Moore: Iowa’s raccoon bounty program is a cruel proposal

Preston Moore

By Guest Post

March 4, 2024

The Iowa Legislature’s proposed raccoon bounty, which would subsidize raccoon trapping, is not a novel idea. But no matter how you spin it, Rep. Dean Fisher’s House File 2481 is little more than a cruel and expensive government takeover of a dying industry. The bill is based on junk science, anecdotes and failed historic policies.

Wildlife bounties have been used throughout the United States many times and for multiple species—from bears to wolves to raccoons. Over the years, Iowa has spent millions of dollars on wildlife-killing bounties; none of them have successfully minimized conflicts with farmers or others. In 2023, the legislature passed a law that undermined the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ [DNR] authority and made it easier than ever for landowners to kill raccoons and other native species indiscriminately without reporting information to the DNR. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t reduce the raccoon population.

This year, Rep. Fisher suggests that the state of Iowa socialize the fur-trapping industry and deputize a purported army of non-existent fur trappers to eradicate the state’s raccoon population for $5 a tail. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he insists that the program will work and that states with unsuccessful bounty programs just aren’t trying hard enough.

The numbers don’t add up. Less than 7% of Iowans hunt, fish or trap – a figure that has not grown despite state-funded attempts to increase participation. The world’s fur-trapping and fur-farming industries are quickly dying out, with the vast majority of business taking place with Russian and Chinese fur buyers. Fashion designers and corporations have turned their backs on fur because consumers don’t want to wear skins from dead animals.

The Iowa Legislature has passed multiple bills handing out free licenses (or not requiring licensure at all) to encourage more people to take part in trapping, but they have all failed. HF 2481 takes it a step further, allotting taxpayer money to a small group of professional and hobbyist trappers. Thousands of raccoons will be trapped, beaten to death and skinned for $5 apiece. The state of Iowa will pay individuals to take part in this bloodsport while encouraging a trade in blood and skin with nations that the legislature just this year said shouldn’t have a foothold in Iowa. China can’t buy our farmland, but Iowans will subsidize selling raccoon skins to that nation?

Beyond Iowa’s own failed past attempts of wildlife bounties, you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence showing bounties work anywhere.

At the direction of Gov. Kristi Noem, in 2019, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks launched a grisly “Nest Predator Bounty Program” that awarded $10 for each tail of a raccoon, red fox, opossum, badger or striped skunk killed by state residents. Ignoring strong opposition from South Dakota wildlife scientists, sportsmen’s groups, wildlife advocates and major newspapers, the state agency gave away more than 16,000 traps that aided in the killing of more than 50,000 of South Dakota’s vital native wild animals in the program’s first year.

The South Dakota Nest Predator Bounty Program continues to this day. Yet just a few weeks ago, an agency official admitted to a state legislative committee that there is no data to show that the program has been effective in its stated objective of increasing pheasant numbers, and that his agency has even stopped counting nonnative pheasants “…to ensure that South Dakota is not unintentionally deterring hunters from coming to our state based on the media headlines reporting of low bird numbers.” The program has been a farce since day one and now even the state of South Dakota admits that its bounty is a failure.

Wildlife biologists and officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission all agree that bounties are “prone to corruption,” “expensive,” “inefficient,” and “totally ineffective.”

Rep. Fisher’s bill will cost Iowans money and result in an important native wildlife species being violently killed, but it won’t reduce landowner conflicts. It does, however, have the potential to inflict long-term damage on our state’s reputation. I strongly encourage the legislature to abandon this gruesome, unscientific and ill-advised proposal.

Preston Moore is the Iowa State Director of The Human Society of the United States. You may reach him at [email protected].

 

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