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[OPINION] Arizona cats are back in the bag

Posted by   /  April 5, 2018  /  No Comments

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Humane Society drive to protect wild cats goes to the political litter box

By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

I am an avid lover of cats, big and small, domestic and wild. I’ve had at least a dozen in my life and have grieved at the death of every one.

Other than for protection, I can’t accept hunting down wild cats just to display them or brag about the kill.

I am repulsed every time I see the photo (above) of Donald Jr. and Eric Trump gleeful over the cheetah they shot.

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Kellye Pinkelton has two household cats but has been more concerned for the protection of wild cats in Arizona, such as mountain lions and bobcats, from trophy hunters. (Jaguars, lynx and ocelot already are protected as endangered species.)

As Arizona State Director of the Humane Society of the United States, Pinkelton was disappointed when the national society Tuesday decided it couldn’t claw its way clear to finish a petition drive to place a ban on trophy hunting of big cats on the November ballot.

Kitty Block, acting president of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said she still believes Arizonans would support the initiative, but efforts to gather the minimum 150,642 valid signatures by July 5 have been hampered by some new Arizona laws governing the circulation of initiative petitions.

Related:Interior Department Aims to Slice Section From Endangered Species Act

Block also said there also are “national issues that currently demand our attention.”

Trophy hunting is considered killing for bragging rights. One of the opponents of a ban said the issue has become political.

“The notion of ‘trophy’ is a political notion that they’ve tested and polled,” with no actual legal basis, said Kurt Davis, a member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (AZGFD).

Rose Law Group Reporter interviewed Pinkelton via email on Wednesday. The interview is edited only for clarity and length.

What prompted you to get involved such a campaign?

There were several factors why we launched this initiative. One was of course recognizing that AZ is a retrograde state on mountain lion hunting and currently cruel methods are used to hunt and trap lions and bobcats. We know that the current state agency caters to the minority of Arizonans when it comes to “management” of wildlife and does not adequately represent the majority that are not hunters.

We also know first-hand that the current leadership of the AZGFD does not work collaboratively with outside interests that represent constituencies that care about animals and the environment.

Finally, legislation was put forth in 2017 to ban the hunting of wild cats (with exceptions for personal and public property, research, etc) that did not even get a hearing. With no legislative remedy, no willingness to cease trophy hunting on the part of the agency and knowing the majority of Arizonans agree that trophy hunting of wild cats should be banned, our only option to was take this to the citizens.

How many signatures had been gathered?

We do not release this publicly.

What was it specifically in ballot law requirements your campaign could not meet?

There is no doubt that legislators have spent the past few sessions trying to roll back protections for voters and silence the will of voters by passing laws that make it more difficult for citizen initiatives. HB 2244, for example, created significant obstacles making volunteer gathering more difficult due to the onerous strict compliance standard, making the cost for paid signature gatherers more than three times what we expected.

How much money had been collected?

I don’t have the exact figures handy but we will be submitting our quarterly campaign report to the Secretary of State’s office next month with all details. We reported approx. $730,000 on our first report which includes in-kind donations. (HSUS) and its affiliates were the primary funder of the campaign.

The Humane Society said it has more pressing issues than to continue with the campaign. What did that mean?

We are referring to not only additional advocacy efforts but we are currently engaged in litigation on several issues with the federal government from USDA scrubbing of records to the roll back on the elephant parts import ban.

How much support did you have at the Legislature?

As mentioned, with our current legislative make-up there is no legislative remedy to pass a ban on the hunting of our wild cats. We did have some legislators at the state level and several congressional candidates that endorsed the campaign.

Why did [the AZGFD commissioner] say the campaign was “political?”

I cannot answer that for them, but my guess is to call something political fits a narrative their constituency needs.

What’s political about our wildlife “management” in Arizona currently is that the AZGFD commission serves a small minority of citizens and is beholden to hunting special interest groups, such as the Safari Club International, the largest wealthy lobby organization based in Tucson.

Do you anticipate another try at it next general election?

There are no plans at this time to do an initiative in 2020.

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