Hunting generates gazillions of dollars for wildlife conservation, and everyone in society benefits from wildlife conservation, right? Then why are anti-hunting organizations reinventing the world-envied North American Model by removing crucial hunting-related funding from wildlife management?! Just who the f-bomb are these groups, how are they replacing hard science with social science, how are they leveraging the public trust doctrine against us and–you can not make this stuff up–putting us all on the hook to foot the bill?! Todd Adkins, VP of Government Affairs, Sportsman’s Alliance, names names, explains how they are undermining our treasured hand-me-down hunting traditions and–get this–why they’re so damned much better at it than we are.

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Becoming a Waterfowl Hunting Guide

Talk about your origins in waterfowl.

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Can we all agree that hunting is conservation? I bet you all nodding your heads because our time and our money is wildlife conservation. At a day and time in the year 2023, when bird populations worldwide are declining, ducks and geese in North America are stable. And I think we can all pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for taking care of the waterfowl that we like to go out and hunt. We like to build a principle and harvest the interest. Am I right? Joining me today is Mr. Todd Adkins, VP of Government Affairs for the Sportsman’s Alliance. Listen up, folks, maybe there are people that got a different idea about hunting and conservation. Todd, how the heck are you, man?

Todd Adkins: I’m great, Ramsey. It’s great to be here.

Ramsey Russell: No, it’s great to see you.

Todd Adkins: Exactly right. So you bet I’m here.

Ramsey Russell: I read something, I read some testimony you presented before Congress and learned that you’re a duck hunter. You used to even be a duck guide. Talk about growing up. Talk about your origins in waterfowl.

Todd Adkins: Sure. So I grew up in southwest Michigan, I’ve lived all over the country since that time, but who knows at the end of the day? But my dad started taking me to what was a local waterfowl refuge that you could get in a drawing to hunt. And at that time, it doesn’t exist this way anymore, because kind of the local goose phenomenon has kind of changed things. But back then, in that part of the state where we lived, you didn’t see Canada geese. You just didn’t see-

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Todd Adkins: But this one refuge that was about 40 minutes from our house would get 25,000 migrants every year. And I can tell you, I can remember standing in the snow. I was just a little fella, because I started going even before I could carry a gun. I don’t know why it took me so strongly, but it did, and I became a dedicated waterfowler that very first time. And that was kind of the place where I focused my energies, that public land where I had access, being from a relatively, I would say moderate income background. It was just absolutely awesome. And then I heard later, when I got to be a young man, you can actually become a hunting guide. And I figured out the places I could go to do that. And I moved to Maryland’s eastern shore and became a waterfowl hunting guide. So it’s always been part and parcel of who I am. It’s why I got so interested in doing this work. Now, they shut our season down in the state of Maryland because of issues with that population of geese, the Atlantic population of geese. And it was my first introduction to how the political process can take things away from you, just, like, including your livelihood. So I ended up going to law school and things like that later. But, yeah, duck hunt has always been part of the big story for me professionally.

Ramsey Russell: I was just fixing to ask what timeline you would have been goose hunting up in Maryland. And they did cut that season down. I think I can remember it being none. And recently it’s been one. It’s tough to be a goose hunter and have a goose hunting culture and tradition. Shooting somewhere between zero and one geese a day, that’s a lot of work for one trigger pull.

Todd Adkins: And they prohibited. I mean, they just outright prohibited when that population crashed. And I’m not disagreeing with that decision from a biology standpoint, but, yeah, it’s tough to make a living doing something like that when you have zero season available for folks to come. Obviously, the eastern shore had a major tradition going back decades. We had a three month season, three bird limit. So it was kind of a major crushing blow to the entire economy and including mine, as a hunting guy there, very personally. But, yeah, that season has come and gone since. One bird I think they relax that a little bit over time and it’s been crunched back to one bird at times. But, yeah, that was kind of my background.

Ramsey Russell: Question. Are you a duck hunter or a goose hunter?

Todd Adkins: Well, if you ask me what my absolute favorite thing to hunt is, you might think Canada geese because I kind of centered all that around migrant Canada geese. But I got to tell you, we used to have a ball with diver ducks in southwest Michigan that we have so many lakes. And I figured out how I could just go find those ducks. It could be the middle of the day. I could find a pile of ducks and scare them up and then set up right there. So I don’t know, with my gray hair now if I could be as efficient at diver duck hunting because it’s a lot of physical work. But boy, I’ve got some just fantastic memories of that stuff in southwest Michigan.

Ramsey Russell: When I talk to people from your part of the world over to Minnesota, the talk of diver ducks takes a whole different meaning than down in the south. Folks talk about divers like they are the holy grail, the scaup, the canvasbacks, the redheads. I mean, a lot of my friends just get eat up. I think it’s still a big tradition up there in that part of the world.

Todd Adkins: It is. And again, because you got so much water, water is everywhere. And I had friends who used to hit lake Michigan itself a lot. And my point, know, I’m sure we’re going to talk know how access is so limiting to all of us now in the hunting community. Well, when you have that abundance of water and boat ramps just about everywhere on that water, these inland lakes as well as Lake Michigan, Minnesota would be the same. Wisconsin, too. Lot of opportunity. You just got to scat out the ducks and find them and then you just found yourself a good hunting spot. It’s really that straightforward. So, yeah, a lot of fun.

Ramsey Russell: You talk about access, and I think it’s one of the most preeminent problems facing the growth and continuance of hunting in general. But duck hunting specifically, was that a pretty fair assessment? Access is getting very difficult and we –

Todd Adkins: Know from repeated surveys, if we look at hunter numbers from their peak in 1982, we’ve lost a lot of folks. Duck hunters took an especially hit in the late seventy s and early eighty s, but that slide has continued. COVID gave us a bit of a spike, which is really awesome, and we’ll have to see if any of that holds going forward. But when you look at surveys, the responses are pretty clear. Rising costs and access being the number one issue, folks no longer with a place to hunt. We’ve got now agricultural lands that are constantly being bought up by folks with no interest in letting folks on them to go hunting. Again we have waterfowl now concentrated in tighter, tighter places where you might have an opportunity, meaning it’s open generally to the public for hunting, but the intense pressure and competition within those areas. So it’s true all across the community that access remains a true problem that we need to address and need to keep our focus on going forward.

Are Waterfowl Hunters Declining?

Access is a very limiting factor.

Ramsey Russell: When you start talking about number of hunters, especially waterfowl hunters declining in the United States and Canada, it’s hard for the average guy listening to get their mind wrapped around, because when we show up to the boat ramp, there’s 50 other boats. How can that possibly be? And you talk to people like John Devney and others. Habitat is declining. I think John quoted the other day, nearly 1% per year habitat loss in America, which means less places to hunt. And as the acreage decreases, that percent represents more acreage every single year. And so every year, what few hunters remain, we wake up, we show up to the boat ramp, and we’re becoming more highly concentrated on a very shrinking landscape. I heard a story this past season. It was something like seven or eight dozen hunters in a single duck hole on Arkansas public land. And that’s a circus of epic proportion. Access is a very limiting factor.

Todd Adkins: And it’s so critical, right? Especially for just average joes like you and me. I love money just as much as the next guy, but I don’t have an extra pile of it to start throwing around on my own leases and property and everything else. And I’ll give you a great example of this. Maybe not the best way to choose where to go to law school, but I attended the University of Iowa, and among the reasons I’ll put it that way was, boy, I like to hunt pheasants, too. Well, I could go out any morning before classes, drive down the road a little bit, and just start knocking on doors. And 9 times out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, sure, no problem. I saw some birds over in that corner just this morning. That was kind of the general attitude, knock, knock, and I would get access. Now, I think you would agree with me if I did that same thing today on those same routes I used to take back in the early 1990s, I’d get a lot of no’s. That the nature of land ownership and our ongoing relationship with landowners. I’m not saying they’ve necessarily. It’s not that anybody’s wrong now. I’m just saying kind of our entire community is less open to that type of access. And I’ve heard the same man used to be able to drive around and find access and get on people’s property. And I think most people are experiencing something much different. You have a lot of foreign ownership of property now. You have a lot of corporate interests buying properties now. So it’s not just habitat loss that’s really important, too, but it’s kind of how the entire landscape has changed and who owns these properties and whether or not they’d be willing to let us on them. And it’s just reduced over time. It’s just that simple.

Barriers to Waterfowl Hunting

Rising cost is a barrier for access to access into the sport of hunting. 

Ramsey Russell: Rising cost you cited is one of the primary factors. Rising cost is a barrier for access to access into the sport of hunting. Be it decoys, be it fuel, or basics like know ammo. Gabriella Hoffman was on here a while back and introduced the concept of how some anti-hunting organizations are lobbying for little things that would you never suspect, but little things like the conversion of lead weights for fishing to nontoxic substances because it increases just a little bit. It increases the cost. Well, eventually the regular guy that’s out there just fishing for something to eat, he says, I can’t afford that. I can go to the grocery store and buy fish quicker. I can go out there and buy a tackle box full of all this other stuff. And I never thought of that before. In your testimony to Congress, I want you to go deep on this. You led up talking about, you mentioned back in the 80s seeing a big decline. Let’s start there where how the inception of steel shot initially, back in the 70s on experimental, which would have been the whole Nixon administration and EPA, environmentalism and all that mess, to when it really became mainstream in the 90s. You saw market declines in hunter participation, just over steel shot, which we all take for granted. Now, can you elaborate on that? Todd, please.

Todd Adkins: Yeah, absolutely. And the reason I pointed that out in my testimony is it’s absolutely correct that anti-hunting groups are utilizing lead ammunition as kind of a shoehorn to get themselves in the room to talk about prohibiting access to hunters and anglers more generally. And they know that you raise the cost of something. This isn’t rocket science. This is true for everything in our life. You raise the cost of doing it and participation is going to go down. You want to keep people from driving their cars, raise the price of gas, right? It’s just that simple. But we have this experience in our past with duck hunters. That’s what I wanted to bring back to the front because Fish and Wildlife Service and others say, well, we did this in duck hunting. We banned the use of lead. And look, there’s still duck hunters around. And I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. We got to be careful with this. I lived through the initial phase in, in the state of Michigan. I was among those few people, I suppose, in the country that remembers 1977, we started losing hunters in the state of Michigan. 1978, we lost some more. 1979, we lost more. In fact, the slide that began in the 70s was quite dramatic. In fact, we lost over a million duck hunters over a 10 year period.  Now we kind of forget it. Like, no, now we’ve got bismuth and we got tungsten, we got all this other great stuff. And that’s true, but that’s not what I’m describing.

Ramsey Russell: Well, the price just goes up on those superior, superior options.

Todd Adkins: Right. So I’m trying to take people back to 1977, 1978, 1979 when you’re just your average duck hunter walked into the sporting goods store and said, well, how did a box of shells go from $5 to $10?  Well I can’t do this anymore. What Fish and Wildlife Service claims now is, look, waterfowl hunters did this. Nothing to see here. So we’re going to make the deer hunters and the squirrel hunters and the upland bird hunters and the turkey hunters and the coyote hunters, we’re going to make them all go in this direction, because, look, duck hunters survived that. I’m like, we may have survived that, but what we did was force people off the landscape. And once you say to a group. Guess what? We’re going to force some of you away from this exercise. You’ve just taken a major hit to all Fish and Wildlife funding. And I’m saying we’ve got to slow down and get that on the table. We’ve got to recall that we lost people already doing this. And I’m not saying that makes it right or wrong. I’m saying we have to have our eyes wide open.

Why the Move to Ban Lead Ammo?

Waterfowl hunters survived all this. We need to make sure that we just move on and everybody else does the same.

Ramsey Russell: Do you think with the inception of nontoxic shot, lead is bad for the environment? That’s why it kicked off in the 70s. Never mind the fact that legacy lead on the landscape that has been studied recently seemed to be kind of nonexistent because a lot of the areas we’re hunting, you’ve got soil sedimentation covering it up, or you’ve got disc running in agricultural fields and plowing it under. It doesn’t seem to be hurting waterfowl like they said it would. I’m sure somebody will write in to say, send me some research to say, I stand corrected. But at the same time, do you think, was it more of a move to marginalize hunters and push them off the landscape, or more of a move to preserve the environment?

Todd Adkins: Well, here’s the thing. I’d said it before, that congressional subcommittee, lead is toxic. Okay, let’s put that on the side of the road for a moment. And various species, including human beings, if you directly consume lead material, there are likely health consequences that will follow that. Let’s put that on the side of the road for a moment. You identified the question we should be asking, whether or not lead, from ammunition or any process, right is available for consumption. Number one. And number two, is it actually causing a health problem or concern or population level decline that we, as Fish and Wildlife managers, need to focus on? So I guess the reason, the early 70s and 80s are so important for this question is not so much about whether or not lead is toxic. But that is a lesson for us, moving forward to acknowledge we will push hunters and anglers off the landscape. So that gives us a sense of the responsibility we should take in finding the clear science that makes this decision conclusive, that the evidence is so abundantly clear that lead is causing a population dynamic among some species of wildlife or aquatic species, we will, in fact, make this decision instead of just waving hands around like some agencies are doing now. There’s nothing to see here. Waterfowl hunters survived all this. We need to make sure that we just move on and everybody else does the same.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. You were speaking on behalf of protecting access for hunters and anglers act. What is that all about?

Todd Adkins: That’s a bill that was introduced by Representative Whitman, and rightly so. It doesn’t provide the answer to the question of lead ban yes, lead ban no. All it says is when an agency of the departments of Interior or agriculture. So Fish and Wildlife Service, as an example, is in the Department of Interior. When they’re attempting to make a decision to ban lead ammunition or fishing tackle, they have to find the science at the specific unit or property where they will implement such a ban. Often, when it comes to lead, ammunition and fishing tackle. The science, the best available science they point to, may be thousands of miles away. So they’re very fond of citing to the California condor studies that have been done when discussing a lead ban on the east coast, just as an example, or in the midwest. Well, not only are there not California condors in the Midwest or the east coast, but that species has a very particular set of requirements, and they live in the environment in a very particular way. So it might or might not, I say, not actually be appropriate to consider science regarding condors in California for regulating lead, ammunition and fishing tackle in the state of Indiana, as an example. Right. So that bill says you will go to that unit, and when you want to analyze whether or not a ban should be put in place at this unit, you’re going to get science at that unit. And trust me, as somebody who has a little bit of training in the scientific method, that’s not that big of a deal. That literally just means you focus your analysis on the Fish and Wildlife species you have at that particular site and you establish the scientific inquiry around that site. It’s not that big of a deal. It is not a whole lot to ask. Again, it doesn’t answer the question yes or no, but what it says then is if we’re going to limit hunters and anglers on the landscape because we know the increased cost associated with nonlineal alternatives will be there and push some of them away, we will have the science that directly says we must do so. It’s a really good bill.

Ramsey Russell: Who is pushing this non tox marginalization on public land?

Protecting Wildlife

Todd Adkins: Well, right now, it’s primarily the Fish and Wildlife Service, which kind of. Now the Fish and Wildlife Service was obviously directly involved because they are kind of the agency that manages migratory waterfowl and other migratory species. So they obviously were involved from the get go with that experience. But recently they’ve begun an expansion of lead ammunition and fishing tackle bands for all other species as well. And many national wildlife refuges will have hunting programs that are well outside the migratory waterfowl framework, that are whitetailed deer, wild turkey, small game, upland burns, et cetera. Every year, they write regulations for each individual refuge and then put them all in one big package they call the annual hunt fish rule. Okay, well, last year’s hunt fish rule 22-23, they included Potoka River National Wildlife Refuge, lead ammunition, and fishing tackle bans starting in 2026. And then they gave us kind of the heads up, we’re going to be doing this at eight other refuges in next year’s hunt fish rule. So that is in response to many organizations, including the center for Biological Diversity, continually requesting such bans whenever there is any expansion of hunting and fishing activities for the refugees. And frankly, they’ve already requested that a nationwide ban be put in place by the Fish and Wildlife Service. We don’t have to be paranoid because in the last day under the Obama administration, Daniel Ash, the director of Fish and Wildlife Service, actually put in place a nationwide ban on national wildlife refuges. You might remember that as kind of an outgoing decision by director Ash’s ban. All national wildlife ranges are going to have a lead ban going forward. So it’s in our rear view a bit. So we don’t have to be suspicious to know that CBD will continue to press for that national ban and all these incremental new rules. Kind of Fish and Wildlife Service, we feel like they’re just generating steam right now, and that will be right around the corner. And that’s why we fight so vigorously.

Ramsey Russell: Center for Biological Diversity I mean, it sounds like something I could get behind. Who doesn’t want a biologically diverse ecosystem? That sounds like something I could get behind, man. But who the heck are they?

Todd Adkins: Ed, I got to tell you, it’s the one group that worries me the most. And the reason is when HSUS, as an example, humane society goes on an anti hunting campaign in the state or the federal level or an anti trapping campaign or something of that nature, I know that our community kind of know, oh, humane society, yeah, they’re bad. I know that they’ve been coming after us for decades, or PETA. When we put out an alert about PETA, our folks know about PETA. Center for Biological Diversity has only been around since the early 1990s. So this again should actually pause. We should all pause and say, holy cow, that’s not very long. And one of the early figures I can get is in 1993, they had fourty-four, that’s four with a four, fourty-four members. They now have a budget well in excess of $50 million a year and actually employ more than a 100 attorneys. And they have a very specific mission. And that mission is to do nothing but sue everybody under the sun to limit hunting activities on the landscape, fishing activities on the landscape. They are constantly petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service to add yet another specie or species to the Endangered Species act. And they’ve got this pattern down where they will ask for a listing. Please list this little flower or this salamander or whatever, right? Anything under the sun. Knowing that Fish and Wildlife Service no longer has the bandwidth to deal with a number of petitions that CBD and other groups throw at them. So they’re going to get an automatic win. When they get that automatic win, all of their legal fees are paid for by the US taxpayer. How does a group that’s only been around for this little short period of time end up with more than 100 lawyers? And I’m like, because it’s an automatic invoicing system, they file a petition. Now, sometimes it’s on a major game species or it’s about wolves and it’s something that makes a lot of noise, but often they’re just filing one after the other to the tune of hundreds per year right.

Ramsey Russell: Wait a minute, Todd. There’s an innocuous sound incentive for biological diversity organization out here that is scaling themselves on attorneys to litigate me out of access and I’m paying for it. And everybody listening that pays taxes is paying for this. How does that even exist?

Todd Adkins: Well, unfortunately, under the Equal Access to Justice act, this is a federal statute and this kind of makes sense for a moment. If you’ll bear with me. The theory of kind of the Endangered Species act is that citizens, and I think most of us would agree with this theory, like just Todd Adkins, just a normal Joe out there, should be able to file suit against the federal government when the federal government is doing something wrong. And I shouldn’t need a pile of money and or a cachet of lawyers, right? So that kind of action, that good citizen action is incentivized. If I know that and all of my time and money and the lawyer I hire will be paid for when I win, when I’ve proven that the federal government has done something wrong? Well, if you have a more cynical brain, you twist that around immediately and say, how can I create an institution that does nothing but go after the federal government knowing that you’re going to get your attorney’s fees paid? Well, that’s where we end up with. So this is called like a sue and settle approach. And they have reaped millions from filing a petition under the Endangered Species act knowing that Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have the bandwidth to get to that in the required time period. So they will then ask for a settlement. Once they get that settlement, part of that will be their attorney’s fees. They have a very clear anti-hunting mission in mind. Their mission in fact, when you look at their petitions like they just recently petitioned to have the Forest Service tie up a bunch of land from guys who hunt with dogs. Right? Well, when you look at the theory behind what they’re saying, because they’re citing one endangered species after another, think flowers, other vegetation that are being trampled by dogs, I look at it and say, well, a human being can trample too.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, bicycle rider, backpacker.

Todd Adkins: Anybody. Their theories taken to the end of the line are, yeah, humans leave the landscape, get out of the landscape, and we can kind of see this. When it comes to wolves. Wolves, the apex predator. After reintroduction or reestablishment, whatever CBD would say, they’ll take care of it. You don’t need that human predator around anymore. We don’t need to manage Fish and Wildlife because that wolf will take care of it. They call it the trophic cascade of apex predators, where that predator, apex predator, a grizzly bear, black bears, a wolf sitting at the top regulates all the other relationships, going all the cascading all the way down. Well, you would ask, where’s the human hunter, angler, trapper and all that, and say, yeah, we don’t need them anymore. That’s the entire object of their worldview going forward.

Ramsey Russell: I know that’s going to take a minute to sink in a minute. That’s going to take a minute. I became aware that here’s how I let off hunting is conservation because of my time, but most especially because of my money. We’ve got the North American model, which is the envy of the world, and rightly so. There’s no other country I’ve ever been to, no other country I’ve hunted. It’s like if they were second place, we’ve lose them three times on the track. We’re so far behind. We’ve got state and federal latencies, we’ve got research universities, we’ve got NGOs out the wazoo. And most importantly, we have an avid and passionate hunting base willing to put their time and their money into abundant wildlife, as abundant as the existing landscape will allow. I got just a little old degree from Mississippi State University, a couple of them, in fact, in forestry and wildlife. And I believe the definition of conservation, as I was taught, is wise use, the greatest good for the greatest benefit for the longest time, and consumptive use. Whether we’re talking tomatoes or timber or wildlife, I believe we have to have some commodification of wildlife. And I tied kind of liken it to professional athletes, which exists purely for recreation, but it’s a multibillion dollar industry. There are athletes signing up for $300,000 $400,000, $500,000 to entertain us. And in the world of wildlife management and conservation. That money is put to use in perpetuity to promote this. And so when you look at a lot of these state DNR budgets, it’s not just management for game species, turkeys and deer and ducks. It’s butterfly habitat, it’s handicap access, it’s bird watching trails. Everything’s coming out of the hunter’s pocket. And yet it blew me away to find out that groups are in the same way. They’re trying to sue Fish and Wildlife Service over endangered flowers or marginalize we hunters over the marginal cost, steel shot versus lead to limit our access both monetarily and on the landscape, have come up with this clever idea of we don’t need hunters involved, they’re too biasing. We don’t need firearms and ammo and hunters and everybody bankrolling wildlife management. In a house of cards they’re trying to remove the whole bottom part of the cardhouse, which is the funding. Why and how are they doing it?

Todd Adkins: Well, so let’s go to Washington state for a moment, because it is a timely, ongoing, immediate threat. And unfortunately, our folks, members of our community in the state of Washington, know this all too well. We recently filed suit in that state against a sitting commissioner seeking her removal because she is violating state law by simply occupying that position. She has another position on an appointed board at the county level, and that’s a violation of state law. But that Fish and Wildlife commission out there is, I would just say, in the throes of this transition, and it’s a battle, it’s an ongoing battle from the traditional North American model that is, this is the way we’ve done things for more than a century. Science is one of our central pillars to how we make decisions going forward to this wildlife for all. No, we need to what they call democratize Fish and Wildlife within a state and make decisions on this more kind of theory of democracy and public opinion driving instead of traditional Fish and Wildlife management by the agency, the biologists, the people we trust to make these decisions. And part and parcel of their worldview is all of this over reliance. What they would call over reliance on hunters, anglers and trappers just needs to be kicked to the curb. And they would gladly say, even if they wouldn’t admit it, they would gladly say, sure, go to general fund type revenues. Why not? Because the object is to get rid of hunters, anglers and trappers because the entire North American model is built around us. And the Pittman Robertson act, Dangle Johnson, our license fees, our stamp fees, our permit fees, so they understand we’ve got to get rid of those people first. And if we get rid of hunters and anglers and trappers, then we can say, yeah, their funding is no longer relevant. Right. So when the Wildlife commission in Washington decided, we are canceling the spring bear hunt, you’d think, well, that’s just about spring bear. No, no, that is the first initial cog. And now all of the other wildlife for all cogs are coming into play. They’re rewriting their conservation plan. They’re asking the department to kind of review everything under the sun, including hunters and anglers, and their role in ongoing management initiatives. So they want us off the landscape. It kind of goes back to, I believe, this ultimate theory of what a great, perfect landscape for them is, devoid of humans. And certainly hunters and anglers, trappers, that kind of sportsmen and women are always in that portrait somewhere. Right? If you want to talk about the landscape, we’re always there. We’re doing our thing. Well, they can’t have that. Humans need to be off the landscape.

Ramsey Russell: Boy, the human footprint, whether you hunt or you fish, whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat eater, there’s no living a human life without leaving a footprint to the derision of others. We change our environment just by breathing, just by building a home in a city or out in a country. Everything humanity does impacts the natural world.

Todd Adkins: Indeed.

The Value Of Hunting To Wildlife Conservation In America

Ramsey Russell: And you keep saying wildlife for all. And I know that to be a group. And again, wildlife for all. I mean, I’m all for wildlife, man, it sounds like a very innocuous name. Who in for wildlife for now? It’s like I make the argument in hunting, Todd. I make the argument, there are those hunters that say, oh, well, to hell with private landowners, and they’re fancy dancy clubs. Well, man, in the instance of a private landowner, he is putting a lot of time and a lot of money, in addition to what a public land hunter like myself doing, he’s putting a lot of time and money into creating habitat. He goes out there and shoots some birds. Those birds don’t just live on him, they fly off in other properties. Everybody enjoys the benefit of what he’s doing. That’s wildlife for all, in my mind. What is wildlife for all, and what specifically are they doing? Because I’ve heard their name more than once as champion the movement of divesting hunting from the wildlife management. Who are they and where are they coming from? What is their end all? I mean, if they can remove that funding, then what?

Todd Adkins: Right, so this is a group. It’s primarily operating out west right now. But I would say it’s quickly growing in strength because of their success in the state of Washington. Project Coyote is a closely related ally to theirs. And again, you can go, look, I’m not making anything at all up. I encourage folks, go to wildlife for all you got to do is Google or bing, wildlife for all. Go to their website. They make no bones about what they want the world to look like going forward. And in fact, among their initial premises that they placed on their website is, yeah, we’re going to change the way Fish and Wildlife departments operate. All of this needs to change. This paradigm that’s been built over more than a century now just needs to be flipped on its head. And they’re using, and this is really insidious. They’re using the theory of democracy and democratization as kind of the need to fulfill the basic precepts of the public trust doctrine. And if you know anything about the public trust doctrine, that’s the theory that this is what makes America unique, kind of from the get go, is you didn’t have to be a lord or an earl like in England to own wildlife, right? That the state manages wildlife on behalf of everyone in that state. That’s the public trust doctrine, right? That the state has that management authority for all of us. Well, in their mind, what they’re claiming is that means essentially, public opinion is what rules. And if the public has a view about whether or not folks should be hunting this, that, or anything else, then that public view has to be accounted for. In fact, there’s this new kind of shift towards social science and they say social science in place of wildlife science. So as official wildlife guy yourself, you immediately recognize, now, I’m a social scientist, I’m proud to say, but I’m the first to say I’m going to listen to Ramsey when he says this many trees can be taken out of this acreage and blah, blah, blah. No, that’s not my bailiwick, that’s his bailiwick. And then Ramsey’s going to ask me about public opinion and I’ll say, I’ll tell you about public opinion. Right? So the idea is to basically just kind of, through various and sundry small activities like they’re doing in Washington, slowly but surely demolish the North American model as we know it and put in its place this democratization process where public opinion will rule, where science matters a heck of a lot less. And certainly we no longer focus any resources on what hunters, anglers, trappers, and whether or not a species is a game species and whether or not a species is a non game species. We throw all that out and kind of start from scratch. That’s what they’re after.

Ramsey Russell: Todd, throw some numbers out. Pittman Robertson, Dangle Johnson, the duck stamp, throw some big numbers out and help me. I just want to hear it said, the value of hunting to wildlife conservation in America. What kind of dollar numbers are we talking about? How many zeros are we talking about behind the North America model as it presently exists? Billions?

Todd Adkins: I will just say over history. Pittman Robertson. Which is kind of the hunting side, the excise tax. In both cases, we’re going to be talking about federal excise taxes. For the wildlife side, that’s an excise tax that’s placed on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Okay? In total to date, in inflation adjusted dollars, it’s $25 billion that’s gone to the states. Now a lot of folks will hear, oh, my God, it’s a federal tax. The feds have it. No, what the federal government does, these excise taxes, let’s say, on firearms. The federal government collects and then reallocates all of that back to the states. And they do so based on two things, primarily, how many hunting licenses does that state sell and what geography does that state have? Like how big is that state? So a state like Alaska, lots of geography, is going to kind of be benefited from being so large and then theoretically needing a lot of Fish and Wildlife management programs across a vast space where other states like Texas, that have a lot both a lot of licenses, too, they’re going to get more of the overall allocation because of those hunter licenses sold. In inflation adjusted dollars since it started in 37. That’s $25 billion. Okay. That’s a lot of money.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money, it’s like the duck stamp. $1.2 billion, 97% or 98% of which is specifically earmarked for perpetual waterfowl conservation. It’s just crazy to me that a billion dollars runs through federal hands and doesn’t get chopped up to where you only got 10% available. I mean, it’s 2% overhead. 98% is going on the ground in perpetuity. And I’m paying that $25 and there’s a lot of folks buying two and three and four stamps to throw more money at it. I mean, that’s hunting is conservation, man.

Todd Adkins: Well, the beautiful thing about all these programs, when it comes to these programs, because we’ve been there from the get go, everybody watches them very carefully and we have kind of a national community. Yeah. It’s broken up into the states, but a national community that watches it very carefully and they’ve always been very effectively managed. But let me give you just a recent example from the most recent fiscal year 2022. You’re in Louisiana, right?

Ramsey Russell: Mississippi, but, yeah.

Todd Adkins: I’m sorry. No, we can hit Mississippi, too, but Louisiana, $18.4 million from Ben Robertson alone. Mississippi, $14.2 million. And your departments would say, holy cow, we don’t know what we do without this. Right.

Ramsey Russell: A lot of the states have people on staff that are able to leverage that for dollar cost sharing, for even more money going into conservation through other federal programs.

Todd Adkins: That’s absolutely right. So it’s literally a system that has almost become invisible behind the scenes. And that’s one of the problems why we have to fight so vigorously to protect hunters, anglers, which, frankly, there are a multitude of reasons to fight for hunters and anglers. This is just one of them. The conservation dollar they actually send in. But at the end of the day, we can’t imagine the system. We can’t imagine the public areas. We can’t imagine the departments themselves. We can’t imagine any of it without them.

Hunting: Science Vs Public Opinion 

Ramsey Russell: You talk about, and I asked the dollars first, now I’m circling back. You talked about science versus public opinion. That seems to be the strategy. And I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that firsthand, ongoing in Australia. And Australia is a hot button for me right now. We used to sell hunts down there and we don’t anymore. The antis have whittled down. Nobody’s going to go down to Australia to duck hunt for four ducks. It’s just unreasonable, although I think it should. It’s a beautiful place to go. We don’t sell that hunt anymore, and it’s near and dear to my heart. And when I first went down there, I shot these beautiful species, had a great time. I fell right into a very familiar duck hunting culture full of great people and great traditions. And I wanted to bring a few birds home. And I bought the permit. I worked through the system and I worked through field and game Australia, and I did everything they said I had to do, and it got right down to a parliament member’s desk. All she had to do was sign it, and she hadn’t signed it yet. Why? Because for me to find any value whatsoever beneficial and bring that bird home gave the credibility that there may be some positive economics to hunting. And I was surprised to learn that there’s only 26,000, 27,000 duck hunters in Australia. But every dollar that they spend on their licenses falls into a general budget for whatever happens to a general budget. Keeping the lights on in government building, keeping the air quality just right, repainting the parking lot, not for wildlife, not for habitat. And here’s my suspicion. Here’s my suspicion when I start hearing you talk about some of these groups you’ve talked about and their plan, and it sounds to me like they’re using Washington state as the test. That’s the proven grounds. And if we can accomplish it in Washington state, we can spread out throughout the whole 50. It sounds to me like their idea is to set nature despite eight and a half billion people, sprawling humanity, sprawling agriculture. Let’s just set it aside and sit it on a shelf called preservation, not conservation, and walk away from it, and it’ll be just like our ancestors found America. I believe that’s a fairy tale. I don’t believe it’s possible. But I do understand in dealing with anti hunters that public opinion is more valuable to them. Their value system, their ideology, science just kind of sort of gets in the way for it. You take again, Australia. They are fixing to lose their hunting season, Todd. But they don’t fly planes. They don’t estimate. They don’t count ducks like we count ducks. They don’t pour millions of dollars into research, into harvest estimates, into nothing. They just, by God, don’t kill ducks. We talked about something before we started recording about how these people think. It’s like it’s okay to go out. Its okay they got problem mountain lions in California, and these people have no qualms whatsoever with a government sniper going out and killing them and throwing that animal in a dumpster. They don’t have any problem at all marching up 200,000 flightless geese in Netherlands and incinerating them. But they got a problem with me and my son and my dad and my friends going out and shooting that animal and enjoying it as a cultural tradition. Why do you think that is?

Todd Adkins: Well, the problem is we often on our side of the aisle, it’s why we fully support the scientific method as it is meant to be deployed. Right. We like to think about events around us in very logical and rational ways, whereas I would characterize most of what the other side talks about in very emotional ways. And the reality is, this is, what’s amazing about this is folks on the other side develop their love and appreciation for our great outdoors based on the North American Fish and Wildlife model. Think about that for a moment. So they might say, well, I fell in love with wildlife when I went to that public game area on the east side of Washington and saw my first elk. Right, or you might have people know I fell in love with birding when I visited that state game area, when all those snow geese came and they did it every fall. And then I got hooked. A lot of folks arrayed against us, right, have learned their deep appreciation for Fish and Wildlife resources through the North American Fish and Wildlife model. And now they’re using this emotional kind of ideas to drive the idea that it can be even better if we remove humans from that landscape when they were always part of the landscape, and have been part of the landscape and cannot be removed from the landscape. So it’s like imagining a world, as you said, it simply cannot exist. Fish and Wildlife have to be effectively managed. Part of that management approach includes harvesting wildlife through hunting, fishing and trapping. It just does. Right. Well, for them, that violates this very emotional idea that there is a more natural to the natural world, and the most natural is the one in which humans have been completely removed. So, to your point, and I’ve had this debate, too. If that means somebody with an official state seal on their shoulder is shooting them because they have a few wolves or bears or whatever have to be killed, well, then so be it. But I’m not going to let you back out there to recreational hunt. Yeah, it doesn’t make logical sense, but I think because of the emotional attachment they’ve placed to these kind of fantastical ideas, it’s the only option they really have. But I’ll often remind them, you fell in love with wildlife the same way I did through the lens of the North American Fish and Wildlife model.

Ideological Divergence: Advocating for Hunter’s Rights

Have you ever had that, not on congressional testimony floor, not when things are hostile, but just sit down and talk to them? 

Ramsey Russell: Todd, how long have you been with Sportsman’s Alliance or in your present life mission, how long have you been driving in this lane advocating hunting and educating yourself on this ongoing problem?

Todd Adkins: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: This ideological divergence, let’s call it.

Todd Adkins: Yeah. So I’ve been with Sportsmen’s Alliance for just over a year at this point. I was with the National Rifle Association for a long time, and I’ve been with other organizations as well. So I would say, as I said, that experience as a professional hunting guide where I saw how the political process can take your livelihood from you. Again, I wasn’t disagreeing with the biology of that question. Just, holy cow, this is a lot of power. I want to learn more about it. As soon as I graduated from law school, then I knew going into law school, I wanted to go out in the world and protect people like me. I didn’t know what that would end up looking like, but I said, that’s what I’m going to do for a living, is I’m going to protect people like me. So the coolest part of my job is I get to wake up every day and just think about myself and whether or not something going out in the world is affecting my friends and family and community members. And again, it’s very easy to stay excited about this important work I’m doing.

Ramsey Russell: Have you ever had the opportunity to sit down over dinner, over a cold beer in a park anywhere, and have a talk, an honest, open dialogue with somebody like these groups you’ve mentioned across the aisle? Have you ever had that, not on congressional testimony floor, not when things are hostile, but just sit down and talk to them? Have you ever had that opportunity or have you ever tried or thought about it?

Todd Adkins: I have. And I’m the guy that understands people will have different opinions. That’s what makes this country wonderful in many respects. Right. And at our founding, we understood there was a vast divergence of opinions. This has always been a country where a lot of our magic comes from the fact that we’ve got a lot of different ideas and competing ideas. So, in fact, this is when I was working for NRA back in the early 2000s, we were fighting to get dove hunting established. And you might be surprised to learn that is among the most difficult fights I’ve ever been engaged in in my life. Well, the folks who prevailed, who won, we lost that battle. I went up to them afterwards and I said, man, I’ll take you all to dinner and we’ll just talk about things. And it didn’t get nasty. We didn’t get ugly. We didn’t make this personal. I appreciate that, but I’d love to talk to you about doves or anything else, frankly. And I did. I took those folks out to dinner. Again, there’s just a belief system they have that is very different than mine. I think most of them, at least at that time, those are sincerely held beliefs. But I can’t square mine with theirs simply because I do believe in the North American Fish and Wildlife model. So to oppose utilizing the North American model as a way to manage species, including the dove, you kind of have to leave it on the side of the road to begin with. Anyway. I think there are plenty of folks on the other side who sincerely believe what they’re advocating, but at the same time, it’s just very divergent from our basic belief system.

Ramsey Russell: I asked that question because I’ve been toying around with idea. In fact, I have reached out to one of the organizations you mentioned, wrote an email, said, hey, I’ve got a podcast. I’m an open minded, kind of know Todd. I hate to admit it, but I really do kind of see the world. Like, I’m just. I see everything at face value. I like to find common ground. And when I look at an organization named Center for Biological Diversity, Wildlife for all, Project Coyote, I might even throw humane society or PETA in there. But if you strip all the differences, okay. I see people putting their time and their money into something. I can really get behind wildlife conservation, not the way I would approach it, but I can see something in common. And here we are, a minority of the American public, hunts and fishes, and we’re losing, despite all the time and the money we’re putting into it, we’re losing ground. Okay, so maybe I could reach across the aisle and join teams, and we can agree to disagree on what we disagree on, but we can work together to hold that thin grin line and keep wildlife out there on the landscape for you to look at, for me to shoot, can we do that? I’m beginning to think it’s impossible. The email I wrote hadn’t been answered yet. It was a month ago.

Todd Adkins: Well, here’s the thing, right? Doesn’t the North American model provide for exactly what you just said? You can bring out your binoculars and enjoy these 20,000 snow geese all the entire season, and nobody would disagree with that. And you’ve seen that amazing blizzard of snow geese that can show up at places. So I totally understand it. Sometimes I’ll sit there for an hour and just watch. Right, but you said it when you say it, and I can shoot. Now, that would be an interesting conversation, and I would love to hear the actual response, because I think that would become the problem. What motivates us, kind of at our core, is the activity itself, certainly, and just engaging in the activity. But that’s part and parcel of the activity. So getting them to commit to that, I think it’s an impossible task. I really do.

Ramsey Russell: I think it may be, too. Go ahead.

Todd Adkins: Well, maybe individual members of those organizations, but I don’t think the leadership, based on everything I know and have seen, I don’t think they could actually support that.

Where’s the Middle Ground? Hunters vs Anti-Hunters

My message always is, man, we have got to hold hands. When that dog hunter gets in trouble, when that duck hunter gets in trouble, when that deer hunter gets in trouble, the bow hunter, and so on and so forth come to each other’s aid. 

Our primary problem when it comes to developing this ongoing united front is just that we’re not divided as a community, but we’re divided in what kind of motivates us. 

Ramsey Russell: Why are anti hunting groups so much better at politics and public opinion and litigation, and this whole public trust doctrine? Why are they so much better and so much better organized than we hunters are? For example, here you and I are talking. A lot of folks are going to hear it, but they’re all hunters. They’re all in our boat already. Why are they gaining so much ground on us?

Todd Adkins: This is probably the most important part of our entire discussion today. I’m glad you asked that. So I’ve been working in this kind of arena for 25 to 30 years, and I’ve probably been preachy about this particular issue for 15 to 20 of those years. So we got a couple of things working against us. Let me start with what they’ve got going for them. They have very emotional issues. And America, day by day is becoming driven more and more by emotions over logic. We’ve always started behind the ball because we have logic and reason and facts and data. North American model, let me tell you why it’s important. Boy, before we get started, your average American is falling asleep, whereas they show a video and within 3 seconds somebody is pulling out a $20 bill to hand to them. Right. Just show wildlife in trouble, show dogs in trouble, cats in trouble. It doesn’t matter. Our primary problem when it comes to developing this ongoing united front is just that we’re not divided as a community, but we’re divided in what kind of motivates us. So duck hunters will say, well, what do I care about guys who hunt with dogs? And I’ve heard duck hunters say that. And then you got dog hunters saying, well, why do I care about a guy chasing snow geese? I’ve heard dog hunters say that. Right? Their unifying message is animals are in trouble, the environment is in trouble all across the board. They can unite automatically, and it’s very emotional. Here’s a video. We know this ASPCA with those Sarah McLaughlin commercials singing sad songs. That’s $220,000,000 a year they raise off that commercial.

Ramsey Russell: Geez. Yeah

Todd Adkins: It’s an endless supply of money because it’s an emotional hook. Whereas we are like, yeah, but don’t you understand? So our people have a hard time. It’s just human nature holding hands. My message always is, man, we have got to hold hands. When that dog hunter gets in trouble, when that duck hunter gets in trouble, when that deer hunter gets in trouble, the bow hunter, and so on and so forth come to each other’s aid. We are brothers and sisters in this ongoing fight when somebody in Washington is under the gun, pardon the pun, none intended. Send in money, even though you’re from Mississippi and say, help my brother and sisters in Washington or in Florida. We so often, because, yeah, it’s true. Duck hunting is my big thing.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Todd Adkins: It’s true. And you can really push my buttons if you start talking about ducks. Right. But at some point in my early life, because I had something taken away directly from me, I think I actually lost. I recognized, no, I’ve got to hang. I’ve got to hang and fight for every single one of the people in my army. And I’ve got to understand the other side doesn’t care who they pick off. They’ll just keep going one at a time until I’m all by myself. So that’s the big message. They have it easy. You may have to recognize, they have it easy. So thereby all of us have to hang tough with one another at all times. Texas, great, I’ll go to the fight. Michigan, I’m there to fight. Washington, I’m there to fight. And so on and so forth. Knowing that your brothers and sisters are going to come to your aid when it’s in your backyard about the thing that you like to do or what your tradition is for you and your family.

Ramsey Russell: Amen. Todd, very good. Very good answer, Todd. I appreciate you coming and sharing and enlightening us today. We’re all in this boat together, aren’t we? And what’s so crazy, I see it in social media, especially the guys that use spinning wing decoys, the guys that don’t, the guys that use long bows, the guys that use compound bows, the guy use a high pod rifle, a black gun that wears this kind of weight or that kind of weight or this brand, that brand rattled each other’s throat. United we stand, divided we fall. And I even heard, and this is borrowing from something we talked about earlier, too much crowd on public land. There are even hunters now that are vehemently opposed to the three R’s. Recruit, Retain, Reinitiate. No, we don’t need no more hunters. But after this conversation here, we need more hunters more than ever because we need their support. We need them into this battle, don’t we? We need their time. We need their money. This is not even a little skirmish anymore. This is an ongoing battle.

Todd Adkins: No. And if I could just add among my circle, like of folks who do this similar job for all the other organizations, my CEO might get mad. I tell people, I don’t care who you join. Join something. Get active and stay active. Lean into it and stay into it. Because all of us feel this, like, holy cow, this is getting really fast, exponentially fast, like on crack or something. The other side is ramping up, ramping up, ramping up and we’re kind of stuck in the status quo where we’ve got guys, like you said, fighting over spinning wing decoys. Yes or no? No, man. We need to drop our divisions because they actually won’t mean anything once they take it from all of us.

Ramsey Russell: They take a little bit. They take a lot. They start with lying hounds. It ends up with black labs, fishing ducks, doesn’t it?

Todd Adkins: Indeed it does. Exactly right.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Todd. Folks, you all been listening to Todd Adkins, VP Government Affairs, Sportsman’s Alliance. I bet that woke you up, didn’t you know? Just think about this. I’m going to leave it on this right here, right now. We’re all training dogs and painting decoys and getting our duck boats ready and planting habitat and scouting for the upcoming TLC and everything else. And meanwhile, there’s a group like center for biological diversity suing us into oblivion. And guess what, we’re paying for it. If that doesn’t blow your mind, I don’t know what does. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we greatly appreciate you all listening. Thank you all for record numbers, thanks for liking and sharing and commenting. See you next time.


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