Conservation: A Modern Look at the Model

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation continues to stand strong, but we must be vigilant of increasing strains to its pillars.

Conservation: A Modern Look at the Model

Shutterstock image

If you haven’t heard of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, then at least you’ve heard of its antithesis. “The King’s deer” is how the European model might be distilled. From the days of Robin Hood’s Merry Men until now, the public doesn’t own wildlife in Europe; the landowner does, and often the landowner bleeds royal blood.

But in North America, wildlife is owned by the people, whether you buy a hunting or fishing license or not, or whether you have royal pedigree or not, or whether you own the land on which it lives or not. Many court cases have confirmed this status and cemented a further detail: Wildlife is managed in trust by states and provinces, not the federal government. The idea is that state governments are more responsive to the people and can make better decisions about how to manage species that don’t cross state lines.

As a consequence of this arrangement, wild things are managed by public professionals employed by state and provincial wildlife agencies, and we hunters and anglers get to pursue them only after we enter into a contract with the public. We call those contracts hunting and fishing licenses.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation isn’t a formal document. Instead, it’s a way of explaining all the measures that have been taken over the past century that have culminated in the healthy surplus of wildlife that we currently enjoy, and which we distribute according to democratic principles and a user-pays model of funding. But time and circumstance have changed some of the ways we value and distribute wildlife, and it’s worth looking at a few of the pillars of the model to see if they’re as relevant as they once were.


Wildlife Belongs to the People

This is the foundation, the notion that wild animals in America cannot be privatized. Their management falls to public officials whose work is governed by boards and commissions that seek and follow public input.


That sounds lovely as a principle, but what about whitetail deer that live all their lives on big private properties where public access is not allowed? Are those deer public? And are they managed according to the public’s interest? In theory, yes. But in practice, wildlife that lives exclusively on big estates isn’t that different from the King’s deer in England.

The second leg of the public-wildlife pillar is that in order for wildlife to be effectively managed by the public, access needs to be democratically distributed. But our long tradition of private property rights combined with the high perceived value of some wildlife species complicates that access expectation. Our system still works well where the public has access to public wildlife. It’s more complicated in instances where the public is prohibited from accessing its resource.

Conservation
Although land can be privatized, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation maintains that wild animals cannot. Under the model, wildlife is managed by departments and commissions that follow public input. (Shutterstock image)

Wildlife Management Is Guided by Science

This is another pillar of the model, that we leave management of wildlife to trained biologists. I’d argue that’s the case in most states and provinces. There are exceptions, and they’re almost universally ugly. Those are cases when state legislatures have stepped in to manage wildlife because an issue became too politicized for civil servants.

Example: Wisconsin’s legislature cut funding for CWD management because the state’s deer hunters balked at biologists’ recommendation to kill an extreme number of deer in the affected area. Many Badger State hunters now look back on that decision as a bad one, because it allowed CWD to spread far beyond the area of the original outbreak.


Only Legitimate Use of Wildlife Will Be Tolerated

You could reword this to the “waste not, want not” provision of the model. The mandate that wildlife not be wasted is the basis for thousands of venison chili recipes. I’d argue this is one provision of the model that’s being upheld in the finest fashion. We have lots of new hunters and anglers entering our ranks because of their interest in harvesting wild, honest food. But we need to be vigilant about this one, and ensure that our friends and hunting partners don’t waste the game that we worked so hard to earn.

The Commercialization of Wildlife Is Prohibited

This one has its roots in the market-hunting days of the last century, when many species were hunted nearly to extinction by the commercial value of their meat, feathers or fur. I maintain that we’re doing a good job of keeping market forces out of wild meat, but the case is a little less clear when it comes to the market value for trophy parts.

There is a lively and very lucrative trade in world-class buck racks, and in the biggest and most unique sets of other antlers, horns and hides. If we’re truly following the precepts of the North American Model, then we should find ways to discourage the economy in trophy wildlife parts obtained by hunters.


The Foundation for Conservation in the Future

Given all these expectations of how we are to manage wildlife in America, are we living up to the spirit of the model? I’d argue that we’re doing a pretty good job. We have abundant populations of many game animals, plus many more non-game animals. We have functional wildlife management agencies. We participants feel like we’re an important part of the wildlife management process.

Yes, there are some holes in the otherwise durable model, and some of its pillars are shaky. But as long as we keep our eye on the outcome—that wildlife is owned and managed by a public that has access to this public resource—then the North American Model can adapt with the times.

The alternative, after all, is pretty grim. Just ask Robin Hood.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

MLF Pros: What

MLF Pros: What's Your Go-To Lure?

When all else fails, here's what these pros tie on.

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

After making the switch to Berkley products heading into the inaugural BPT season, Edwin Evers tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead why Berkley baits played such a key role in his recent angling success.

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

Costa

Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies can be profound, even when fishing the same lake or river. Fishing How-To

How to Catch Catfish Day and Night

Terry Madewell

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies...

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Backyard Get Together

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation & Politics

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

Everytown's Linguistic Gymnastics: 2nd Amendment Doesn't Really Mean 'Bear' Arms

Larry Keane

Perspective from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Perspective by National Shooting Sports Foundation. Conservation & Politics

NSSF: Seattle Gun Tax Falls Short of Promises

Larry Keane, NSSF

Perspective by National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Here's a look at recent cases conservation officers faced in the field all across the nation. Conservation & Politics

Game Warden Stories: Antler Poachers, Naked Wanted Man, Secret-Note Tip

Game & Fish Staff - June 26, 2020

Here's a look at recent cases conservation officers faced in the field all across the nation.

The national fish hatchery system is more than a century old. What is it doing now to ensure the health of trout and other species in the decades to come? Conservation & Politics

Trout Stewardship in America

Carolee Anita Boyles - July 02, 2020

The national fish hatchery system is more than a century old. What is it doing now to ensure...

See More Conservation & Politics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now