North American Wildlife Model
Article #206, February 2014
By Bill Cook
Wildlife management in North America has a distinctly different flavor than that on other continents. It is, sort of, the basis for much of the management style across the U.S. and Canada and, superficially at least, the basis for much of the management in the Lake States. This management style has been codified in the North American Wildlife Conservation Model.
The model was centered on hunting as a management tool and, by extension, largely directed towards game species. Today, hunting license fees pays for the bulk of wildlife management in Michigan and across the nation.
Two basic tenets are 1) that wildlife is publically-owned and 2) that management will sustain populations forever. This is markedly different than our European forerunners and the more unsustainable consumption in most of Africa and Asia.
The evolution of the model was influenced by our colorful history of wildlife over-exploitation that lead to the extirpation and near extinction of many species (e.g. deer, turkey) and the outright extinction of some (e.g. passenger pigeon). An entire collegiate history course could be taught on just this conservation theme.
Rampant market-hunting and habitat loss were among the early incentives for the conservation movement, championed by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt. The pictures painted by science and sentiment were conflicted. These kinds of battles continue today.
The model has been written as a position statement by The Wildlife Society, which is the professional organization of wildlife managers and researchers. There are seven principle elements that frame wildlife management ideals.
1. Wildlife populations reside in the public trust.
2. Market hunting is banned.
3. Regulations are formed via due process.
4. Killing wildlife should only be done for a legitimate purpose.
5. Wildlife is an international resource.
6. Science-based management should underpin policy.
7. All citizens should have an opportunity to hunt and fish.
With each of these elements, there are ambiguous words and ideas. What constitutes “legitimate”? What is “due process”? Does “opportunity” mean “equal” for all? Is the connection between “science” and “policy” rational and balanced?
North American wildlife management is filled with passion, heritage, and a huge volume of research-based information. Today, such things as human dimensions, public access, media influence, single interests, and funding mechanisms have grown quite important. Most management, many would argue, continues to be funded by and largely directed towards game species, hunting, and fishing.
There are many wildlife management success stories. White-tailed deer are more numerous in Michigan than they once were across all of North America. The once threatened double-crested cormorant has made a remarkable recovery. The bald eagle is now common in many regions. Once uncommon, wild turkeys have expanded far beyond their original ranges.
In some cases, the successes have led to burgeoning populations that create conflicts with humans. Deer cause billions of dollars of damage each year. Canada geese create nightmares for suburban parks. Bears, cougars, beavers, and wolves each have volumes of conflict with humans.
Overabundance of once threatened species is a new aspect that current management policy is not yet well-equipped to address.
Two recent books thoughtfully explore some these issues; “Nature Wars” by Jim Sterba and “Deerland” by Al Cambronne. Both are written in non-technical language for almost any interested reader. Both touch on sensitive issues.
At a recent national wildlife conference, a controversial proposal was debated by wildlife managers at one of the sessions. The topic was about introducing regulated commercial hunting into the suburban forest to reduce out-of-control deer populations. These are areas where general hunting is prohibited for obvious reasons. The sentiment was echoed in the Autumn 2013 issue of National Woodlands magazine.
The North American Wildlife Conservation Model was invoked as an argument against any sort of market hunting. Regulatory policy would be a horrible snarl, opponents claimed. Would the restaurant industry need a steady meat supply?
Proponents suggested that the social and environmental conditions that spawned the model were changing, and maybe the model should be modified. They also stated many precedents where the model has already been violated and those violations are commonly accepted by many public wildlife management agencies (Michigan’s wolf hunt was cited as an example).
Even the word “wildlife” (unique to North America) evokes a wide range of thoughts among people. For some, it’s a synonym for game species. For others, it’s a romantic notion of nature. Few consider insects, spiders, worms, and ticks as part of the definition, at least at first blush.
By nearly any account, the North American relationship between humans, wildlife, and the natural environment is complex and filled with controversy. Usually, the devil is in the details of a particular species or issue.
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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-1575.
by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005
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