Hunters on the march––but is it a bluff?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1998:
LONDON, U.K.––The Countryside Alliance,
mobilized by the British Field Sports Society,
claimed 284,500 fox hunting supporters marched past
750 volunteer stewards who counted them by ranks at
the start of the March 2 Countryside March.
The departures alone took five hours.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare,
relying on Napier University scientists who used electronic
recorders, put the crowd count at less than half as
many: 142,000. Scotland Yard guesstimated 250,000,
still more than the estimated 215,000 British fox hunting
participants, and more than two-thirds of the total
BFSS membership––though not all attendees claimed to
be either fox hunters or BFSS members.
Representatives of about 60 Irish hunting
clubs weren’t even British citizens, but demonstrated
solidarity in support of recreational bloodbath anyway.
Whatever the numbers, and wherever the
marchers came from, the Countryside March was probably
the biggest ever held in a western nation over an
animal protection issue. Even at the lowest possible
estimate, it eclipsed the turnout of 80,000 to 100,000
fox hunting supporters at the so-called Countryside
Rally of July 10, 1997, and was reportedly backed by
about 4,000 bonfire demonstrations at other locations,
including 25 hosted by the 177 U.S. fox hunting clubs.
It appeared to be bigger even than the rowdy
Valentine’s Day march on Paris by 135,000 to 150,000
French bird-shooters, who whipped a pig and a pack of
dogs through streets ahead of them, repeatedly hanged
French environment minister Dominique Voynet in effigy,
and pelted a young woman who held up a heartshaped
anti-hunting message with empty beer cans.
Thirteen next-day accounts of the Countryside
March obtained by ANIMAL PEOPLE from British
and world media mentioned only two anti-hunting protesters
who challenged the London mob––Beryl Clifton
and Christine Adams, who raised a picture of a fox
bearing the words, “Listen to him.”
Wrote John Burgess of The Washington Post
Foreign Service, “Boos sounded occasionally and at
least one sandwich was hurled their way.”
Non-violent hunting opponents were embarrassed
and somewhat muted when two weeks before the
march a hitherto unknown entity calling itself “the
Provisional Animal Liberation Front,” in apparent emulation
of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, issued
an anonymous media release claiming it would begin
waging war on humans as well as property. At least 20
potential targets including local hunting clubs, biomedical
researchers, and Royal SPCA research animal
department head Maggie Jennings received the statement
by mail, along with a video cassette filled with cat
litter and a diagram explaining how the device could
actually have been a bomb.
But hunt supporters appeared not at all embarrassed
by the actions of farmers Robert Rowe and Ben
Bartlett, who just days earlier admitted having more
than 100 red deer shot on their Quantock Hills
properties after the National Trust and Forestry
Commission banned stag hunting with hounds
in April 1997. Stag hunting with hounds
resumed in November 1997––possibly for the
last time, as the National Trust has said no
license for the hunting will be issued this year.
With the possible exception of some
demonstrations against cow slaughter in India,
the three biggest animal-related demonstrations
ever held have all favored tormenting and
killing animals for the sheer hell of it, and all
have come within the past nine months.
The Countryside Alliance reportedly
rented more buses (2,000) and special train
cars (on 29 special trains) than the most reliably
reported total attendance at the 1996
“March for the Animals” in Washington D.C.
Hunters are on the march, no doubt
about it. Members of the British Parliament,
after voting 411-151 in favor of a proposed
national ban on fox hunting on second reading
late last year, panicked into rapid retreat. Prohunting
members of the ruling Labour Party
delegation in the House of Lords disclosed a
briefing paper arguing that a fox hunting ban
could be overturned as “unfair to a minority,”
under the European Convention on Human
Rights. Prime Minister Tony Blair had already
assigned the ban a low priority on the
Parliamentary calendar. In case that wasn’t
enough to kill it, environment minister
Michael Meacher promised TV viewers a day
later that the ban “won’t get on the statute
book,” calling for “more discussions so we
can reach conciliation” on what both pro- and
anti-fox hunting leaders have long termed an
Hoping to sell voters on licensing
fox hunts as a purported halfway measure, the
Blair government formed a multi-party committee
to discuss licensing legislation.
“Licensing hunting would be totally
endorsing it,” responded Michael Foster, MP,
whose private bill forced fox hunting to the
political forefront a year ago after Blair backed
away from an election campaign promise to
permit a free Parliamentary vote on it.
Home Secretary Jack Strawtold
Philip Webster and Richard Ford of The Times
of London on March 5, “I do not see a role for
government” in addressing fox hunting.
The Foster bill was “talked out” and
pronounced officially dead on March 13.
Back in the U.S.A.
None of the U.S. fox hunting rallies
attracted more than 200 participants, even in
the heart of Virginia “hunt country,” where
three separate events may have split the crowd.
But U.S. hunters flexed their political
muscle in other ways, as legislation
advanced at both the state and federal level to
expand hunter privileges––and, in several
instances, to forestall any efforts, ever, to
ban or restrict any type of hunting or trapping
through direct democratic process.
Most flagrantly, the Utah state
house on February 25 voted 52-19 to put a referendum
question on the November 1998 state
ballot which if passed would require any future
voter initiatives pertaining to wildlife management
to pass by a two-thirds majority. The
state senate previously approved it 25-3.
“Ironically,” pointed out Salt Lake
T r i b u n e reporter Dan Harris, “it would take
only a simple majority” to put the restriction
Michigan voters, possibly confused
by two similarly worded initiatives on the
1996 ballot, approved a measure which
deprived them of any right to vote on wildlife
management questions. Alabama voters in the
same election enshrined hunting as a “right”
guaranteed by the state constitution. Hunting
interests in the Minnesota legislature, for at
least the third time, are currently seeking a
“right-to-hunt” amendment to the state constitution,
and such an amendment has been
raised too in Wyoming and Montana.
But American Civil Liberties Union
attorney Pamela Martinson said the Utah measure
would be unique in requiring a different
standard of wildlife-related legislation than is
required of legislation on any other subject.
Utah, however, is not noted for
principled governmental conduct on wildlife
matters generally. As the referendum question
was before the legislature, the Utah
Department of Natural Resources was spending
$10,000 in state gasoline tax revenue to
send all 35,000 off-road vehicle owners registered
in the state a brochure warning them that,
“Millions of acres of existing riding areas are
threatened by potential wilderness designation,”
urging them to protest to Congress and
the Bureau of Land Management.
In Congress, Idaho Senator Larry
Craig and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden that
week introduced a bill to require federal land
managers to designate currently public campsites
and boat launches for the sole use of commercial
outfitters and guides––whose clients
are primarily hunters and fishers. The bill, SB
1489, would cover all lands administered by
the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land
Management, and National Park Service.
Alaska Representative Don Young
meanwhile continued to push HR 2863, the
so-called Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act,
which would all but legalize hunting over baited
fields by requiring that wildlife officers be
able to prove that hunters had prior knowledge
of the presence of bait before making an arrest.
Ohio Governor George Voinovich
on March 2 signed a bill legalizing Sunday
hunting, overwhelmingly approved by both
houses of the state legislature, but Save The
Doves apparently fell narrowly short of gaining
enough signatures to advance an attempt to
reinstitute a ban on mourning dove hunting.
The ban was repealed by the legislature in
1995 after being in effect for every year since
1917 except 1975-1976.
At the regulatory level, the Ohio
Department of Wildlife is reportedly moving
to allow more use of body-gripping traps in
Opponents of an Iowa bill to legalize
dove hunting managed to kill it, at least for
this year, when it failed to clear the state natural
resources committee despite reportedly
heavy lobbying by the Wildlife Legislative
Fund of America.
A proposed opening of Sunday hunting
failed to clear the West Virginia house natural
resources committee on February 25. But
Sunday hunting, already in effect in much of
Michigan, is likely to be expanded to the
whole state if the state house approves and
then voters in November ratify a bill approved
on March 4 by the state house conservation,
environment, and recreation committee.
New York expanded Sunday hunting
in 1996. Current New York state assembly
bills, summarizes Fund for Animals state capital
representative Marian Stark, would “open
up more private lands for hunting and trapping
by reducing legal liabilities for private
landowners who allow ‘sportsmen’ on their
land”; fund a proposed National Fish and
Wildlife Museum and Education Center,
which would “glorify hunting and trapping”;
expand landowner ability to invite in hunters
to kill deer; and relax trapping rules pertaining
to beavers, to allow use of underwater snares
and allow trappers to take an extra three days
between checking traps. Similar anti-beaver
bills failed in 1996 and 1997.
Illinois bowhunters of troglodite
bent were tossed a bone in February at the regulatory
rather than legislative level, when the
state Department of Natural Resources
announced that they may now use handmade
obsidian, chert, or flint arrowheads.
“Here be dragons”
Overlooked in the political shock at
the size of the hunter turnouts in Britain and
France, as well as in the naked aggression of
the legislative offensive in the U.S., are substantial
reasons to think the shows of hunter
force are less symptomatic of real strength
than of a dragon’s death throes––the time,
according to proverb, when dragons lash their
tails most mightily, using every bit of whatever
energy they have left to delay the inevitable.
The trend in Utah is especially
indicative. According to the Utah Division of
Wildlife Resources, the state had 184,344
hunters in 1960, among 900,000 residents. As
of 1995, there were just 166,837 hunters
among two million residents. One in five
hunted in 1960; one in 12 hunts now.
Participation in nonconsumptive outdoor
activity is sharply up since 1982, according
to the National Survey on Recreation and
the Environment, which through 1995 found a
155% increase in birdwatching, a 93%
increase in hiking, a 73% increase in backpacking,
a 59% increase in downhill skiing, a
58% increase in tent camping, a 43% increase
in walking, and a 38% increase in swimming
in natural waters.
Yet hunting participation, the survey
found, fell 12% over the same 13 years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
annual compilation of hunting license sales
data from around the U.S. found an all-time
high of 16.7 million individual license holders
in 1982, which by 1995 had eroded by just
8%, to 15.3 million. But during those same
years, many states extended license holding
requirements for the first time to cover hunters
under age 16, over age 65, and hunting exclusively
on their own property. Extending the
licensing requirements thus masked the real
extent of the drop in hunter numbers.
A more comprehensive U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Survey, done every five years,
eliminates duplication in the count resulting
from the incidence of hunters who are simultaneously
licensed in more than one state. It
found 14.1 million active licensed hunters in
1991 and just 13.5 million in 1996, as recruitment
remains below attrition even with the
extension of licensing requirements.
The 1996 Hunting Frequency and
Attitude Survey conducted for the National
Shooting Sports Foundation found that hunters
aged 18-24 now comprise only 8% of the hunting
population, down from 17% in 1986.
Most investigators expect further
declines, even with vigorous promotion of
hunting, due to shifting population patterns,
which show more children being raised in nonhunting
families and in urban areas, away
from opportunities to hunt. As the Baby Boom
generation ages, meanwhile, USFWS data
indicates the median age of active hunters has
climbed from 34-36 in surveys done 15-20
years ago to 44 as of 1996. That means that if
demographic trends hold, more than half of
the hunters now active will be past their most
active hunting years in another decade.
Even in Texas, a hunting stronghold,
Texas A&M researcher Steve Murdock
reportedly expects hunting participation to fall
13% by the year 2030, based strictly on demographics––and
Murdock’s is among the more
Not only will there be fewer hunters,
but the hunters will hunt less.
Some hunters aren’t worried about
the trend. “There are a lot of conclusions one
can draw from the statistics,” Steve Bowman
of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opined in
December 1996. “The obvious is that overall
hunter nmbers are declining. But despite the
loss, it seems the hunters left are more committed,”
as the percentage of bowhunters
among the hunter population rose from 33% in
1991 to 45% just five years later, and the percentage
of turkey hunters climbed from 26% in
1986 to 44% in 1995.
“Any time there are more
bowhunters and turkey hunters,” Bowman
continued, “both forms of hunting that require
a high degree of commitment, then hunting is
not in as bad shape as one might surmise.”
What Bowman actually said,
though, between the lines, was that for the
time being the constant expansion of hunting
opportunities has maintained hunter clout in
wildlife management, as the hardcore hunters
left in the field are induced to pay more and
more in licensing fees to spend more and more
time killing animals. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service studies found hunters’ time
afield rose 10% from 1991 to 1996––but
hunters spent 43% more money.
Hardcore hunters’ bloodlust may
never be satiated. Their willingness to redirect
resources to hunting, like the willingness of
addicts to divert resources to drugs and alcohol,
may never be exhausted.
Yet failure to recruite new hunters at
a rate exceeding attrition dooms the hunting
subpopulation to eventual loss of strength at
the ballot box, no matter how much money
they channel to wildlife agencies and the gun
industry. The hunting survival strategy is thus
three-pronged. Economic reserves are used to
buy politicians and time; the time bought is
used to push recruitment; and hunters meanwhile
seek alliances with other interest groups,
whose members may not hunt but may support
hunting in exchange for hunters’ support in
seeking their own objectives.
Among other recently unveiled
recruitment schemes, the Outdoor Life
Network on February 23 announced a partnership
with the U.S. Forest Service to produce
nature videos for schools, and the M.J.
Murdock Charitable Trust gave the Rocky
Mountain Elk Foundation $215,000 to send its
in-house magazine, Wild Outdoor World, to
fourth graders in Idaho, Oregon, and
Washington. The Outdoor Life Network is an
outgrowth of Outdoor Life magazine, whose
core audience remains the hook-and-bullet set
despite recent efforts to diversify. The Rocky
Mountain Elk Foundation and Wild Outdoor
World exist essentially to expand elk hunting.
Bucks for the bang
In Britain, where public opinion
polls continue to show 70% of the public
favors a total ban on fox hunting, fox hunters
have mustered support seemingly stronger than
their actual numbers by positioning themselves
as leading representatives of rural opposition
to quite a number of unrelated trends, pending
bills, and items of legislation already in effect.
Luke Harding of The Manchester
G u a r d i a n noted Countryside Alliance enlistment
of foes of urban sprawl, rural residents
worried about loss of services due to government
budget cuts, beef farmers upset over
income lost during 12 years of rising anxiety
over “mad cow disease,” and handgun enthusiasts
who remain upset over the national
handgun ban passed after bird shooter Thomas
Hamilton used a handgun to kill 16 children
and a teacher, wounding 13 other children, on
March 13, 1996.
The unwieldiness of the coalition,
comparable to the “wise use” assemblage in
the U.S. west, is most apparent in opposition
to a proposed “statutory action by the Blair
government to give people the right to roam
over private land,” Harding wrote.
“Landowners have been given three months to
come up with a voluntary code,” Harding
explained. “Farmers claim walkers will force
them to introduce expensive insurance and
may damage crops. Ramblers groups dismiss
this as ‘absolute rubbish.’”
Ironically, the issue of a claimed
“right to ramble” on the part of non-landowners
arose when hikers, birdwatchers, and antifox
hunting protesters asserted the same privileges
enjoyed by hunters in pursuit of a quarry
since the advent of British land enclosure.
“Attempts to defuse the hunting
row,” wrote Anne Perkins of The Guardian,
“came at the end of a week of U-turns and
concessions to the countryside lobby. In just
seven days the Government backtracked on
greenfield development [a.k.a. urban sprawl],
softened its position on the right to roam,
extended consultation on banning unpasteurised
milk, found new money for beef
farmers, eased the financial pressure on village
shops, promised to delay village school
closures, and held out the prospect of action
on rural traffic. It was confirmed on March 2
that Cabinet-level negotiations are underway
over transforming the Ministry of Agriculture
into a Rural Affairs Department. Downing
Street strongly denied it was a response to the
march,” although such a move was demanded
in an address to the marchers by agriculture
Parliamentary secretary Lord Donoughue.
Donoughue was apparently the
senior representative of the agriculture ministry
to attend. Agriculture minister Jack
Cunningham and junior agriculture minister
Elliot Morley stayed away, somewhat incongruously
charging that the march had been
“hijacked” by the hunters who by all other
accounts organized and funded it.
Even broadening the issues well
beyond those having anything clearly to do
with fox hunting, assembling the Countryside
March required significantly depleting the cash
reserves of the hunting lobby.
The Countryside March took out a
one-day radio license, for instance, putting its
own station on the air with a style Anne Karpf
of The Guardian dubbed “a sort of Pravda
FM,” amplifying a message Karpf summarized
as, “you can only be truly British if you
live in the countryside and like to kill animals.
You could hear the Duke of Westminster’s
millions in the jingles alone,” Karpf charged.
Electronic hackers briefly broke into
the broadcast with the words, “Broadcasting
to the nation’s bigots, wherever they are.”
The Duke of Westminster, a
Countryside Alliance board member, put up
£1 million, worth about $1.58 million U.S.,
toward the cost of founding the Countryside
Movement, a partner of the British Field
Sports Society in the Countryside alliance.
There were media hints that much of
the rest of the money behind the Countryside
March might have come from the U.S. gun
lobby, reportedly anxious over the tendency
for British precedents to cross the Atlantic.
“This allegation is totally and completely
false,” Countryside Alliance chief
executive Robin Hanbury-Tenison told George
Jones, Charles Clover, and David Brown of
The Daily Telegraph. “This march is funded
by thousands of donations, most in the £5-£20
bracket, the vast majority from members of
the Countryside Alliance. The largest single
donation was £2,000,” or about $3,150.
Altogether, Alan Hamilton of T h e
T i m e s of London estimated, the march cost
the organizers £500,000: circa $787,500.
In some respects, the Countryside
March was a bargain, costing only 20% more
than the $626,577 that National Alliance for
Animals president Peter Gerard claimed to
have spent on the 1996 March for the Animals,
to attract perhaps 10% as many people. And
the Countryside March budget included transporting
approximately 125,000 marchers to the
event from all parts of Britain. Almost all
March for the Animals participants paid their
own freight, adding from $500,000 to
$750,000 to the real price of the day.
Occupying a £640,000 headquarters
donated for token rent, which cost £120,000
more to renovate, the Countryside Alliance
might recoup the march expenses through
heightened donor enthusiasm post-march.
Then again, it might find, as U.S. animal
rights groups did after both the 1990 and 1996
marches on Washington D.C., that tapped out
donors give much less for several years.
The Daily Telegraph reported on
March 6 that the Countryside Alliance collected
an estimated £150,000 from marchers.
But as if to underscore the risks of
extravaganzas, ANIMAL PEOPLE the same
day received an “emergency appeal” from the
Elsa Wild Animal Appeal, of Mahomet,
Illinois. For the second time in nine months,
Elsa president Don Rolla explained “Our 1996
March for the Animals effort drained our
resources more than anticipated,” warning further
that because “1997 was a year in which
donations dropped dramatically,” Elsa “may
have to suspend operations.”
Scores of grassroots animal protection
groups collapsed after both the 1990 and
1996 Marches for the Animals. If the
Countryside March has the same effect on
British hunting clubs, it might hasten the
demise of hunting despite itself.