McFeely: Walter Palmer doesn’t own the deer, nor does anybody else
FARGO Walter Palmer owns the land. He does not own the deer. That, in less than a dozen words, summarizes why some residents of Clay County are upset with Palmer, a Twin Cities dentist who is alleged to have directed associates -- some locals cal...
Walter Palmer owns the land. He does not own the deer.
That, in less than a dozen words, summarizes why some residents of Clay County are upset with Palmer, a Twin Cities dentist who is alleged to have directed associates - some locals call them henchmen - to patrol township roads and prevent deer from leaving Palmer’s property in the Barnesville area.
Palmer is infamously known worldwide as the big-game hunter who killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a popular collared male who resided on a preserve before being hunted and shot by Palmer and a group of guides. Uproar ensued during the summer, even as Palmer maintained he participated in a legal hunt. Indeed, Zimbabwe authorities never filed charges against Palmer.
We learned about Palmer’s local ties during that incident. He owned large pieces of land in rural Clay County and on Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County. Stories drifted out about Palmer’s obsession with protecting his land and the deer that lived on it. News reports quoted local residents saying Palmer hid on his property and accused people of trying to poach deer. They say he threatened to call the game warden.
Stories also circulated about Palmer’s associates patrolling public gravel roads bordering his property as a way to intimidate locals who were driving the backroads deer-watching - and as a way to keep deer from leaving his property.
That is again the issue because one local resident, Leah Thompson, stepped forward and publicly accused Palmer’s associates of “herding” deer with their pickups. Such an action would be illegal under a Minnesota misdemeanor statute that reads: “A person may not use a motor vehicle to intentionally drive, chase, run over, kill or take a wild animal.”
Thompson, whose family owns and hunts land adjacent to Palmer’s, said two white pickups hindered deer from crossing a road after 4 p.m. on opening weekend. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is investigating.
Palmer, through a spokesman, said his accuser has a history of personal animosity toward him. There have been suggestions Thompson and others are jealous of Palmer’s property, hunting success or even his wealth.
Palmer and his apologists are missing the point.
He doesn’t own the deer. He owns the land. He doesn’t own the critters that live on it.
Deer and other free-ranging wildlife are not owned by any individual. This is one of the tenets of North America’s public trust doctrine of wildlife. Wildlife is “owned” by the people and managed by federal, state and provincial governments.
This model, which dates back to the United States winning its freedom from England and its king, wiped out the centuries-old European model in which wildlife was privately owned and hunting it was exclusive to the upper classes. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the idea of public-trust wildlife on numerous occasions.
It’s all a fancy way of saying that while Palmer owns 900 prime acres of deer-hunting habitat in Clay County, he cannot keep deer from leaving his property to roam on somebody else’s land.
Palmer is not the only person to get wildly possessive about deer on his property. It’s common for Minnesota and North Dakota hunters to claim a deer (usually a trophy buck) as their own. It’s likely extreme measures have been taken to keep a gigantic buck on a piece of property just long enough to be shot on opening day.
Outdoorsmen also get possessive about “their” pheasants, perch, ducks, walleyes and geese. Why do you think North Dakotans break out in hives when they see so many Minnesota license plates during the waterfowl and pheasant seasons? The same could be said of Minnesotans when they spot so many North Dakota plates in Lakes Country during the summer.
It’s all equally silly. A property owner on Lake Cormorant doesn’t own the walleyes in the water any more than Palmer owns the deer on his property. The difference is, Palmer possibly did something illegal to stop other residents from shooting a deer.
Thompson, the woman who blew the whistle on Palmer, just wants the dentist to play fair.
“I don’t have it out for him, but simply want him to stop. Lion or no lion, I don’t care,” Thompson said in a text message. “I’m not jealous of his land or in need of attention. Deer are running all over, so please don’t interfere with that. I just want to hunt and enjoy it with my family.
“It’s been 10-plus years of these issues. Let’s call it quits! We need to get along and respect each other’s choice of hunting. He likes to bow hunt and we like to rifle hunt. I hope Mr. Palmer can understand all I want to do is hunt and hunt fair. I don’t wish him anything bad. Let’s just get along, and enough is enough.”
There is a concept in hunting called “fair chase,” an ethical code followed by true sportsmen. Part of the concept is that hunters exercise a personal code of behavior that reflects on their abilities and sensibilities, while respecting others who hunt responsibly.
Palmer, it seems, is doing none of these things. He may be rich, powerful, successful and intimidating. He may be a world-class bowhunter.
He doesn’t own the deer.
McFeely is a radio talk show host and columnist for Forum News Service. Email him at email@example.com .