted; he draws large crowds when he speaks and regularly shows pictures of himself rubbing elbows with His Holiness. But Davidson’s publishing history is anything but a demonstration of increasing compassion. In conjunction with his UW-Madison colleagues Dr. Ned Kalin, chair of the department of psychiatry, also photographed with the Dalai Lama, and Steve Shelton, Davidson has been reporting on changes in fearfulness of abnormally anxious young monkeys following the ablation with acid, electrocautery, or suction of various parts of their brains as they detailed in their paper “Orbitofrontal cortex lesions alter anxiety-related activity in the primate bed nucleus of stria terminalis,” (Fox AS, Shelton SE, Oakes TR, Converse AK, Davidson RJ, Kalin NH. J Neurosci. 2010). These experiments have been ongoing for over 20 years, and the degree of invasiveness has, if anything, increased. There is no indication of any growing compassion for the animals.
In Madison, where each of the Dalai Lama’s nine visits since 1979 have received public fanfare, not much concern for animals’ well-being was heard when the university had itself exempted from the state’s Crimes Against Animals statutes. When the Vilas Zoo recently announced its plan to buy polar bears to amuse people while they snack on chicken sandwiches in the new Arctic exhibit, a local paper seemed thrilled with the idea. There isn’t much said when molting geese with their babies are rounded up under cover of darkness and killed because their droppings annoy a tiny number of people. When outdoorsmen pushed through laws giving them the right to hunt and trap in state parks, the main criticism was that park visitors might be accidentally shot.
There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that meditation by local practitioners, the presence of a Tibetan Buddhist community, or even regular visits and public teachings by Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion, have led to an increase in compassion among most of us living here in Madison.
Rick Bogle stopped eating animals in 1972. He has been advocating on their behalf since 1997, when he ended his personal meditation practice. He lives in Madison and works for the Alliance for Animals. www.allanimals.org
Patty Lowry had never been to a meeting of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress before attending the group’s spring hearing last week at Sun Prairie High School. But her interest in the group has grown since she learned it was behind the recently passed state law allowing trapping and expanded hunting in state parks.
“I started hearing that the Conservation Congress had a tremendous amount of power and had a lot of clout with the Department of Natural Resources and the Legislature,” says Lowry, who lives in Madison. The Conservation Congress is an advisory body to the DNR made up of elected delegates from each county.
Lowry was one of the 662 people who packed Sun Prairie’s performing arts center April 8 to elect two Dane County delegates and to vote on numerous matters related to fishing, hunting and conservation. The turnout was higher than average, says Kari Lee-Zimmermann, the staff liaison between the Congress and the DNR, as it was at some of the other meetings held the same night in each of the state’s 72 counties.
Lowry says she and others new to the group turned out because they’re appalled at recent state wildlife management decisions, including those that permit wolf hunting with dogs and hunting and trapping in state parks.
“It’s like waking a sleeping giant,” she says. “A lot of people woke up to this nightmare that they were going to have to wear blaze orange in their state parks. You see it and can’t believe it’s happening.”
This backlash likely cost Matt Rainey his seat on the five-person Dane County delegation, as Melissa Smith beat him out for a two-year term in the first election of the evening. Another incumbent, however, held onto his seat for a three-year term.
In her stump speech, Smith declared that “hunting and trapping in state parks is not a compromise.” She promised to “give the majority in Dane County a voice.”
The DNR board in December scaled back the new state law on hunting and trapping in state parks, allowing these activities roughly two months of the year.
The results of the statewide ballot (PDF) distributed at the spring hearing, however, in which 2,922 people voted in favor of expanded hunting and fishing in state parks and 1,922 were opposed, suggest there could be a renewed push to revisit this issue.
The survey results will be discussed at the May convention of the Conservation Congress, which will then forward final positions to the DNR and its board.
Rob Bohmann, chair of the Conservation Congress, declined to speculate on how the body will vote. But Dan Schuller, director of state parks at the DNR, suggests in a statement that some longtime hunts in select parks could be reinstated. These are special seasons that fall outside the two-month window specified in the December 2012 DNR board ruling. “We are looking at some seasons that were previously approved by administrative rule,” says Schuller.
Lowry is incredulous that this issue might be reopened after more than 2,000 comments — most of them critical — were submitted to the DNR in response to its original proposal that would have allowed longer hunting and trapping seasons in state parks.
“For me it’s an issue of what kind of democracy we have here in Wisconsin,” she says. “Generally majority rules,” she adds. A 2010 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey found that 17% of Wisconsin residents had hunted in the last year.
Melissa Smith has been an active opponent of Wisconsin’s new wolf hunting season, but she says she is not opposed to “ethical hunting.” Lowry, too, says there is a difference between a traditional hunt and one where animals have been corralled and trapped by dogs. “It gets away from hunting and becomes something much more disturbing and inhumane to animals. This is the pleasure of killing for killing.”
But Bohmann, who has been hunting since he was five, defends the use of dogs in hunting.
“My son harvested a bear with the aid of hounds,” he says. “These hunters are not barbaric.”
He himself hunts with a Labrador retriever and says he has spent thousands of dollars on the dog’s training and vet care. One of the best parts of the hunt, he says, is “watching our dogs do what they were trained to do.”
His family also eats everything it kills, he says. “We don’t go overboard.”
Lowry and Smith would like to steer the conservation conversation away from hunting, trapping and fishing. Almost every one of the questions put to the public at the Conservation Congress meeting had to do with killing animals, says Lowry.
“I didn’t see anything about expanding public lands for hiking. I didn’t see anything for biking trails.”
Smith points out that one of the questions asked whether willow stakes, usually protected on DNR-managed land, could be cut since they are often used by trappers to mark and anchor traps.
“Can we talk about wetlands rather than pulling willows for trapping?” she asks.
Bohmann says that the Congress has recently formed an environmental study committee, but that hunting, fishing and trapping have to be part of the discussion since wildlife can destroy habitat.
“We have a responsibility to manage habitat in our state parks,” he says. “But we have an equal responsibility to manage wildlife populations.”
With recent months having brought everything from the state’s first wolf hunt to a noisy debate over trapping and hunting in state parks, non-hunters and animal activists in Wisconsin are arguing that powerful hunting groups are wielding too much influence with the state Legislature and the Department of Natural Resources.
Now, some of those activists are hoping to crash the party of one of state’s most influential pro-hunting groups — the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
Melissa Smith, a Madison resident who has helped lead opposition to wolf hunting in the state, has declared herself a candidate for the Conservation Congress, a popular statewide organization that advises the state Department of Natural Resources on outdoor sporting issues.
Though she said she is not opposed to sustenance hunting, Smith said she is concerned that the voices of non-hunters are not being heard or heeded on issues such as the wolf hunt and the expansion of hunting and trapping in state parks. Both issues are the subject of questions that will be asked at Conservation Congress meetings to be held simultaneously Monday night in every county.
“I’m not an anti-hunter,” Smith said. “But it just seems that a lot of the people involved with the Congress have become so extreme. Wolf hunting with dogs? And hunting and trapping in state parks? That’s why I’m running. I don’t know what else to do.”
Smith plans to run as a delegate at the Dane County meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at Sun Prairie High School.
The Conservation Congress was created by the state Legislature to advise the DNR on hunting, fishing and trapping as well as broader conservation issues. Every spring, the group holds meetings on the same night statewide to elect delegates and to vote on a long list of issues. Anyone can attend and cast votes.
This year, in addition to dozens of questions about obscure changes in fishing and hunting rules, the questionnaire includes queries about whether dogs should be used to hunt wolves, whether hunting and trapping in state parks should be expanded, and whether a number of hunting seasons — such as those for bobcats and coyotes — should be extended.
Rob Bohmann, chairman of the organization, said that because of the prominence of several hunting issues in the past year he expects a number of animals rights activists and their supporters to attend meetings and put candidates up for election, especially in Dane and Milwaukee counties.
Delegates are important because they serve on committees and help shape and present the organization’s agenda.
Smith’s candidacy has caught the interest of some groups, such as the Dane County Humane Society, that have not traditionally been involved with the Conservation Congress proceedings.
Others also say they are concerned about the views of non-hunters getting drowned out by outspoken hunting groups such as the Conservation Congress or the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, which helped push the wolf hunting season through the state Legislature.
Few people have been more vocal — and more of a lightning rod — on the issue than Patricia Randolph, an animal rights activist who became the first staunch hunting opponent to be elected as a Conservation Congress delegate when she won a position in Dane County in 1999. She served through 2001 and her term was marked by controversy, including a dustup in which she was warned by Conservation Congress leaders that she would be censured or removed if she spoke against hunting.
Randolph maintains that few non-hunters know about the Conservation Congress and the power the organization wields on hunting issues with both the DNR and the state Legislature. The problem, she said, is that the views of the organization are representative not of the general public but of hunters, who make up a minority of the population. As a result, Randolph said, hunting — including seasons on everything from wolves to mourning doves and proposed seasons on sandhill cranes and even gulls — seems to be expanding even in the face of what she says is opposition from the general public on issues such as wolf hunting or trapping in parks.
“We are totally disenfranchised,” Randolph said.
Smith said she is emphasizing her opposition to wolf hunting with dogs and the expansion of hunting and trapping in state parks. But she said she also intends to push the congress to take stronger stands on conservation issues such as the protection of wetlands.
“The Conservation Congress has changed over the years,” Smith said. “There are very few questions at the meeting about conservation. It just seems to have evolved over the years to become a hunters’ club.”
Bohmann, however, said that the strong push by the hunting community in recent years to add more seasons and encourage more hunters is necessary because as the number of hunters drops, they lose their power to influence decision-makers.
“If we don’t fight for what we have, we’ll lose it,” Bohmann said. “I think we’re more active now.”
Bill Cosh, a spokesman for the DNR, said the agency does pay close attention to the views of hunters and those who participate in other outdoor sports such as trapping and fishing.
“They are not only part of our culture,” he said, “but they are also methods of responsibly managing our wildlife populations.”
But Cosh also said the DNR promotes many non-hunting activities such as camping, hiking, biking, wildlife observation, and skiing.
Bohmann said he welcomes those with diverse viewpoints to attend the Conservation Congress meetings and to run for the delegate positions. But he said that there has to be a willingness to compromise and he expects everyone on both sides of the issues to respect opposing views.
“Everybody has a right to run for the congress,” Bohmann said. “What they need to understand is it cannot be all one way or another. You have to work together. And let’s be respectful. That’s all I ask for. You don’t have to agree with someone but let’s be respectful.”
Our wildlife is in desperate need of help. The state Department of Natural Resources allows wildlife to be killed in traps and hunted with dogs, which is cruel. Wildlife is killed for fashion, trophies and the thrill of blood sport. Where is our humanity?The DNR has extended trapping to our state parks, and has also extended the hunting and trapping seasons. Where can the public go to enjoy our wilderness that is safe?Your voice matters. Speak up on behalf of our animals by contacting your representatives and attending the Conservation Congress county meetings on Monday. For information: http://www.wiwildlifeethic.org.- Deanna S. Devaul, Madison
Friends of MacKenzie and the WWF Oppose DNR Decision to End Environmental Education for School Children at MacKenzie
Poynette: Today the Friends of MacKenzie and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation sent a letter to DNR Secretary Stepp, requesting DNR halt DNR plans to end school-based Environmental Education at the MacKenzie Environmental Center in Poynette, Wisconsin. The Center has provided Environmental Education to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin school children since it was opened in the mid-1970s. Since 2006, the Center has been run by the WWF and the Friends under a contract from the DNR. The Center provides environmental education opportunities to 16,000 students a year, the highest number of any of the Environmental Education Centers owned by the DNR and at the lowest per student cost of any of the DNR centers. The net cost for DNR to have the WWF and the Friends operate MacKenzie annually is $185,000 a year out of DNR’s annual budget of five hundred million dollars. The Center is being operated under a no-cost increase ten year contract. The DNR is proposing to use MacKenzie as a training center for hunting, fishing and trapping skills for youth and novice hunters, anglers and trappers. The Friends and the WWF support the use of MacKenzie for these purposes but have indicated that the school-based environmental education programs being offered at MacKenzie take place when the facility would not be used for hunting, fishing and trapping based skills training. MacKenzie could be optimized for educational purposes by having both environmental education and skills based training taking place at the facility. Besides this major change in use, DNR has informed the Friends and WWF that there will be major changes in buildings and structures at MacKenzie including the construction of a shooting range. Under DNR regulations and policies, such dramatic changes necessitate the development of a Master Plan for the property including significant public involvement including public hearings in the community. DNR has not done a Master Plan for MacKenzie and has had no public input for the proposed changes. The Friends and the WWF have called on DNR to at least continue school-based Environmental Education at MacKenzie until the results of the Master Plan are completed.