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The Game Trail

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The Game Trail

Matt says there's a difference between conservation and preservation

Wildlife conservation is a concept that has been around for many years dating back to ancient times. As a matter of fact, you can find some verses in the Bible referring to the use of wildlife and more recently, relatively speaking, Kubla Khan was credited with the first established hunting seasons sometime in the 13th century. 

The concepts of wildlife conservation have come a long way since then. Today wildlife conservation is a science, challenging hypothesis and ideas for the betterment of man and wildlife. However, the foundation and goals of wildlife conservation have not changed purpose: to ensure the wise use and management of renewable resources. If we use the resources in a smart manner, the living organisms that we call renewable resources can replenish themselves indefinitely.

Wildlife preservation, on the other hand, is an entirely different concept, yet encompasses the same goals as wildlife conservation. Preservation is another means of protecting or saving a resource by setting land aside as “forever wild.” Preservation means no consumptive use of timber, wildlife, or other resources.

Both preservation and conservation have and will play an important role in the resources we have today and in the future. The challenge comes in utilizing the concepts in the correct manner. Unfortunately there are some folks who side with one concept or the other and have no room for accepting both as means to conservation. Most times it involves people who are for preservation and nothing else. These are folks that believe we should always have a hands off approach to resources no matter what the issue. History has taught us many times that preservation alone is not a viable solution.

Initially, wildlife management in the United States was skewed toward preservation.

In the early 1900s, for example, wildlife managers attempted to preserve a mule deer herd in the remote Kaibab Plateau of Arizona. Hunting was banned, and predators were destroyed. The results were severe overpopulation, habitat destruction, and mass starvation. The Kaibab Plateau was opened to hunting in 1929, which brought the population into balance with the habitat. Today, a large, healthy herd of mule deer inhabits the area.

Around the same period, a similar event took place in Pennsylvania. Deer had been brought into the state after the native population was thought to be extinct. With most of the predators eliminated and little hunting allowed, the herd grew out of control. As the food supply dwindled, thousands of white-tailed deer starved to death.

From these hard lessons, wildlife managers learned that there is more to conserving wildlife populations than just protecting them. We’ve discovered that nature overproduces its game resources and that good wildlife management yields a surplus that can be harvested by hunters.

The David Thompson Preserve on the Sam Owen peninsula in Hope is another prime example of the concept of preservation exceeding its usefulness.  During the 1940s in Idaho there was a game preserve or bird sanctuary in almost every county. That included the David Thompson preserve in Bonner County and the Myrtle Creek preserve in Boundary County.  However, in the 1960s the Idaho Fish and Game commission eliminated all most all these preserves except the two I mentioned previously. I don’t know the history of why the David Thompson preserve is still in existence, but I guarantee this has been a political decision rather than a biological one. A trip through the David Thompson preserve should alarm the casual observer on the health of these deer. Sixty years of inbreeding and poor nutrition has taken a heavy toll on their genetics and subsequent appearance. What a shame that we are doing this to our deer; I think it’s time we stop “protecting” these animals and return health to this suffering herd through wildlife conservation. What do you think?

I hope this New Year is the best one yet for all of you. Don’t forget to purchase a new 2010 license before heading out this year, and respect our great resources of North Idaho. Please, take the time to get your kids outside and teach them the principles of good wildlife conservation.

Leave No Child Inside

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Author info

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

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