A Tragedy in the Making: Hunting as Political Theater

Dan Born
Dan Born

What should we do when hunting is threatened by those from within?

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Last week William Perry Pendley, a longtime advocate for the transfer of public lands, was given the job of Director of the Bureau of Land Management by the Trump Administration, tasked as the top steward to oversee the management of almost a quarter-billion acres of land that is held in trust by the Federal Government for every American citizen. Land that is framed in natural beauty*, populated by wildlife, provides clean water and air and is relied on by many for hunting, fishing, camping and other forms of recreation as well as livelihood like cattle grazing and responsible timber harvest. The outcry was instantaneous, with hunters and hunting organizations loudly condemning and making clear the absurdity of the promotion.


William Pendley, Director of the BLM. Source: Bureau of Land Management

Those voices were not all raised in unison though. I read a fair bit of criticism online that was pointed towards hunters who were objecting to the ascent of Pendley. The standard kind of remarks like “You would do better to keep politics out of hunting,” and “all us hunters need to stick together.”

Both statements are essentially ways to avoid or deflect online conversations that may cause hunters to have to turn a critical eye on themselves or be forced to defend political affiliations when threats to hunting arise from within groups traditionally seen as hunter-friendly.

Avoidance was the chosen path of many for a long time. Over the last couple years though, I’ve increasingly read statements that are not nearly the type of back turned, head-in-the-sand, comments like that above. Now, instead of simply trying to avoid the conversation, some have switched to using a tactic that has defined the extremely divided tribal politics we as a nation find ourselves in. Rather than consider different positions, they double-down on whatever claim their “tribe” is making. The more extreme the claim, the more it is seen as against the opposing tribe and the more unmovable their opinion.

So, in what is an extreme irony, those that originally wished to keep politics out of hunting, have now through their hardened resolve, guaranteed hunting will forever be political theater. Today, public lands are the stage on which the theater is played out on, and the script by Pendley and people like him is that federal land ownership is somehow inherently at odds with the Constitution, and that all federally managed land should be turned over to the states or otherwise divested of. Although shown false by the Supreme Court and constitutional scholarship, the belief is still often-touted through the echo chamber that is social media. It’s like the thought has been drilled into people’s heads by some Sagebrush Rebellion politicians version of a “A Clockwork Orange;” otherwise sensible hunters strapped to a chair, eyes pinned open, forced to listen to a recording of Cliven Bundy’s New Translation of the Constitution while watching horrifying videos of people from outside their state traipsing across unspoiled public land accompanied by a reintroduced Canadian super-wolf.

William Pendley is one of these politicians. Think I’m being overly dramatic? Pendley’s Twitter handle is literally, @Sagebrush_Rebel.

He made is intentions clear in 2016 when he penned an article for the National Review stating plainly and without the need for interpretation that, “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” Not coincidentally, that piece was published on January 19th, 2016, toward what would be the end of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by the Bundy’s and other anti-government, anti-public land zealots.

The process (or lack of) of how William Pendley became the new BLM director is one of the big reasons behind the ongoing uproar. Up until now, Pendley has earned his income by writing books advocating for the sale of public lands as well as acting as the president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, suing agencies like the BLM and U.S. Forest Service on behalf of companies looking to weaken environmental regulations toward the aim of easier resource extraction from public lands. This past July, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt hired Pendley as Deputy Director of Policy and Programs for the BLM and a week later moved him into the director’s office after acting director Casey Hammond vacated the role.

This strikes many as especially dirty politics. The appointment of a new BLM Director has traditionally been confirmed by the Senate, and the chances of an anti-public land zealot like Pendley surviving the rigors of a confirmation hearing was at best, unlikely. He was installed by the Trump Administration in a way that kept the American public from having a voice in the matter, channeled through their elected Senators.

Let that sink in. Without public input, a guy that made his money suing the government and advocating for the sale of public lands has been appointed by the Government as the leader of the largest public land agency in the nation, and at least some sportsmen are vocally supportive even though it is clearly against their best interest as hunters.

Queue the theme from Stranger Things because we have officially landed in the Upside Down.

Hunters need to wake up. While I doubt we’ll ever be able to get through to everyone that believes the garbage spewed forth by the likes of Pendley and the Bundy’s, I’m hoping those hunters with their backs yet turned will change position, clear their eyes and watch what is unfolding around them. When they do, they’ll likely be as disgusted as I am to see something we hold so sacred be used as a stage for political theater. But we better get used to that fact, because if we ignore the actions of politicians, they’ll drop the curtain on us.

If Hunting is a stage, then hunters need to be more than merely players.

If you are as concerned about the appointment of Pendley as I am, then contact your elected Representatives and get your voice heard.

*Cover photo used with permission of Tony Bynum. Check out his words, images and advocacy for the Badger-Two Medicine and other public lands at https://www.tonybynum.com/badg...