McKean Minute: Define Yourself as a ‘Wildlife Trustee’

You may recall that I wrote in this space last year about my unease with our traditional term to describe those of us who hunt and fish. We’ve called ourselves “sportsmen” for the better part of a century, and while the term describes a certain type of person, it leaves some people out of the club.

I’m not the most politically correct person you’ll meet, but I do think that language matters. In this age of inclusiveness, people are hyper-sensitive being excluded by terms that seem to favor one group over others. Add to that the documented decline in traditional hunters in America. As a dwindling community we should be looking for any term that helps add to our ranks.

Last year I introduced the gender-neutral term “chaser” to describe our pursuit of wild animals. Taken deeper down the linguistic rabbithole, the term echoes the French term for hunter, which is “chasseur.”

It will be no surprise to anyone that the term didn’t exactly catch fire—maybe because of the French connotations, maybe because we hunters think ourselves as catchers more than simply chasers. Consequently, we’re still using “sportsmen” to describe our male-dominated fraternity. So, I’d like to try again, in the hopes that we can expand the parlance of our predilection.

I propose the term “trustee” to describe those of us who fund wildlife management in this country, those of us who buy hunting gear, who buy hunting licenses, and who abide by the laws—both written and unwritten—that define the proper way to chase wildlife. The term, like all terms, is loaded, but it harkens back to the essence of our role in the very American way that we manage wildlife.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the North American model of wildlife conservation (if you haven’t, then download almost any archived episode of our podcast, On Gravel, and hear Ryan Bronsen extol the virtues of this model). It establishes that wildlife is owned by everyone, and is held in trust by state and provincial wildlife agencies, who manage it according to scientific principles and democratic distribution. When we individuals buy a license, we accept our trust responsibilities to take only what we can use, to obey all other rules, and to pursue animals in an ethical and sustainable manner.

In essence, we hunters (and anglers) are trustees of this public resource. So what better term to describe our community. We are wildlife trustees, or in short, trustees. It’s a noble term, asking members to uphold high and community-minded ideals. It’s an inclusive term, not singling out a specific gender or singular type of pursuit. It’s an ambitious term. If you accept that you are a trustee, then you are required to uphold the highest and best purposes of the public resource that you’re entrusted with. And it’s expansive enough that it allows us to carve out specific definitions. Some of us might be bass trustees. Others elk trustees.

It also implies fiduciary responsibility. Just as a school district’s trustees are responsible for appropriate use of public funds, a wildlife trustee is entrusted with upholding the assets of our rich heritage, the wild animals that we share in common, but pursue with purpose as licensed, capable, appreciative protectors and beneficiaries of our public resource.

So, welcome to the club, fellow “trustee.” Now, go out and add to our ranks.

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