Understanding The North American Model for Wildlife


By Don Mallicoat- Talking with hunters, I’m continually amazed by the lack of knowledge about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model. Huh? Yea, you’re not alone. You don’t know it, but everything you do in the outdoors as a hunter or angler is guided by the 7 principles of the model. Or at least should be (more on that later). Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the Model, its meaning to sportsmen, and why our understanding of it is important.

Seeing the depletion of wildlife resources due to market demand in the late 1800’s, a group of sportsmen led by President Teddy Roosevelt decided something had to be done before many species became extinct. Because many of these species like waterfowl were migratory and crossed international borders, it had to be done in a joint effort with Canada. This led to the Model’s adoption in 1910. The Seven Principles are: Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust; Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife; Democratic Rule of Law; Hunting Opportunity for All; Non-Frivolous Use of Wildlife; International Resources; Scientific Management.

Let’s start with Principle #1 – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust. This means that natural resources and wildlife are managed by government agencies and owned by no individual to the benefit of present and future generations. The Model has been in existence so long this foundational principle just seems to be second nature to most hunters. It wasn’t so in our predominantly European heritage.

In Europe at the time, and some traditions continue today, wild game belonged to the property owner. We’ve all heard the stories of European landed gentry having trouble with the laboring class (serfs) stealing game off their land. Isn’t that where Robin Hood’s Merry Band got its start? The ghilly suit used by modern snipers? It was developed by game keepers in Great Britain to hide and catch poachers!

With the continents expansive lands and diversity of wildlife populations, public trust of wildlife was the only way to protect all species and manage them for the future of hunting. You must also remember this was the time National Forests and Parks were established by President Roosevelt. With a mixture of both government and private lands, wildlife management responsibility had to be put in public versus private hands to ensure continuity across the land. Again, based on our European heritage and the standard throughout the world, public trust of wildlife was an unheard of concept at the time. This is why wildlife enforcement activity applies to private as well as public land in the country today.

The second principle, Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife, is tied to the first. I learned the difference when hunting in Europe while in the Army. Even to this day in Germany wild game belongs to the landowner. If you kill an animal, for me chamois and the deer, the landowner keeps the meat and sells it to local restaurants. That is unheard of (and is illegal) here in the United States. This was developed to stop market hunting. We’ve all heard the stories of market hunters decimating buffalo herds in the west just for their hides. Another problem at the turn of the century was waterfowl market hunters. They would shoot hundreds of ducks, barrel them up, and ship them to market to be sold in restaurants. This had to be done to stop the depletion of wildlife resources.

These two principles, and the reason they are the first two, are primarily responsible for the bountiful game we have today. Here are some numbers to support it. At the turn of the 20th century when the Model was developed there were only 500 thousand whitetail deer in the United States. Today that number exceeds 32 million. At that same time there were an estimated 100,000 wild turkeys. Now their population exceeds 7 million. Ducks and geese were nearly non-existent and their numbers now exceed 44 million.

Yes, there are other factors that affect those numbers. The Pittman-Roberson Act comes to mind. But if our forefathers did not have the vision to establish the North American Model over 100 years ago all of that would be for naught. Next week we will look at the remaining principles to show how they work in concert.


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