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 Game & Fish Department Headquarters
5400 Bishop Blvd. Cheyenne, WY 82006
ph: (307) 777-4600
News and Editorial Coverage:
Salt Lake Tribune: Anti-wolf group likely to get second $300,000 Utah payment
Salt Lake Tribune Editorial: Just cry wolf
Salt Lake Tribune: Attempt to strip dollars for anti-wolf lobbyist fails
Salt Lake Tribune: Editorial Cartoon by Patrick Bagley
The Wildlife News: Utah legislature likely to fund alternative education program using wolf fairy tales
Holly-on-the-Hill: Wolves, Payday Lenders, Rowle and Swallow
Salt Lake Tribune: Wharton: Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife about wrong kind of bucks