Don Peay: the Man Who Would Be King… Baron

by Bob Ferris
 
Rudyard Kipling wrote a tale once about two pals in the British army serving in India who figured they could travel north to Kafiristan in present-day Afghanistan and essentially create their own mini-kingdom.  The tale was fanciful and was eventually turned into a popular 1975 movie starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine called “The Man who would be King” named after Kipling’s novella.
 
But the absurd nature of this fictional exercise of kingdom creation has not stopped Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Sportsmen for Habitat, Utah Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, and Full Curl Society as well as co-founder of Big Game Forever LLC from seeing this as a model for taking the first steps towards bringing that oh-so-modern concept of feudalism to the United States.  And—wait for it—having the taxpayers make significant contributions to the diminishment of their rights and privileges.  Want details?
 
Let’s start with the fact that Mr. Peay believes that our current constitutional construct established under the 10th Amendment where the individual states have control and ownership of wildlife and hold it in the Public Trust is Socialism.  Ouch—strong words for a system that was established so that everyone, not just royalty and gentlepersons, could enjoy this public resource without being branded, beaten or hung for simply hunting, trapping or fishing.  (Mr. Peay should understand that both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are the functional equivalents of emancipation documents expressly written in response to past abuses and to protect us from future peril.)
 
"One state at a time, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife is dismantling the very idea of a public wildlife resource, and replacing it with special privileges for the privileged." Ben Long in High Country News
 
There are some nuances and spins to what Mr. Peay and his colleagues like Corey Rossi—past head of Alaska’s wildlife agency—recently ousted for a dozen wildlife violations—are trying to do, but the “nose under the tent” on their grand scheme is creating programs that privatize wildlife and grant “special” people “special” rights to wildlife owned by all of us.  Those special rights would include hunting outside of hunting seasons, creating areas free of predators, and providing economic incentives for creating super-productive areas on private lands that could include food plots and supplemental feeding (read large-scale baiting) which would likely act to draw game off surrounding public lands.  
 
The introduction of the Canadian Grey Wolf into Northern Rocky Mountains was a wildlife management expirement (sic) which has gone horribly wrong. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation calls it "one of the worst wildlife management disasters since the destruction of bison herds".  Quote from David Allen former NASCAR executive on Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife website
 
The ecological, economic and social pitfalls of this approach are myriad.  We—with the exception of trophy hunting groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation—have seen the folly of creating feeding grounds for species such as elk and deer.  This scheme taken to its conclusion creates large, fenceless game farms with greatly reduced biodiversity.  It also creates a dynamic to spread more wildlife diseases faster.  If you want chronic wasting disease and Brucellosis hot spots—please sign on the dotted line.
 
The economics are dicey, too.  Right now many people derive income from hunting and fishing from guides and hotel owners to gas stations and restaurants.  Game species are spread rather than concentrated and hunting licenses and access are managed in a manner that optimizes participation and spreads income across a broad base.  What happens to this dynamic when portions of the harvestable game base are drawn away from their current distribution pattern into large, private refugia that can easily accommodate and would welcome their own, on-site facilities including private air strips?   To understand this potential impact think about what Wal-Marts on the outskirts of towns have done to Main Street, America.  
 
Socially this is a case where quality experiences become more and more reserved for people of quality.  In Mr. Peay’s world the biggest and best would be reserved for the “knights” of industry in the land of corporate jets and the rest of us would simply have to suffer along with the leavings and obey rules.  
 
This would also further enhance what are now huge ranches almost exclusively in the West.  Given that these private ranchlands were made possible in large part because of past federal largess like the Homestead Act, made practical through past federal actions displacing their former native and human inhabitants, and made richer by current federal benefits such as farm subsidies and nominal federal grazing fees, you would think that these ranchers, Peay and their allies would first drop a little of their anti-federal rhetoric.  Their near schizophrenic irony of uber-patriotic ranchers hating and badmouthing of the very hand that made their lives possible has always struck me as strange.  
 
And you would also think that they would not be so quick about asking state legislatures and game agencies for privileges and monies that would further their campaigns to create what would essentially be modern-day Baronies—subsidized by the generosity of the “King” and enjoying a rarified legal setting.  Mr. Peay’s recent request from the state of Utah for $300,000 so he could lobby the federal government on wolves is a perfect example of this entitled attitude and has drawn considerable ire from a number of quarters (see 1, 2, 3, 4).
 
“The delisting of the wolf is critical for the recovery and safeguarding of our precious big game assets in America." —Ted Nugent on Big Game Forever LLC website
 
Also Baron Von Peay should also understand—as many of us do—that the most vocal and visible opponents of Socialism are typically Fascists.  But Mr. Peay’s dealings are a little bit more complex than first meets the eye and it is a mistake to simply characterize him as a politically motivated hater of wolves and serial founder of conservation organizations.  In addition to his “conservation” actions, he has manufactured an intricate spiders’ web of non-profits and for-profits that has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into his own coffers (see page 7 and page 8 for examples).  
 
“We have been in the business of selling big game hunting packages to high end clients who sought to hunt with the top tier big game outfitters.” World Trophy Outfitters profile
 
Spider’s web may even be an understatement.  One rapidly gets tired and fuzzy when looking at the mélange of entities set up by this ambitious chemical engineer and petroleum industry consultant turned wildlife entrepreneur.  From his first attempts as a hunting impresario with World Trophy Outfitters, Inc. to his current, more successful efforts to do essentially the same thing in his non-profit empire, this has been a story of building a well-connected—yet cryptic—universe.   
 
Some of these relationships are easy to sort out and some are more complicated.  Take for instance the relationship with Chris Carling and Brand X Communications in Salt Lake City.  Brand X does the web work for several of Peay’s non-profit ventures and Mr. Carling is also the public relations contact for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.  Brand X is apparently connected with the domain Donpeay.com in some manner as well as the website for the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export facility near Coos Bay which will be facilitated by fracking in the very states where Peay’s groups are most powerful.  The business suite where Brand X is located is also the business address listed for Big Game Forever LLC and the former address of record for Sportsmen for Romney.  
 
“As of March 31, 2007, we had acquired fourteen Dall Sheep hunts for the 2007 and 2008 seasons with Kelly Hougen of Arctic Red River Outfitters, ten of which have been resold. The relationship between Arctic Red River Outfitters and WTO is that of a purchaser and seller of services and these organizations are not affiliated.”  World Trophy Outfitters Inc. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Form 10-KSB for Fiscal year 2007 page 4  
 
And then there is the whole issue with Arctic Red River Outfitters which appears to be owned in part by Peay but also partially owned by Sportsmen for Habitat with officers in common.  And yet on their IRS 990 forms SFH claims no business relations with current or former board members.  What? It is all very interesting but I will leave this to some ambitious investigative reporter who has the time and energy to sort out this can-o-worms or a similarly motivated IRS or SEC agent who ought to be asking some questions.  
 
“As a conservationist, it outrages me that animal rights extremists are using wolves as biological weapons to destroy 100 years of conservation in the western United States.” Jeff Foxworthy—Comedian on Big Game Forever LLC website
 
Peay’s business model is unfortunately a simple one that we have seen before: pedal wolf hatred to those most vulnerable to the messaging and then take millions of dollars’ worth of public resources (in the form of game permits) and sell them to the rich, privileged and influential.  His one variation from this is when he and his entourage sell chances for a coveted permit—letting hundreds act as a virtual “person of privilege”—keeping the myth of equality alive.
 
"My MacMillan River Adventure partner Keith Mark and I are extremely proud of our relationship with Big Game Forever because they are the one organization that recognized the damage that was occurring and the potential total devastation that would occur to our precious wildlife if the wolf issue was not addressed.”  Shawn Michaels WWE Hall of Fame on Big Game Forever website
 
He has been quite effective using the Four Horsemen of American Ignorance (i.e., NASCAR, Wrestling, Redneck Humor, and Ted Nugent) in recruiting an army of willing wolf killers.  The Montana Chapter of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, for instance, gives away free memberships to individuals who furnish pictures of themselves with dead wolves.  SFW-MT is careful, however, to point out that they do not want pictures of wolves in traps.  Apparently, they understand that there are limits.  
 

There are a lot of chicken and egg issues with Peay and his operations.  Is he trying to forward big game recovery or trying to maximize his connections and curry favor with rich donors to forward his political fundraising?  Why is the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo run by Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and Mule Deer Foundation a non-profit event rather than a for-profit enterprise because it looks like there is a whole lot more commerce taking place than conservation?  And where is the non-profit argument of public good and benefit in creating better hunting opportunities for folks with an extra $20,000 or $100,000 rolling around in their jeans and in making sure outfitters are fully booked and taxidermists busy?  The charitable purposes of these entities simply seem swamped by the commercial and the political undertones.  And this impression is only magnified by the public financial reporting which lacks a certain openness in detail.  
Like Kipling’s Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, Peay is of humble beginnings.  When you read his self-narrative you almost feel sorry for the boy whose family lacked the $35 to let him play football, but when he compensates for that missing “sport” in his life by taking 500-yard shots at rare animals the sympathy factor melts away quickly.  He is all about trophies whether it is being photographed next to whatever carcass he has recently created or standing near Dick Cheney, George W. Bush or Orin Hatch.
 
Peay should realize in all of this that the Kipling tale is also a cautionary one.  It describes the ultimate consequences to one who climbs too high and then falls when the myths he has created and promoted are shown to be without merit.   What will happen in all of this when the enabling state wildlife agencies realize that they would probably get more value and benefit if they sold these game permits themselves instead of allowing them to be used to build this convoluted financial empire and thinly disguised political machine?  And when will the everyday hunters out there understand that they are complicit in enriching these groups who are aggressively creating a system designed expressly to grant their precious rights to the privileged few while they are left with the leavings?   
 
So what needs to happen?  Folks need to tell their wildlife agencies in western states that they do not want their precious wildlife in the form of hunting tags and permits given to Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Sportsmen for Habitat, Big Game Forever, or the Full Curl Society to be used in their campaigns to enrich themselves and privatize wildlife.  We also need to remind these agencies of their Public Trust responsibilities to manage wildlife for the public and not just for wealthy trophy hunters and ranchers.  And we need also to remind these wildlife agencies and their governing boards that wildlife should be managed based on the best available science.  In other words, let wildlife agency employees use the degrees that they worked so long and hard to earn.  Here are the electonic links (e-mails and forms) as well as the snail mail and phone for Wyoming.  Please let them know how you feel and pass this blog post around so that others do the same.  Thank you!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wyoming:
 
Wyoming Game & Fish Department Headquarters
5400 Bishop Blvd. Cheyenne, WY 82006
ph: (307) 777-4600
 

 

 

News and Editorial Coverage:

 

 

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial: Just cry wolf

 

15 Responses to Don Peay: the Man Who Would Be King… Baron

  1. Lonna O'Leary says:

    Leave it to Bob Ferris to write an article that exposes Don Peay for what he truly is. I just left a comment about Don Peay on a different article I read right before this one. In my opinion Don Peay is an evil being who is using the wolf to make his fortune and nothing more. He doesn't care one iota about any wildlife. He cares about his money and how he can bilk the american public out of their money while slowly stealing their rights to enjoy wildlife and wildlands away from them.

  2. Kristi Lloyd says:

    Another fabulous writing, Bob.  Thank you for doing what you do.  You do it so very well.

  3. Pete Braun says:

    I have long been a NASCAR fan, but if you ask me, David Allen is an absolute disgrace. So is Don Peay and those who back SFW and Big Game Forever. They should all be labeled as domestic terrorist groups.

  4. somsai says:

    Your just sore because he's beating you at your own game.

    • bob says:

      And what “game” exactly do you perceive that to be? Science? Honesty? Conservation?

      • somsai says:

        Advocacy. He promotes hunting. You try to eliminate it, with a side order of Dave Allen envy.

        • bob says:

          I think if you will take time to do some investigation you will see that the issue is more complicated than that. Both Peay and Allen advocate trophy hunting and they do that in partnership with the ranching and outfitting communities. This is big dollar hunting which has few participants and which also compromises the quality of hunting and access for hunters who do not have a spare $20K or more in their jeans. This is why Mr. Peay and Mr. Allen are so heavily criticized by knowledgeable hunters and a number of insightful outdoors writers. You buy it because you have a fear that wolves and grizzly bears will come to Colorado and they play on that fear. If wolves were so awfully bad and destructive then why would anti-wolf forces have to use deception and lies so often in their arguments? Why would wolf hunters so frequently use photographic tricks to make wolves look larger and create the myth of giant wolves? Why would Peay and others work so hard to characterize minimum recovery goals as maximum population sizes? And if the wolves were such a problem why wouldn’t the scientific community–please remember these are some of the most studied animals in North America–be issuing report after report documenting the ecological disaster of wolves? You may be right that Don Peay is a better advocate than I am, but then I am voluntarily hampered by the fact that I feel compelled to argue based on facts rather than fear, distortion and exaggeration. And I can live with that.

          Bob Ferris

          • somsai says:

            Bob I only read your replies until I come to the first falsehood, so keep it short.
            In this case that Dave Allen is a promotor of outfitters over public land hunters despite his very public and recent issues with that very industry. Either you are uninformed or deliberately fibbing. Choose one.
            They argue policy, you argue personalities, as evidenced by this hit piece.

          • bob says:

            Robb, If you have followed RMEF and watched changes on their website you will see that they have become less about conservation (first hint: loss of right to use Olaus Murie name) and become more about booking hunting trips with outfitters. Their site look more like travel agency at this point than a credible conservation organization. Did you not follow the transformation? Why, for instance, is a North American based conservation group promoting outfitters that only do hunts in Africa?  I understand how that is related to promoting revenue and outfitters but where is the connection to conservation of North American elk populations? (Please see: http://www.rmef.org/TheHunt/Before/OutfittersCamp.aspx)

            Bob Ferris

          • somsai says:

            You going to post photos of my kids with the address of their primary school next?

          • bob says:

            Robb:

            “Due to the blatant misinformation contained in the press release circulated by these two groups (SFW and the related Big Game Forever) any claims they make in the future should be thoroughly investigated and independently confirmed.”

            The above is what the NRA had to say about SFW and BGF when they issued a press release that contained numerous falsehoods. I bring this up because Don Peay and I are both public figures who make statements about technical matters. Because of this, the public should look at the quality of our statements, our characters, and the character of our allies and detractors. Don Peay has proven himself time and again to be very loose with the facts and very focused on getting the most out of any interaction and transaction that he can for himself. Multiple for-profit and non-profit enterprises that blur the line between public interest and self-interest and well as politics and public-good is a real tip off that something can or is being hidden and that ethical lines are being crossed or moved.

            Now as to you. You are not a public figure and therefore my only interest in you is determining that you are not someone connected with Don Peay and carrying his water. My research is generally directed at ideas and character rather than families and children. I have to admit that I am sorely tempted with Peay because of his ties to Romney and the “coincidence” that his son works for Bain & Company and was one of the employees who tweeted about Romney’s non-involvement with Bain after his “retirement.”

            Bob Ferris

  5. Trevor says:

    Dear Bob Ferris,
    First of let me say that I'm not a hunter. I'm not against it or anything I just have never really had the opportunity to, nor much interest. I do respect it and support those who participate in the activity though. I felt like your opinions concerning wolfs are a little biased, maybe alot. I would challenge you to come to Idaho and see the affects that the wolves have made in the last 10 years. Elk herds have shrunk to virtually nothing, and no that's not just a "deception or lie" as you liked to put it, that's the fact.. Where there was once thriving elk herds and where elk buggles filled the air almost 24/7 during the fall in the Palisades area near my house, there is now virtually nothing. It's been a couple years since I saw a mature bull, where before they were seen on a daily basis.. Although I like wolves and beleive the should be here, they should be managed and maintained. Don Peay isn't against wolves, he is against uncontrolled wolf populations.. That's the problem..  Do you hear hunters and conservation groups complain about Mt. Lions or bears?? No because they are controlled and managed according to what the deer and elk herds can handle. The wolves are out of control up here so maybe instead of sitting at home and reading anti-hunting and pro-wolf articles on line, you should come see first hand the affects. Hunters have been the single biggest conservation group for our state ever. They raise 100's of millions a year through donations, service projects, license sales, and ammo tax. As far as i'm concerned without their continued efforts from groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, FNAWS, and state orgainization we would not enjoy these great mountains and frontiers we have. You can complain about them all you want, but the mountains that you claim to love so much wouldn't be the same without them, so we should accept hunters and learn to co-exist with them for the improvement of our country.
     
    As far as Don Peay is concerned, I don't know enough for myself to give an opinion or statement. I reserve that until I know more facts about him and his organization. It's hard to make an opinion on someone just beause of one article. We must see all sides and stories.

    • bob says:

      Dear Trevor,

      Thank you for your comment. All of us are biased, but my biases come from being a wildlife biologist for more than 30 years and looking deeply into the inner workings of ecological systems. I have been to Idaho, have many friends in Idaho and look very closely at reports relating to wildlife trends in the state. It is a complicated system currently influenced by climate change, forest successional changes, competition with non-native ungulates, other predators and a myriad of disease cycles. All these contribute to prey population levels in addition to wolves. Trophy hunting groups and others have worked hard to maximize elk populations while at the same time the livestock industry has done the same for cattle. Habitats will only endure these combined over-stockings for so long before particularly as the general forest composition changes and climate change shortens the time when browse and graze are most useful to elk. Two related things are very telling in this equation: the condition of female elk and cow:calf ratios. Both of these factors are depressed at this point likely because of summer range quality that prohibits female elk from gaining needed fat reserves to become successful at breeding. Certainly predation plays a role in eliminating animals during winter that are in poor condition due to habitat, but these fat indices are very important in determining the real problems which appear mainly to be habitat quality related. Scientists keep bringing these factors up but trophy hunters and the livestock industry do not want to here them (because of their biases).

      My wife and I joined some friends in Idaho this past summer and rafted down the Salmon and Snake Rivers. In our nine day trip we saw much evidence of cattle grazing and very little vegetation or wildlife except for one female bighorn and her single offspring on a very steep and rocky slope. As an ecologist I find it very hard to credit the idea that in a system with 2.2 million cattle, 100,000 elk and roughly 700 wolves that the wolves are driving the system to the extent that people claim. Wolves are very convenient scapegoats in all of this but studies and theory do not support the notion that they are main factors impacting elk or deer herds in Idaho at this time.

      Bob Ferris

  6. Denton Nielson says:

    "I find it very hard to credit the idea that in a system with 2.2 million cattle, 100,000 elk and roughly 700 wolves that the wolves are driving the system to the extent that people claim."
    So whats the solution?
    Grazing has been part of the National Forest since the begining, and it will always be there NO MATTER WHAT. 100,000 sounds like a good number for elk but nobody really knows. Wyoming and Idaho elk populations have dropped drastically since the late 90's (wolves). If the ecology is out of whack what will it take to help it recover? Grazing isnt going away, and reducing elk to exremely low numbers (present condition due to wolves, grazing, hunting, etc… take your pick) has not improved range. So what do you do Biologist?
    I understand your frustration with the "big money" hunters these days, but where else will nearly 300,000 dollars be paid in bennifiting wildlife and habitat for one deer tag? Hate them or love them, conservation groups help wildife by generating the all powerful dollar and money talks. Where would our wildlife be without sportsman, rich or poor?
    If I had the means, of course I would spend 1000's on some super tag. And wouldn't we all?

    • bob says:

      Denton,

      The solution is likely balance. Grazing has been a long term use that has changed starting with the Taylor Grazing Act in the 1930s and more recently with revisions to FLPMA and other legislation. More change is needed to reflect current conditions and national needs and attitudes. Elk target populations are an open question. Overall they are at historic highs with some management area excepts much of that came with timber management regimes that did not work for water quality and fish as well as several species forest birds. And if we create situations where elk explode in the absence of predation then we get another crash like we are see post fire increase with the Northern Yellowstone elk herd. And then there is the disease question particularly with chronic wasting disease which may require wolves to cure. My sense is that managing all these systems so that they mimic–where possible–past ecological regimes would be the way to go and the most sustainable. It would like require sacrifice and accommodation from all quarters but the result would be that there would be something in there in long terms for all users of public lands.

      Bob Ferris

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