THE NORTH AMERICAN MODEL OF WILDLIFE
As early settlers made their way West, North America's wildlife
populations dwindled because of overexploitation (including market
hunting) and habitat loss. Across the continent many species - elk,
pronghorn, bison, and waterfowl included - went from countless
numbers to just a few thousand by the close of the 19th century.
Here in Mississippi, while it may be impossible for today's hunters
to believe, populations of white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and
wood ducks almost disappeared from our woods and waters.
Beginning in the late 1800s, hunters and anglers such as Teddy
Roosevelt realized they needed to set limits in order to protect
rapidly disappearing wildlife and to assume responsibility for
managing wild country. They pushed to establish the first hunting
regulations and organized many conservation groups to advocate for
the protection of wildlife habitat.
These early efforts were essential to the development of the
North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the only system of
its kind in the world. The model's two basic principles are that
our fish and wildlife belong to all North American citizens and are
to be managed in such a way that their populations will be
sustained forever. These basic beliefs are best explained through a
set of foundational guidelines, best remembered as the Seven
Sisters for Conservation:
- The Public Trust Doctrine. An 1842 U.S.
Supreme Court opinion, in Martin v. Waddell, established the legal
precedent that it was the government's responsibility to hold wild
nature in trust for all citizens. The next three pillars reflect
this fundamental doctrine.
- Democratic Rule of Law. Wildlife is
allocated for use by citizens through laws. This protects against
the rise of elites who would appropriate wildlife to themselves (as
occurred in Europe). All citizens can participate, if necessary
through the courts, in developing systems of wildlife conservation
- Opportunity for All. In Canada and the
United States, every man and woman has a fair and equitable
opportunity under the law to participate in hunting and fishing. No
one group, hunters or nonhunters, can legally exclude others from
access to fame within the limitations of private property
- Commercial Use. Hunters and anglers led
the effort to eliminate markets and commercial traffic in dead
animal parts, which was a huge business in the latter half of the
1800s and the early 1900s. The market killing of birds and animals
decimated many species, bringing some to near extinction and others
- Legitimate Use. Although laws could
govern access to wildlife and ensure that all citizens had a say in
its protection, there had to be guidelines as to appropriate use.
This is defined as killing for food or fur, self-defense, and
property protection, categories that are broadly interpreted.
- Science and Wildlife Policy. Interest in
science and natural history was deeply ingrained in North American
society, a fact reflected in the emphasis placed on recording
wildlife habits and diversity by almost every major expedition
charged with mapping the continent, along with the enormous
popularity of amateur natural history collections. Hunters and
anglers are, by habit and inclination, naturalists. Science is
identified as a crucial requirement of wildlife management. For
this Aldo Leopold, in his 1930 American Game Policy, credited
Theodore Roosevelt, explicitly stating that science should be the
underpinning of wildlife policies.
- International Wildlife Migratory
Resources. The boundaries of states and nations are
of little relevance to migratory wildlife and fish, and policies
and laws for wildlife conservation have to address this reality.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is an excellent example of
successful international cooperation.
The North American Model's comprehensive conservation principles
and their scientific foundation resulted in the professional
management of hunting and conservation programs. Today, it is still
the hunters and anglers that support the conservation efforts that
benefit wildlife populations and habitats in support of our
uniquely successful conservation model. As a result, hunting and
non-hunting wildlife access is now available to citizens of all
social classes in the United States and Canada, something that we
should be proud of and that is found nowhere else in the
Text courtesy of the Council to Advance
Hunting and the Shooting Sports