North American Model for Wildlife Conservation – Still Valid After All These Years

As the wolf management debate here in Michigan escalated in recent months, increasing references have been made to what is known as the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation.  Most notably, Dr. Russ Mason, Wildlife Division Chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently found it necessary to respond to assertions that if hunting were included as a means of management for Michigan’s wolf population it could lead to their extirpation.  To paraphrase his response, Dr. Mason stated that not once during the time that the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation (The Model) has served as the basis wildlife management has it failed. Not once.wolf1

This comment has been embraced by many who support the authority which has been granted by the Michigan State Legislature to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to begin a process which may ultimately lead to the creation of a wolf hunting season here in Michigan, as has recently occurred in other Great Lakes states.

Although The Model is considered to have seven basic tenants, its roots go back to the fundamental reasons that our European ancestors got on boats and came to the New World.  That is, that fish and game should not belong to a king or nobleman, but should be held in public trust.

As defined by the Wildlife Society Final Position Statement, the seven focal points of The Model are generally summarized as follows:

  • Wildlife as Public Trust Resources
  • Prohibition of Commerce on Dead Wildlife
  • Allocation of Wildlife by Law
  • Wildlife Should Only be Killed for a Legitimate Purpose
  • Wildlife Are Considered an International Resource
  • Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy
  • Democracy of Hunting (and Public Access)

Along the way, it became necessary for the doctrine to evolve in response to commercial market hunting of wildlife, the collapse of many species populations and the devastation of habitat.  Not only did these conditions give rise to the modern conservation movement, they also led to the advanced studies of wildlife and fisheries conservation through our colleges and universities. These disciplines have their roots in the teachings of Aldo Leopold and others, and became the educational foundation for the agency professionals charged with the restoration effort and the management of those public resources.

In spite of its seemingly unparalleled success, critics of The Model have emerged.  As a result, fisheries and wildlife management processionals now find that they are living in a time when their role is increasingly being challenged on both sides of new debates.  In one corner of the ring, you have animal rights and anti-hunting groups alleging that resource managers have an inherent conflict of interest since their wages and salaries are largely paid by hunter and angler license fees; in the other corner you have the anti-government community, which feels that the King of England’s ownership of wildlife has been replaced by state and federal bureaucrats who manage fish and game as though it were their own property. Some have even alleged that The Model is inherently socialist.

Let’s hope that this rekindled interest in the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation will serve as an educational opportunity. Both sides of the political aisle would be well-served to recognize that granting a public agency with science-based management authority over both game and non-game wildlife species is in the collective best interest of both humans and wildlife.  The continuation of its success, however, is largely dependent on the ability of those public agency professionals charged with the application of The Model to find a balance between biology, and the social, economic and political forces which have become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

As supporters of the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot embrace The Model when it supports our view of issues such as Michigan wolf management, and then choose to legislate practices which run counter to its basic principles, many times over the objections of those charged with the management of these same resources.

For more information on this and other related topics, an electronic version of the Fall 2010 issue of the Wildlife Professional is available for viewing by non-members of the Wildlife Society.


About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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