The word ‘capture’ is a fairly common English word that all of us know. and, Like a lot of language, it can be used in different ways – capturing the thought of a treasured moment, capturing the image of a crimson sun sinking into a mountain lake, capturing an idea by writing it down before it slips out of our brain.
There’s also the physical sense – capturing an enemy fortress, or capturing a mouse brought in by the cat and releasing it back into the wild to live out its life.
But capturing an agency seems to be unusual and may even be a new usage.
That appears not to be the case. In fact, it seems to be relatively common. How do we know? When enough people Google the phrase ‘captured agency’ (or “regulated capture”) a definition is posted if it isn’t there in the first place. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
“Regulatory capture” as a form of government failure that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. When regulatory capture occurs the interests of firms or political groups are prioritized over the interests of the public, leading to a net loss to society as a whole. Government agencies suffering regulatory capture are called “captured agencies”.
Apparently, it’s such a widespread ‘form of government failure’ that people have been researching it by consulting on-line sources who, in turn, have defined it to respond to the demand for information. It is therefore much more common than we might suppose.
In a nutshell, when a government entity promotes the interests of a relatively small minority over the rights of a much larger majority, then you have a captured agency –captured, that is, by advocates of self- interest as compared to the general good. It is, of course, the antithesis of democracy, the undermining of majority rule, and the denial of citizens’ rights.
Wikipedia cites a number of federal ‘captured agencies,” but what about captured agencies in Maine? A prime candidate is the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a public agency that has been captured (indeed almost held hostage) by the small minority of hunters and trappers whose influence far outweighs their numbers. For instance, according to the Department’s own figures, 196,146 Mainers purchased hunting licenses in 2014. In the same year, the state’s population was approximately 1,330,000. Do the math. Roughly 13% of Mainers hunt; the vast majority (nearly 87%) do not. In 2015, again based on the Department’s own figures, only a mere 2535 Mainers purchased trapping licenses. That’s a little less than 2%.
That raises the question – should only these small minorities make decisions about how the state’s animals are managed or should all citizens have a seat at the table? One answer is that Maine’s wildlife is in the public domain, not some group’s private preserve to do with as they wish. Just as motorists don’t own public roads, boaters and swimmers don’t own public lakes, hikers don’t own public land, students and teachers don’t own public schools, hunters and trappers don’t own the state’s wildlife. They are held in common by all who live here and that’s reflected in the laws and regulations enacted to preserve, protect, and manage what’s shared by us all.
Not to mention that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is a public agency that’s supposed to serve all the public not just those who hunt and trap. Their employees are on the public payroll, and despite what is often claimed, nearly half of its revenue (46%) comes directly or indirectly from the public. For instance, in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2014, 56 percent of the Department’s $38 million annual budget came from hunting and fishing licenses and outdoor sporting fees. The rest came from the federal government (25 percent), special revenue such as conservation license plates (12 percent) and the state’s general fund (7 percent).
Yet last August 3, the Department posted the following on-line document suggesting a rule to extend the trapping season for beavers and an additional week of hunting for bobcats. A Department official confirmed that the impetus for the rule change came from “our wildlife biologists, working with the Maine Trappers Association.”
Agency: 09-137 Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Chapter Number and Title: Chapter 4.01 (G. 1, 1.b., 4.) (O.) – Upland Game and Furbearing Animals
Brief Summary: The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to adopt amendments to furbearer season dates and the open and closed areas for beaver trapping. In WMDs [Wildlife Management Districts] 15, 16, 20-26 and 29 the Department is proposing to open the beaver trapping season on October 30 to align the start of the season with other furbearer seasons and provide an additional 2 weeks of opportunity. An additional week of bobcat hunting is also being proposed with a season of December 1 – February 21 each year.
What sounds very much like a closed, private meeting -no public attended nor was a public hearing scheduled – occurred between state biologists and the Maine Trapper’s Association, who, to no one’s surprise, wanted a longer trapping season because the price of furs is historically low and profits are dropping – all this a time when DIFW freely admits in its 2015 Research and Management Report that the number of bobcat trapped and hunted “declined from a high of 410, during the 07-08 season, to a new low of 111 bobcats this past season . How much of this decline in the annual harvest rate can be attributed to an actual decline in the bobcat population or changes in trapping/hunting effort is still an unanswered question.” In other words, the Department doesn’t know how many bobcats are in the state, but the season should still be extended to give trappers and hunters an extra week of ‘opportunity’ to kill them. This hardly sounds like the ‘scientific’ approach that our biologists are supposed to have and often tout. And if their motivation to kill more animals was not clear enough, the Department published the following statement:
PRINCIPAL REASON(S) OR PURPOSE FOR PROPOSING THIS RULE:
The Department regularly adjusts furbearer hunting and trapping regulations in response to emerging scientific information, changes in trapper participation, and biological data collection. In 2015 the trapping regulations for several species were altered in order to reduce the chance of accidentally capturing lynx, which are listed as a threatened species by the federal government. Unfortunately, these changes resulted in reduced trapper participation, and have made it more difficult for the Department to collect quality biological data on some species. Low fur prices have also contributed to several years of low harvest for some species, especially beaver. Therefore, we are proposing several adjustments to current furbearer trapping and hunting seasons in an effort to allow more opportunity for hunters and trappers to pursue some species.
It was becoming obvious that the Department’s primary mission is to protect the financial interests of trappers and hunters instead of safeguarding and protecting the public resource that is Maine’s wildlife. For that reason, when it was learned that a public hearing would be held if requested by at least five state residents, the requests were made, and a public hearing was held in Portland on September 26, 2016. Comments could also be sent to the Department until October 6 after which a decision would be reached to allow or deny the proposed changes.
Opposition to these measures at the hearing was spirited and persuasive if anyone listened. Why? Beavers and bobcats as well as other animals of the state deserve to live as much as we do, and if they have to be killed for food, it should be done quickly and humanely. No living creature deserves to suffer in a trap, held under water in its own habitat until it drowns, executed at point blank range and then skinned for its pelt or a trophy, just as no animal should be pursued to its death by a pack of GPS- collared hounds who tear it apart or drive it up a tree where it can be shot.
After considering all the public comment and testimony, the Department stated that its decision to support or oppose the changes in trapping and hunting would be announced in another public hearing on October 7 in Augusta. As it turned out, that decision was not at all what some had expected or hoped for.
To be continued . . . .
Don Loprieno is a published author and has maintained a life-long interest in education and history. He lives in Bristol, Maine where he is active in community affairs. Don is also a frequent contributor to a radio program called Into the Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.