Life’s Circle


Wherein polar bears and a civil rights organization converge.


What do Safari Club International and Congress of Racial Equality share?

(Editor’s note: SCI, Conservation Force and CORE have filed a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the government’s listing of the polar bear as threatened and all that such a listing means. Government decisions and actions often have consequences that reach far beyond the obvious, as this case shows.)

The world. It’s a holistic thing.

In life, things tend to go in circles and likely will go full-circle if given enough time. So it seems now as I look back over the half-century that I have been covering the news. The good news is that it looks like SCI is squarely in the X-ring of the circle, fully engaged in matters of great natural and social significance. To wit: when something is good for both hunters and members of a civil rights organization, it is something to consider seriously.

Flash back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when the civil rights movement was gaining steam and then blossoming out in the United States. A whole host of alphabet acronyms became commonplace – SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to name but three. Such groups historically and routinely are associated with social welfare matters.

Safari Club International, by virtue of its tax-exempt status and organizational charter, also is involved in numerous social welfare activities, most of which have obvious and direct connections to the outdoors and wildlife. Normally, hunters or others might not intuitively tie SCI to civil rights or racially focused groups. Yet it actually makes sense if one reflects upon the historic roles hunting and hunters have played in the human experience.

Since the beginning of our species, hunters have been the ones who have supplied food for themselves and others. Sharing the bounty of the hunt is one of the most basic ethics of the hunter. To this day, SCI practices this ethic institutionally via its Sportsmen Against Hunger program and individual SCI members practice it personally at their family and local community levels.

Elsewhere on the social welfare front, sister organization SCI Foundation has a number of programs to help others, not the least of which is the Blue Bag effort where SCI members share medical supplies, educational materials, clothing and other needed items throughout the world.

polarbeargraphichnt4evrb;pg111413Humanitarian Services activities of SCI members in Africa logically fall within that general realm. That’s fine. However, I have to admit to experiencing a double take when reviewing some of the details as SCI took the battle over polar bear imports to the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. Day-to-day distractions had clouded a bigger, more universal consideration of just how far-reaching the activities of hunters actually are.

As on-the-ground observers and participants in nature, hunters in general and SCI members in particular understand and appreciate the endless interconnections of animal species with humans around the globe. The difference between hunters and some others is that hunters actively do what they can to assure that real and meaningful conservation lives well for today and into the future. Ultimately the goal is for all to flourish forever. For this to occur, it means involving as diverse a group of participants as possible within the human populations to assure a more universal understanding of the ways all of those affected are intertwined.

On July 29, 2013, Safari Club International filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The listing led to a ban on the import of polar bear trophies from Canada by U.S. hunters. This ban adversely affected the private conservation funding generated through sustainable use hunting. By filing its petition, SCI sought to rectify this bad public policy.  Obtaining Supreme Court review, however, will be difficult.

SCI was joined in filing the Supreme Court petition by Conservation Force and the Congress of Racial Equality. All three groups have been litigating the case in the District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 2008.  Both of those courts upheld the listing of the polar bear. The State of Alaska was an active party to the litigation before the District Court and Court of Appeals, but decided not to join the petition to the Supreme Court.

Doug Burdin, Litigation Counsel for SCI, has handled this case since 2006, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first began considering listing the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act due to alleged impacts of global climate change. He explains that “Supreme Court review is the last resort judicially. But review is far from guaranteed. The Court receives around 10,000 petitions a year and generally grants less than 100. The Court usually grants petitions that have far-ranging societal impacts. We think we have made a strong case in this regard, but the odds are stacked against us.”

It came as no surprise that Conservation Force would be involved in the polar bear matter. After all, John Jackson, Past President of SCI, is a founder and head of that organization. But how does a civil rights organization like CORE figure into this picture?

Pacific Legal Foundation is the connecting link. When announcing the Supreme Court filing, that organization explained: “PLF is a legal watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. PLF is a nonprofit public interest organization that never charges clients for attorneys fees. PLF’s petition for certiorari in the polar bear case is filed on behalf of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and in conjunction with Conservation Force and Safari Club International.”

Okay. That answers the who, but what about the why? What possible interest might CORE have in the listing of polar bears?

“Among the parties represented in PLF’s petition for certiorari, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, has a special mission to promote regulatory common sense,” PLF reported. “CORE is a philanthropic civil rights organization established to fight discrimination and encourage the economic and social independence of the poor and minorities. CORE’s interest in this case stems from the fact that excessive environmental regulation drives up the cost of energy, housing, transportation, and food, all of which disproportionately harm low-income minorities.”

Although that assertion might appear far-fetched and reaching by those in society who are less connected to nature than are hunters and SCI members, it truly is a significant statement that ties nature and humans together in more intricate ways than is normally imagined.

The participation of CORE was less of a surprise to SCI Litigation Counsel Burdin.  “Although they may not readily admit it, it was clear from the beginning that the environmental groups that petitioned the U.S. to list the polar bear were more interested in climate change than the fate of the polar bear. They really wanted to force the U.S. government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through an ESA listing of the polar bear. Such environmental regulations would increase the cost of power plant and industrial production, among other things. Of course, lower-income people would feel this the most. This factor resonated with CORE.”

What we do or don’t do relative to nature has consequences – effects that frankly go farther and deeper than we typically consider. Indeed, polar bears and people, all people, are part of the really big picture. We all are residents of Planet Earth.

I emphasize this because it is easy for SCI members to focus only on things hunters do that are directly tied to nature. Rest assured that what we as hunters do in nature also has other ramifications, including elsewhere on the human front, as this united Supreme Court effort of the three organizations indicates.

Put another way; consider that CORE was among the groups that helped organize the March on Washington in 1963 where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. So here we are, a half-century later, indirectly, perhaps peripherally, connected to that time and that place via what some may consider an unlikely association with a group that has played a role in both, even though those who attended the event that warm summer day at the Lincoln Memorial likely were not thinking much about polar bears at the time.

But that’s the way it is in many if not most human endeavors, be they political, legal or social. The more disparate the participants are, the more meaningful the effort is. Truly, SCI is a leader in this regard. With its global reach, SCI transcends the mundane and the predictable. SCI members and what they do in the aggregate both directly and indirectly affects others throughout many societies around the globe. Witness the positive economic impact hunting has in nearly all nations and especially throughout Africa where local and national economies are helped significantly by hunters and the funds hunting brings to those traditional hunting areas. People can have clothes to wear, food to eat and roofs over their heads because hunters hunt. It has been so since before recorded time. Hunters are human and our activities are among the most basic and therefore significant in human history.

Regardless the outcome of the legal actions at the Supreme Court in this matter, there is a greater lesson to be learned. When an organization like SCI is doing the right things, it positively affects others – even others who likely would not be included in casual conversation about hunting and polar bears. Yes, the world is a holistic thing.– Steve Comus

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