From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 23 - August 31, 2006
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Wildlife agencies to push trust doctrine

by Cat Urbigkit

Western wildlife agencies are no strangers to controversial issues, and resolutions recently enacted by a coalition of state wildlife managers address a variety of issues of local interest, and may generate even more debate.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has taken notice of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s stated intent to create rules that define its Veterinary Services division’s animal health policy in relation to wildlife. APHIS is expected to assert more authority in disease cases involving wildlife – specifically in regard to brucellosis in elk and bison in the Yellowstone region. The APHIS policy and proposed rule addresses disease management in free-ranging animals, including native and exotic wildlife species that are managed by state wildlife agencies.

The newly adopted WAFWA resolution notes that “Veterinary Services has statutory authority through the Animal Health Protection Act to implement disease control and/or eradication actions for wildlife under certain actions, and, specifically, in the case of an extraordinary disease emergency, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has broad and expansive authority to seize and dispose of any animal, including wildlife.”

Since APHIS policy and rule “could potentially and significantly impact native and exotic wildlife species, and the states’ ability to manage and regulate wildlife populations, including distribution and density, as well as its harvest as game,” the WAFWA resolution calls for theAssociation of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to “take all reasonable actions to ensure state management authority over native and exotic wildlife is not diminished.”

Larry Kruckenberg of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department also serves as secretary to WAFWA. He said this resolution was advanced by WG&F and unanimously supported by WAFWA.

WAFWA also unanimously endorsed a resolution attempting to expand recognition of the Public Trust Doctrine in wildlife management.

In 2002, former WG&F Commissioner Former Commissioner Tracy Hunt of Newcastle warned the state wildlife commission about the public trust doctrine, calling it “a secret weapon of environmental activists” becauseof its “ability to override prior legal claims” and make any claims of the “taking” of private property irrelevant.

Hunt called the public trust doctrine a “surreptitious attack” on the WG&F Commission’s authority and on private property rights. The doctrine gives every single member of the public standing to file litigation, Hunt said, and would substitute the commission’s judgment to “a panel of judges in a far-away jurisdiction.” Apparently that fear isn’t shared by members of WAFWA.

The WAFWA resolution calls the Public Trust Doctrine “the keystone component of the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.”

The resolution declares that “the public must be made aware of this public trust, and it must be enforceable against the government, and itmust be adaptive to contemporary concerns.”

WAFWA noted that “case law on the public trust suggests that fish and wildlife agencies cannot rely on the courts to uphold the trust.”

WAFWA voted to make it a priority to undertake “focused proactive efforts to solidify and strengthen the trust,” including through outreach and education; to communicate the existence and importance of the Public Trust Doctrine to internal and external stakeholders; and to engage universities and other academic institutions to encourage inclusion of the Public Trust Doctrine and related principles in fish and wildlife curricula.

Another WAFWA resolution expected to generate controversy among those opposed to hunting in national parks “encourages the National Park Service to seek whatever legislative or regulatory authority is required to support use of public hunters to reduce ungulate populations in national parks.” Kruckenberg said that this resolution had its genesis in Colorado, withthe burgeoning elk population in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the original resolution specifically referred to that situation, it was later modified to apply to a much broader area, he said.

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