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Subsistence Thinking

An Open Letter to Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, Archdiocese of Anchorage

by David Codrea

Foreword: The Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, is drafting a pastoral statement, and the indications are they are going to call for preferential treatment of subsistence hunters at the expense of sportsmen -- not that there's any game shortage, but this letter aims to show that this is exactly what such policies would produce. Reports are that the bishops will finalize their pastoral sometime in the February/March timeframe. People wishing to make their views known can contact the Archdiocese via the Internet at:

February 5, 2002

To: His Excellency
Most Reverend Roger L. Schwietz, O.M.I.

In re: Pastoral on Subsistence Hunting and Fishing

Your Excellency:

It is a self-evident truth that abundance empowers, enabling human opportunities, and that scarcity oppresses, restricting human choices. In your quest to draft an appropriate pastoral letter on subsistence game harvesting, I pray that you make prosperity your goal.

No one wants to take a fish away from a poor person. The argument that subsistence and sports hunting/fishing represent mutually exclusive "either/or" propositions might sound good on the surface to those who don't know better -- it is certainly designed to touch our hearts with empathy for the less fortunate and concern for social justice. But I hope you look beyond the emotional resonance of this appeal and realize that this siren call, if heeded, will result in divisive and disastrous public policy, hurting those in need the most.

The mechanism for producing abundance has always been enlightened self-interest, the much-maligned "profit motive." Control by bureaucracies has always resulted in corruption, inefficiencies, and shortages. This is true not only with goods and services, but with ideas. The donations that allow you to fulfill your mission and grow, come from the private sector. When dependent on state sanctions, innovation and freedom are discouraged, even banned, and their advocates are persecuted. When relying on free choices, they flourish.

Such is the case with hunting and fishing, which annually provide hundreds of millions of dollars specifically earmarked for conservation and wildlife management, not to mention generate billions more into the job-creating private economic sector -- and with the result that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

"Normal dispersed hunting pressure has little influence on [Sitka black-tailed] deer numbers."

"Protective measures contributed to the recovery of the [Roosevelt] elk herds and by the late 1970s, all of Afognak and Raspberry islands were again open to hunting by permit."

Bison are extolled for the virtue of their meat and as trophies in controlled hunts.

Black bears are so abundant that they are considered a nuisance in many areas.

"Brown bear hunting is popular and...can occur without causing populations to decline."

"There are approximately 950,000 wild caribou in Alaska...hunters, primarily from the lower 48 states, Europe, and Mexico, travel to Alaska to experience caribou hunting each fall. These hunters contribute significantly to the economy of the state, particularly in rural areas."

"Dall sheep in Alaska are generally in good population health."

"Moose have a high reproductive potential and can quickly fill a range to capacity if not limited by predation, hunting, and severe weather."

"Goats are relatively abundant throughout their Alaskan ranges, particularly in southeastern Alaska."

"Canada geese are popular and accessible to many wildlife watchers, even in urban areas. They are prized by hunters across the continent."

"There is an excellent market for chinook salmon ... catches in Alaska have brought fishers nearly $19 million per year... Catches by subsistence fishers ... have averaged approximately 90,000 chinook salmon.... The sport fishing harvest of chinook salmon is over 76,000 annually."

One might ask, your Excellency, exactly what the pressing problem is that requires your attention? Or why a council of bishops might think that a "needs based" pastoral document ignoring our Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, urging preferential treatment based on racial or cultural profiling, and ensuring a draconian loss of revenues available for conservation and shortages of harvestable fish and game, would be to anyone's benefit?

"To each according to his need" may sound Christian, but we both know that Marx held the Church in contempt, as do his contemporary followers. The real-world results of this doctrine have always, without fail, led to brutal repression and exploitation of those who serve under such rule. If you really want to ensure that subsistence living is the only option, this is the path you will choose.

Do you know what happens when the state assumes yet more power to dictate how land and wildlife are utilized, your Excellency? In his expose "Betrayal of Trust," James Jay Baker of the National Rifle Association gives us a good indication. Under the Clinton/Gore administration, Pittman-Robertson funds specifically earmarked in a trust fund for conservation were abused by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bureaucrats on foreign junkets, limousine rentals, lavish meals, hotels and illegal liquor purchases. The trustees with the keys to the vault, the unelected officials with the power to close off further hunting and to micro-manage what's left, the public stewards who are supposed to serve the people you are rightly concerned for, are hardly living at the subsistence level. Indeed, they treat themselves to luxuries at the expense of the indigenous poor, and the edicts they impose will only guarantee more scarcities, more obscene abuses.

Baker goes on to reveal "(FWS) has misappropriated at least $45 million in excise tax funds set aside for game conservation ... In at least one instance, pressure was applied ... to fund a grant proposal submitted by a zealous animal-rights group ... dedicated to the elimination of the very hunting heritage that those monies are collected to support ... The Clinton-Gore Administration proposed using $30 million in Duck Stamp fees and hunting excise tax revenues to buy Palmyra Atoll, located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, populated by 10 ducks."

As Alaska Congressman Don Young wryly observed, "$3 million a duck seems high." But if, through a pastoral decree, you facilitate government suspension of sport hunting, all that you'll guarantee is a loss of revenues that could have been applied to improving Alaska's ability to conserve, manage and increase wildlife; and the people who will lose the most will be the ones you wish to protect. The bureaucrats who will oversee such prohibitions, however, will still seize new and creative ways to engorge themselves even as they devise new restrictions on public land use -- and as the recent Lynx hair-planting scandal demonstrates, this is an evident goal for many in their ranks.

And this brings us to the deceptive trump card that those who would appeal to emotion rather than reason have played -- that somehow, there is a preferred nobility in destitution, a superiority in scarcity, and that embracing abundance, prosperity and CHOICE results in "cultural genocide." Why is it that "Western culture" is admonished to embrace the differences of other peoples under the banner of "multiculturalism," but this odious charge is always leveled whenever our way of life, with its unrivaled potential to elevate people from misery and poverty, touches theirs?

Isn't a person better able to explore and promote his culture if he has more resources to do it with, and time to do so? Should following indigenous cultural traditions be but one option among many, or the only one because there are no others? Which path allows a human being more opportunities, the one of freedom and abundance, or the one of forced restrictions?

When God gave man dominion over the earth, it was with the understanding that the resources were bequeathed to us with a responsibility for sound stewardship, which, unsurprisingly (as if by design?) results in sustained abundance. Your Excellency, I urge you and your fellow bishops to reject the path of divisiveness and restrictions and scarcity and corruption. For the benefit of all, and especially the poor, I urge you to embrace prosperity.


David Codrea

Printer Version

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. Thomas Paine

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