Wildlife initiative may have hidden wheels

  Dear HCN,

Jon Margolis' article on the Teaming with Wildlife initiative (HCN, 12/23/96) was ironic, coming as it did on the heels of the previous issue on the increasing political power that motorized vehicle users have developed in the West. As Margolis points out, this seems to be a benign plan, only opposed by "left-of-center" enviros and (by implication) tax-hating militiamen.

As with all things in Congress, there is more to this than meets the eye. No bill has actually been introduced in Congress, so it is difficult to know what this initiative is really all about. If this is to be a wildlife initiative, it should be structured to enhance wildlife per se, not generic "recreation" as it seems to be evolving.

Most disturbingly, the initiative is being heavily promoted by Yamaha and other makers of off-road vehicles. These folks see the possibility of a program that would support the interests of their customers. As contributors, these companies and their customers would have a perfectly legitimate call on the proceeds of such a fund to promote off-road vehicle parks and the designation of trails for the use of these vehicles.

To suppose that these activities would do much for wildlife (as opposed to the wild life), is wishful thinking. A particularly insidious outcome would be to make game and fish departments across the nation even more beholden to motorized recreation interests than they already are inclined to be.

Game and fish departments do need to broaden their bases of support, and some are reaching out to non-consumptive users of wildlife. However, such funding needs to be based on the concept of habitat and wildlife as common goods belonging to all the people of the state, and to be provided by legislatures, not through an activity-specific tax.

If the funding source is tied to specific interests, it will divert the focus of the agencies from wildlife issues and make them into all-purpose recreation departments.

In this light, this initiative is at best an insult to the credulity of the very people it is trying to recruit as supporters. At worst, it looks like a stealth attack on wildlife and its habitat.

Thomas Jervis

Los Alamos, New Mexico