BRISTOL — Mark Duda is CEO of Responsive Management, a Virginia-based survey firm whose apparent mission is to make the public have a positive view of baiting, trapping and hounding as well as hunting in general and approve of those who manage the state’s wildlife. A review of his client list includes a number of fish and game departments throughout the country as well as the pro-hunting group Safari Club International.

In 2016, the National Rifle Association’s Distinguished Leadership Award was given to Duda on behalf of his company, which was described as “the internationally noted public-opinion-and-attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resources and outdoor recreation issues.” For the past three years, Responsive Management has been hired to work with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on its latest big-game management plan. DIFW says it’s still accepting comments and suggestions on the recently released draft plan, but regardless of what the public thinks, it’s clear Mainers can expect to see more black bears hunted (i.e., baited, trapped and hounded) in the future as a result of the plan.

A strategy used by Duda – one that he undoubtedly shared with DIFW – was the importance of choosing the right words when talking to the public about hunting. For example, here is his advice about how to alter the perception of trapping:

“The public is highly uninformed about trapping. In the absence of information on trapping, the public is free to project onto trapping whatever image first comes to mind. And for much of the public, the image of trapping burned into the American psyche is of a helpless animal doing anything it can to escape a ‘steel-toothed’ trap, including chewing off its own leg.”

To persuade us that the above description of trapping is not accurate, Duda suggests that we acquire “familiarity with trappers, knowledge of beneficial uses of animals harvested through trapping, and knowledge of methods used to make trapping more humane.” He concludes that “the more information people possess about trapping issues, the more likely they are to approve of trapping.”

It seems that Duda’s specialty is manipulating language to make brutality seem relatively neutral and, therefore, inoffensive with such euphemisms as “harvest” instead of “killing,” as if it we were discussing a wheat field or a row of corn rather than a sentient creature who wants to live as much as we do and shares many of the same emotions. And as for making trapping “more humane,” the best way to do that is to end it.

Another of Duda’s techniques to increase public acceptance of hunting is for wildlife officials to project a positive image, a suggestion that DIFW has apparently taken to heart. For example, an article based on information from a spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife appeared last month in the Portland Press Herald and featured the rescue of a bear cub by game wardens and biologists. It was an act of compassion, though some readers may have noted the irony that when this cub grows up, it could easily be ambushed while it feeds on human junk food, chased by GPS radio-collared hounds and shot out of a tree, or held fast in a trap while it struggles to escape – all activities sanctioned and promoted by the same agency (DIFW) that demonstrates such caring now. Readers may have wondered how such a profound emotional disconnect could come about – how acts of cruelty could easily replace an initial act of kindness.

A more recent Press Herald article quotes one of DIFW’s bear biologists as saying, “Due to the late spring, we anticipate that bear complaints could reach higher than normal levels this year.” By contrast, the Kennebunk police tells the Press Herald that such sightings are not unusual for this time of year. Nonetheless, the biologist – seemingly an objective, science-based source – concludes that “Maine has a growing bear population … increasing the potential for conflicts,” a comment that might well be viewed as preparing the ground for the killing of more bears in the future.

Based on Mark Duda’s suggestions, it’s all part of DIFW’s ongoing PR effort to sanitize how the state’s wildlife is treated, offering us a “feel-good,” warm and fuzzy picture instead of what is often a very harsh reality – and it’s fostered by a public agency whose financial support is largely generated by the revenue that hunting produces. Now that the game management report has come out, we should read it carefully, and respond with a focus on whose interests have really been served.

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