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North American Wildlife Conservation Model

North American Wildlife Conservation Model

By Eric Aldrich

There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in   the world: a system that keeps wildlife as a public and sustainable   resource, scientifically managed by professionals – thanks to hunters   and hunting.

Hunting, as some folks tend to forget, has been a human activity for a long, long time…as long as there have been humans.

But   something happened to hunting around the late 1800s and early 1900s   that changed it forever. It became regulated. The relatively new   profession of wildlife biology supported those regulations with science.   License fees and excise taxes—paid for by hunters themselves –   supported the enforcement and the science. Money was also set aside to   protect habitat, conduct research and teach hunters to be safe and   ethical. At the time, those visionary moves were essential because of   the pathetic status of North America’s wildlife population. In Delaware,   white-tailed deer, beavers, wild turkeys and many waterfowl species   were few in number at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, throughout   the continent, many species are back for all to enjoy, not just   hunters.

Why Do We Mention This?

Because sometimes we   forget. Sometimes, we get so accustomed to the way things are that we   forget how they used to be…and what it’s like elsewhere in the world.

There’s   a fellow in Canada’s Alberta Province who wants to remind us that   hunting is THE reason for conservations’ success in North America. He’s   Valerius Geist, a German native who immigrated to Canada as a young   teenager in 1953 and began hunting two years later.

Geist   studied wildlife biology, earned a doctorate in animal behavior and   wrote several books on big game mammals of North America. By the 1980’s   he could see that his own co0llegues (wildlife biologists for the most   part) had forgotten what their predecessors had built: a phenomenal   environmental success story, the restoration of wildlife in North   America.

“When I came over here from Germany, it was a real   eye-opener,” Geist said. “Hunting is different. Conservation is   different. The whole model here that ties hunting and conservation   together is unique and very successful.”

It’s called the North   American Model of Wildlife Conservation. There’s nothing like it   elsewhere in the world. And hunters – whether they’re in Delaware,   Alberta or Oregon – are the system’s backbone of success.

To   remind biologists (and anyone else) about why this model is unique and   successful, Geist and two colleagues presented a paper at a recent North   American Wildlife Management and Research conference. The other   co-authors are Shane P. Mahoney of the Newfoundland and Labrador   Wildlife Division, and John F. Organ, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife   Service in Hadley, Mass.

“We wrote this for the simple reason   that what is so obvious has been forgotten by many people,” Geist said.   “Even our own colleagues had forgotten the history of the wildlife   conservation movement here.”

What is the North American Model?

The   North American model has endured despite widespread changes in society,   technology and in the landscape of the continent. It has become a   “system of sustainable development of a renewable natural resource that   is without parallel in the world,” Geist said. Furthermore, it has   benefited not only huntable wildlife, countless species of songbirds and   shorebirds are protected, becoming specifically designated as nongame   species. Seven features make the North American model distinct.

  1. Wildlife is a public resource. This is a notion that dates back to the   Bible, in legal codes of ancient Rome. A wild animal was owned by no one   until it was physically possessed. The concept was solidified in the   Unites States to the extent that wildlife was held in common ownership   by the state for the benefit of all people. And it has withstood tests   in the U.S. courts.
  2. Markets for trade in wildlife were   eliminated. Making it illegal to buy and sell meat and parts of game and   nongame species removed a huge threat to sustaining those species. At   the same time, however, allowing markets for furbearers has helped   managed them as a sustainable resource, in conjunction with restrictive   regulations, and advocacy of trappers for land stewardship.
  3. Allocation of wildlife by law. States allocate surplus wildlife by law,   not by market pressures, land ownership or special privilege. The public   gets a say in how wildlife resources are allocated; the process fosters   public involvement in managing wildlife
  4. Wildlife can only be   killed for a legitimate purpose. The law prohibits killing wildlife for   frivolous reasons. Under the “Code of the Sportsman,” hunters use as   much as they can. The harvest of wild animals must serve a practical   purpose if society is going to accept it.
  5. Wildlife species are   considered an international resource. Some species, such as migratory   birds, transcend boundaries and one country’s management can easily   affect a species in another country.
  6. Science is the proper tool   for discharge of wildlife policy. This is a key concept of wildlife   management. It has its roots in the Prussian Forestry System, arising in   this country as the basis of wildlife management by the convincing   forcefulness of Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold. By spawning the   profession of wildlife management, North Americans were decades ahead of   their global neighbors.
    In the United States, the concept of   science-based, professional wildlife management really took off with   passage of the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. In this   phenomenally successful program, excise taxes on hunting equipment are   returned to states for wildlife management, restoration and research,   along with hunter education.
    According to Greg Moore, a lifelong   hunter and now Delaware’s acting wildlife administrator, those dollars   go a long way. “Because of sport hunting and the Federal Aid dollars   that it provides to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, we can conduct   scientific, professional management that benefits all species, not just   game or nongame,” he said.
  7. The democracy of hunting. In the European model, wildlife was allocated by land ownership and privilege. In North America, anyone in good standing can participate.

Hunting is the Glue

“In   much of Europe, hunting is landowner-based,” Geist said. “Areas are   essentially leased for hunting, and hunters are responsible for the   management of species on that piece of land. It’s an elitist system.”

What   developed in North America is what Geist calls a populous system. “It   appeals to everyone, blue-collar and white-collar alike” and was   championed by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt.

In Africa today,   efforts to stop poaching have led to programs that direct economic   returns on hunting fees to rural indigenous people. Now, they have a   reason to stop poachers.

According to Geist, the glue that holds this unique North American model of wildlife conservation together is hunting.

Wildlife   should be a publicly-owned resource not only as a food source but also   to help foster the American “pioneer spirit,” he said. “The ability for   all North Americans to be able to cultivate these pioneer skills through   sport hunting meant that there could be no private ownership outside of   the public trust.”

Threatening that public trust were the   markets for wildlife that were driving some species toward extinction.   The strongest proponents for eliminating market hunting were the   organized sportsmen and sporting publications. The Boone and Crockett   Club and Forest and Stream magazine rallied against market hunting,   resulting in many state and federal laws ending the practice.

Without   the markets, there were game surpluses which became allocated by law.   Those allocations should not jeopardize the sustainability of wildlife   for future generations. Sportsmen became the biggest advocates of   maintaining sustainable numbers of wildlife.

As ranching   increased as a way of getting meat to the table, hunting strictly for   food became less important. Thus grew hunting’s emphasis on the chase,   not the kill, while still retaining the need to use as much of the   wildlife killed as possible.

Would Wildlife Survive Without Hunting?

One   of the biggest threats to North America’s model of wildlife   conservation is efforts to commercialize wildlife. Those efforts take   many forms, notably game ranching and fee hunting, according to Geist.

Since   the days when North America’s approach to wildlife conservation was   developed, populations of many wildlife species (mostly game species)   have gone from seriously in trouble to abundant. Now some species, such   as white-tailed deer, are seriously in trouble of becoming too abundant   in places. Deer are eating up farm crops and suburban gardens and shrubs   all over the Eastern seaboard.

“As certain species become common enough to cause conflict with humans, will humans value them less?” wonders Geist.

Actually,   hunters could play a key role in alleviating such conflicts. They can   help keep wild animals wild. As fish and wildlife agencies figure out   what to do about local over-abundances of deer, they can look to the   public – hunters – as part of the solution.

“This may have to be   combined with other management alternatives,” says Geist, “but hunting   and its advocates can again be the force that ensures sustainable   wildlife resources are a priority for society.”

Formerly   with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, Eric Aldrich is now   Communications Director for the N.H. Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Contributions of Hunters by the Numbers

?   Total U.S. retail purchases by hunters in one year (1996) on hunting   equipment, travel, license fees, etc.: $1.725 billion. Total economic   impact to U.S. of $60.9 billion and 704,601 jobs. ? Total retail   purchases by Delaware hunters in one year (1996) on hunting equipment,   travel, license fees, etc.: $28 million. Total economic impact to   Delaware of $148.7 million and 1,607 jobs. ? Total U.S. hunters’ annual dues to conservation and related organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited: $296 million. ?   Total in resident and nonresident hunting license fees and permits to   the Division of Fish and Wildlife in fiscal year 2002: $569,000 ?   Total amount of Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration to the Division in   fiscal year 2002 (from excise taxes paid by hunters/manufacturers on   hunting equipment and distributed to states: $1.24 million ?   Division of Fish and Wildlife management areas permanently protected for   wildlife and recreation by Federal Aid dollars and hunting license   revenues: 15 areas and 56,000 acres. ? Partial list of species   restored to Delaware, thanks to license fees, Federal Aid dollars and   good management: wild turkey, white-tailed deer, many waterfowl species.   Many nongame species also have benefited from habitat protected by   hunters’ dollars.

Hunting Ethics

In 1994, just 106   years after Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell created the idea   of fair chase, helping to change free-for-all market and subsistence   hunting into a regular sport, “Teddy Roosevelt and the Hunting Heritage”   author Jim Posewitz, published Beyond Fair Chase.

The former   wildlife biologist and one of the founders of Orion, The Hunter’s   Institute, a Montana organization devoted to fostering ethical hunting,   reiterated what many had said before – stalk close, shoot well, make   every effort to track wounded game – but also added a new dimension to   the notion of respect for wildlife. Posewitz said trophy scoring and   big-game contests sometimes crossed the line of proper ethical practice.   “Trying to take a trophy to get your name in a record book,” he wrote,   “is taking a fine animal for the wrong reason.” Downplaying the idea of   competition in hunting, whether for money or ego. Beyond Fair Chase is   now used across North America in hunter-education classes.