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Looking to the Future

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Looking to the Future

A look at the North American Wildlife Conservation Model from the Game Trail

The other I day was talking to some hunters about the problems we face as sportsmen and conservationists when we look to the future. During the conversation I mentioned the North American Wildlife Conservation Model and was surprised to hear that neither of the individuals has heard of the concept. It is one of the greatest conservation models devised and practiced in the world. Our modern society, while conservation minded, has very little understanding of the very foundation that created the successes of the conservation model. Maybe we as a state agency and our education system do a poor job of educating the public about this concept? I will attempt to do my part, and share this incredible success story. 

The North American Wildlife Conservation Model began well over a century ago. This guiding outline rescued wildlife from slaughter and restored our continent’s wildlife to the amazing resources we have today. North America’s model of wildlife conservation is considered to be one the most successful conservation models in world. 

It has its origins in 19th century conservation movements, the near extinction of several species of wildlife and the rise of sportsmen among the American middle class—unlike England where hunting was only for the privileged, and the wildlife belonged to land owners. 

Beginning in the 1860s sportsmen began to organize and advocate for the preservation of wilderness areas and wildlife. The North American Wildlife Conservation Model is built on two basic principles: (1) fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of citizens, and (2) should be managed such that they are available at optimum population levels forever. These principles are elaborated on with the “seven sisters” or the seven core ideas of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model:

1) Public trust doctrine. In the North American Model, wildlife is held in the public trust. This means that fish and wildlife are held by the public through state and federal governments. Put simply, an individual may own the land on which wildlife resides, but that individual does not own the wildlife on their land. Instead, the wildlife is owned by all citizens. With origins in Roman times and English Common Law, the public trust doctrine has at its heart the 1842 Supreme Court ruling in Martin V. Waddell.

2) Regulated commerce in wildlife. Under the North American Model, wildlife exists outside the market, removing any direct commercial value from wild game as the animals and their meat cannot be bought or sold. Certain products such as antlers and fur may, however, be bought and sold. The end of market hunting was a major step in the restoration of North American species. A great example of this is the commercialization of waterfowl in the Chesapeake Bay. Approximately 33 percent of North America’s waterfowl utilized the Bay for food and refuge, and people of the area abused this great food source by over harvesting and selling waterfowl for consumption. Removing the pressure of market hunting allowed game and fish species to recover and eventually be taken by hunters and anglers at sustainable levels.

3) Hunting and angling laws are created through the public process. Through democratic representation, citizens create the policies that regulate, conserve, and manage wildlife within the United States and Canada. The creation and implementation of wildlife and natural resource management policy is an open and public process. If you are not involved with this process, you should plan on joining us for a local scoping meeting in the future. 

4) Opportunity for all, funded by all. All citizens have a right to hunting and fishing, unless the privilege is revoked for hunting or fishing violations, or the possession of firearms is revoked due to a prior criminal conviction. Additionally, the management of fish and wildlife is funded through the sale of licenses and in the taxation of hunting and fishing equipment. Additional funding comes from state and federal budgets, but the bulk of funding comes from these sources. It is the original “pay to play” philosophy and was a progressive thought during the 1930s, especially since the United States was deeply rooted in the Great Depression.

5) Non-frivolous use. Under the North American model, the killing of game must be done only for food, fur, self-defense, and the protection of property (including livestock). In other words, it is broadly regarded as unlawful and unethical to kill fish or wildlife (even with a license) without making all reasonable effort to retrieve and make reasonable use of the resource. Unfortunately this isn’t always true as politics have interfered with this very philosophy and made exemptions to this crucial ethical guidance. 

6) Wildlife as an international resource. As wildlife do exist only within fixed political boundaries, effective management of these resources must be done internationally, through treaties and the cooperation of management agencies. Waterfowl is a prime example of this philosophy; Canada, USA, and Mexico share waterfowl and they are managed as such.

7) Scientific management. Effective management of wildlife and other natural resources must be based on continuous and sound scientific research. Collaring elk to conduct research on calving grounds or GPS collars on black bears to determine den site selection provides crucial data that we need as an agency to properly manage wildlife for the people.

We should be very thankful for the foresight generations before possessed in regards to wildlife conservation. The Industrial Revolution was producing a heavy toll on natural resources and key decisions saved us from certain doom. The Supreme Court ruling in Martin v. Waddell in 1842, making wildlife owned by no one and held in trust by government for future generations, and the implementation of wildlife policy by President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1930s, are actions we should be thankful for and celebrate every time we enjoy the wild beasts of Idaho regardless of whether it’s on your dinner plate, or through a pair of binoculars.

While we are out enjoying our great resources please take the time to share with our young ones the rich history of North American Wildlife Conservation Model. 

Leave No Child Inside.

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

Tagged as:

wildlife, wilderness, North Idaho Wildlife Conservation Model, Martin V. Waddell

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