In our free society, wildlife is held in trust for public use.
This philosophy is called the North American model of wildlife conservation. Wildlife is managed by state, federal and provincial fish and wildlife agencies at optimal population levels, for all citizens, in perpetuity.
This is in stark contrast to Europe, where their philosophy of wildlife management dates back to the era of medieval feudalism. Wildlife is owned by the landowner and access is privatized and commercialized.
The North American model of wildlife conservation has some ethical components as well — embracing the concept of “fair chase,” and rejecting the notion of game animals raised as livestock, and taken in fenced enclosures. Wildlife (specifically game animals) held in captivity have had many adverse impacts. Two of the most notable examples are: 1) The escape of non-native European wild boars from fenced enclosures, which helped fuel the spread of feral hogs, and 2) Deer and elk raised behind fences, and bought and sold to other captive herds, helped spread Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal neurological disease that affects members of the deer family.
Our conservation model, which is a set of principles that has guided wildlife management and conservation in the U.S. and Canada, had its origins in 19th century.
A conservation movement was spawned when a coalition of sportsmen, foresters and biologists, began to advocate for the preservation of wilderness areas, and the sound management of forests, and fish and wildlife resources. This came at a time when the continent’s seemingly endless bounty of resources were being over-exploited, and many species were close to extinction.
The core principles of the North American model of wildlife conservation have become the basis for policies developed by many conservation organizations, and the model has been widely accepted by wildlife professionals, U.S. and Canadian fish and wildlife agencies, and endorsed by teaching institutions.
Some of the other core principles of the model include:
* Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife is prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations. The Lacey Act effectively made market hunting illegal in the U.S., and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act granted international protections to birds and bird parts (feathers) that were being commercially exploited.
* Laws, created with public input, will determine if, when or how fish and wildlife resources may be taken, and extend special protections to game and non-game species in peril. This tenet led to the creation of landmark laws such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
* Through treaties and cooperation between fish and wildlife management agencies in neighboring countries and continents, migratory wildlife is managed as an international resource.
* Wildlife laws and policies are based on science. This tenet draws from the writings of Aldo Leopold (Jan. 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948), the ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist, who was a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Leopold wrote a series of essays on land ethics, published posthumously as A Sand County Almanac (1949).
Considered to be one of the founders of modern wildlife management, Leopold thought wildlife should be managed by trained wildlife biologists that made decisions based on facts, professional experience, and commitment to shared underlying principles.
* Hunting should be open to everyone. Theodore Roosevelt, a two-term Republican President (1901-09), avid hunter and naturalist, was also an advocate for the idea that access to hunting would result in many benefits to society.
The right to hunt in the U.S. and Canada by citizens of good standing with the law is in contrast to nations where hunting is restricted to people with wealth, land ownership, or other special privileges.
This tenet supports access to firearms and hunting opportunities, which help fund conservation, through excise taxes and hunting license sales.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.