Looking back on it.......not a fortuitous choice for a movie title
Note: February 2011 update here
I've been surprised and quite intrigued by the number of emails I have received about high-profile hunting guide Jeff Foiles over the last month. Some are voicing opinions, and others are asking for mine. For those of you outside the waterfowling world, Jeff is a famous and talented guide, as well as a TV/video host and a producer of pretty high quality waterfowl hunting gear. In early December, a nearly EIGHT year long investigation of Jeff's hunting practices culminated with a grand jury returning a 23-count Federal indictment against him. I believe he is to be arraigned in Federal court within the next week or two. The complainants in the case include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, Illinois DNR, and Iowa DNR.
Jeff is charged with violations of the Lacey Act, a robust 110-year old Federal law intended to create speed bumps for the nation's commercial hunting industry during that era. This is not like you or I pulling the trigger and killing either 1 or even 10 birds over our allowed limit. Such a violation would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among many other Federal and state laws. No, the Lacey Act is different.
The Lacey Act isn't about "simple violations" like I described above. The Lacey Act prohibits anyone from 1) buying or selling wildlife that was killed illegally, or 2) conducting a business dependent upon the illegal killing of wildlife. In some ways, it is the natural resources equivalent of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). RICO is an umbrella law to cover criminals who commit multiple separate crimes as part of a larger criminal enterprise. For instance, you stole the money from the bank (federal crime), and then you intentionally did not report the cash as income on your tax forms, which is - legally speaking - stealing from the US Government, and then you invested those untaxed earnings in an illegal business, like black market pharmaceutical drugs (federal crime). RICO allows the US Government to tie those all together - along with any possible "illegal earnings" - as one single, gigantic crime.
The Lacey Act is similar in scope.........and nearly as serious. The indictment alleges (among numerous other things) that guided hunters were encourage to kill more birds than legally allowed (Federal crime), which resulted not only in higher cash tips for Jeff (not reported as taxes - Federal crime) and good references for Jeff's crew, but also allowed Jeff's crew to get more footage for upcoming hunting DVD's that would be sold for profit (in this case, a legal business funded by illegal profits). Jeff is still awaiting his day in court, in which I assume he will either refute this, or state that he was entrapped by informants or law enforcement officials. It's not inconceivable that he's right, at least to some degree.
But what I really want to discuss here is beyond Jeff Foiles, the indictment, and the perhaps hundreds of other inadmissable charges the Federales would have liked to charge him with. I'd also like to go beyond the usual scope of this topic on message boards, which involves a whole lot of (quite accurate) "this is so bad for hunters' images!" What I'd like to bring up here - and I'd like you to think about - is the culture of commodification in waterfowl hunting. The culture that allows guys like Jeff Foiles (innocent or otherwise) to become millionaires by flaunting excess "everything" - leg bands, kill shots, piles of birds, decoys, you name it.
Look at Jeff's picture above. How many bands does he have? Do you ever feel bad for not having more bands on your lanyard? I sure have. But I don't hunt in an area where there are a lot of banded birds. Don't you imagine that 5 lbs of bands is heavy while setting out decoys? Or maybe those giant aluminum lanyards might shine in the sun and flare the geese? Why is it soooo important that we focus on numbers like this?
The fact is, your average young waterfowler would rather have 20 bands on his/her lanyard from locally banded golf course geese, than 2 bands on his lanyard from ducks s/he killed in Argentina or Belize. Think about how ridiculous that is!
What insane intrinsic valuation makes any of us think that this hunt:
was any more fun, memorable, or worthwhile than this hunt:
I know it seems like common sense when it's phrased that way, but the next time you (like me) see some pictures of guys hauling giant straps of ducks out of the marsh, be jealous of the day's story - not the harvest. Our collective priorities - and our motivations for hunting - allow a market to exist for movies like "One Over the Limit" and "Fallin' Skies" where the focus is kill shots - over and over and over. And a hunting culture where the value of a winter day outdoors, or the dedication of a hunter, is determined by a collection of little aluminum bands that could have easily been purchased online, or as the Federales allege against Jeff Foiles, were taken from city park birds with a BB gun.
Think about all of that insanity the next time you venture out. I hope it's a safe and wonderful time for you - work hard to not get distracted by nonsense commodities that mean so very little in the scheme of life, or even hunting. I'll try, too.
Jeff's statement: Jeff Foiles an American Sportsman, respects the law relating to regulations of wildlife and hunting, and now faces an indictment (charges) accusing him of acting in violation of that respect. Jeff appreciates the patience and understanding of friends, sponsers and supporters. Because a court case is pending, His attorneys advise that He cannot comment on the indictment.