Livin Wild Wednesday: Muck Boots in Deep Muck

The author NOT wearing Muck Boots. The author NOT wearing Muck Boots.
The general public confuses the Humane Society of the United States with local animal shelters all the time; HSUS's name and commercials ensure that. But you don't expect it from the company that makes the camo rubber boots you hunt in.
Muck Boots found out just how big that mistake can be when they posted a photo on their Facebook page saying that they were hosting a fundraiser for the anti-hunting organization. Whether or not it was true or a mistaken identity, as they claim, it illustrates the disconnect between some parts of the hunting industry and the issues facing their customers.
When Muck Boots shared the photo, the internet blew up. Hunters, farmers and customers bombarded their page with posts very clearly articulating what they thought of Muck donating to HSUS. The gist was, "we love your product, but we will never buy it again because you're giving money to the organization trying to take away our rights to hunt and farm." (And I hope Michigan's state legislators were paying attention to that backlash from hunters and farmers as they consider their vote on the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act this month).
The post was made on August 1, and the backlash began almost immediately. Curiously, it took Muck Boots four days to respond. They released a statement claiming that it was a fundraiser for a local shelter, the Humane Association of Northwestern Rhode Island, that is unaffiliated with HSUS. I really hope that's true. If you look at the comments on their page, their former customers certainly aren't buying it. And the Humane Association of Northwestern Rhode Island said it hasn't received a donation from Muck Boots and people should stop calling them to ask. It then later posted that Muck Boots called them and said they would be donating $2,000. Was that the original purpose of the fundraiser or an attempt at a public relations save? I have no idea.
But HSUS's fundraising strategy is built on building that exact kind of confusion between the national anti-hunting organization and local shelters, so it would almost be understandable for Muck Boots to make that mistake. Almost.
Text of the controversial post: Text of the controversial post: "We lost a member of the Muck Team at our fundraiser for the Humane Society of the United States. Where's Les?! #BehindtheScenes #Camo #MuckBoots #GivingBack #Humane Society"
If Muck Boots was tuned in to the issues facing their customers, hunters and farmers, then there is no way they would make that mistake. They would know that HSUS is the biggest threat to hunting rights and farming practices across the nation, that hunters and farmers are in tooth-and-nail fights with HSUS from California to Maine and states in between to protect their outdoor and agricultural heritage and way of life.
Granted, Muck Boots is in the business of making boots, not fighting political battles. But those political battles will determine if Muck's customers will retain the rights to engage in the activities for which they purchase said boots. Companies in the outdoor products industry should at least be aware of those issues, and aware of who HSUS is.
Here's a primer: HSUS is the largest anti-hunting organization in the country. HSUS recently had its charity rating stripped by the nation’s top charity evaluator, Charity Navigator. Despite their television commercials asking you to donate to shelter puppies and kittens, they spend much of their money on anti-hunting and anti-farming initiatives like they ones they're financing here, in Missouri, in Maine and at the federal level. And they recently had to pay over $15 million to settle a RICO lawsuit after paying off a witness in a frivolous lawsuit against Ringling Brothers.
Here's what HSUS's CEO, Wayne Pacelle, said in 1991 when he was at the Fund for Animals, which has since merged with HSUS: "We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States ... We will take it species by species until all hunting is stopped in California. Then we will take it state by state."
Fund for Animals/HSUS then tried (and failed) to ban bear hunting with dogs or bait in Michigan in 1996, succeeded in banning dove hunting in Michigan in 2006, and is currently trying to ban scientifically-based wolf hunting in Michigan now. They recently banned hunting with lead ammo statewide in California, not just in the condor range, and it's currently trying to do the same on all federal lands. They're also pushing an initiative to ban hounding, baiting and trapping of bears in Maine. In other words, HSUS is trying to do exactly what Pacelle said in 1991.
That's what the customers of Muck Boots, and of all other outdoor industry companies, are facing. Here's what else they're facing:
"People know what happened in California, and they know it can happen again and again. They know that no group has passed more ballot measures than we have. They know we have a focused strategy. They know we have a budget of $150 million a year. And they know we're ready for a fight."
Pacelle said that after HSUS won an anti-farming ballot initiative in California in 2010. According to Outdoor Life, they also told the Sportsmen's Alliance of Maine that they would stay in Maine and remove their hunting rights one-by-one if the alliance didn't agree to an HSUS bill to ban hounding and trapping bears (it didn't). HSUS has a $150 million a year budget and a strategy to run ballot initiatives against hunting and farming state-by-state, species-by-species. And do you know what wins ballot initiatives?  Money. Political advertising. What HSUS has and conservation groups do not.
Here in Michigan, we know we can't outspend them. But we can outwork and outsmart them. So we went out and collected the signatures of almost 300,000 registered Michigan voters - 115,000 more than HSUS did in their anti-wolf-hunting referendum here - and sent a citizen-initiated bill to make fish and wildlife decisions with sound science to our democratically-elected Legislature to pass. And conservation groups stepped up to support it. The outdoor industry did not, except for Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, Jay's Sporting Goods and Frank's Great Outdoors letting us collect signatures at their locations in Michigan, for which we are extremely grateful.
Hunting generates $76 billion a year in economic activity. That's billion with a "b." But very little of it goes to defending the rights to engage in the activity that supports the industry. Perhaps that's because the fights are usually at the state level. National outdoor products companies don't want to get embroiled in any particular state's controversy. And that's by design: HSUS's design.
You see, if they attack hunting rights on a national scale, they'll face a national response. Their strategy and their practice has been to attack hunting rights one species at a time, one state at a time. They attack the right to hunt the least-hunted species first: wolves, doves, bears, mountain lions;  or less-utilized methods: trapping, hounding, baiting. The idea is divide and conquer, whittling away at the bundle of hunting rights until there's nothing left. And as long as the outdoor industry stands on the sideline, then they'll continue to be able to outspend statewide and local conservation groups with that $150 million per year budget.
That needs to end. And HSUS isn't going anywhere. If we continue to outwork and outsmart HSUS, we don't have to outspend them. But we do have to be able to compete. To do that, a fraction of that $76 billion in economic activity needs to start finding its way to the campaigns and nonprofits defending our rights to hunt, fish and trap from HSUS. And it has to be at the state level, because that's where HSUS is attacking, and that's where the battles are being fought.
Muck Boots may or may not recover from its blunder. And I have no idea if it was really fundraising for HSUS or an unaffiliated local animal shelter. But the fact that its social media team didn't know the difference points to the much bigger problem that too many in the outdoor industry are either unaware or unwilling to fight HSUS where it needs to be fought the most.
We're going to win this battle in Michigan, this time. But HSUS will be back. Just like they're back in Maine to attack bear hunting after losing there in 2004. We can beat them, and so can Maine, if we have the resources to do it and the support of the outdoor industry. Otherwise, it's just a matter of time before we lose the rights to engage in the activities for which we buy camo rubber boots.
And if any big outdoor industry companies want to help bridge that disconnect right now, the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management could use some more help to fund their fight with HSUS and you can donate to them right here:
Livin' Wild Wednesday is the weekly blog post from MUCC grassroots manager (and HSUS fighter) Drew YoungeDyke

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