Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Questions about the North American Model of Wildlife Management (Part III)

The North American Model of Wildlife Management is that wildlife populations are managed to levels consistent with scientific sustainability, and if possible, to levels desired by the public. 

Under this paradigm, Wildlife are classified as game, non-game, or imperiled (threatened, endangered, etc), and based upon the population's sustainability, a species can move between those three categories periodically to ensure the species is sustained indefinitely.   Funding for all three categories of wildlife and the protection and restoration of their habitat is provided largely through the taxation of hunting and fishing goods and the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, permits, and tax stamps.   

In Part I of this series (click here), we discussed the origins of this model of wildlife management, and the abandonment of commercial hunting in the United States.  In Part II of this series (click here), we discussed how science, regulations, and funding interact to fill out the "body" of this model of wildlife management.

What about park entrance fees? Park entrance fees, while important, generally go towards basic public access improvements, like paving entrance roads and cleaning toilets, not purchase of additional land or intensive habitat management projects.

What about my state taxes?  At the state level, "general fund" investment in state wildlife programs usually approaches 30-40% of the department's operating costs.  The remainder is composed of matching federal excise funds (10-20%) and hunting, fishing, and boating license revenue (50-60%).   Nonprofit investments in fish and wildlife habitat and access typically bring in another 10% in federal matching funds, and approximately 10% in nongovernmental funds, though these projects may occur on private lands where the public does not directly benefit.

Fully funded, most states' wildlife departments would represent less than two percent of any state's budget.  Instead of investing in these programs to create the opportunity for even more revenue from fishing and hunting licenses, most states rely on this revenue to simply "break even" in fish and wildlife conservation.

But non-hunters pay too!  Non-hunters do in fact pay for conservation through their state taxes.  That means that the 83% of Americans who do not fish or hunt account for roughly 20% - 40%  of wildlife conservation efforts in most states.  The remaining 60-80% of the work (federal excise taxes on fishing/hunting gear, fishing and hunting license revenue, matching funds from hunting/angling nonprofits) are derived from the 17% of Americans who fish or hunt.  Several years ago, I read that the average deer and duck harvest per hunter per season were 0.9 and 4.3, respectively.  That doesn't seem like a heavy toll for funding 60-80% of fish and wildlife programs year after year, for the past 80 years.

If there are too many deer, why can't we sell deer meat?  The free market commoditization of wildlife and wildlife parts from 1880-1918, along with several revolutions in firearm manufacturing during that period, is the most obvious and indisputable cause of the extinction of some game species and the near-extinction of many others.  While hunters need to be open to a variety of deer management techniques in areas where it's difficult/impossible/illegal to hunt, venison sales are not one of those.  

First, the administrative nightmare placed upon both game wardens and food inspectors would be significant, as this is a de-centralized harvest of animals.  Second, the indirect effect would be a massive reduction in recreational deer hunting opportunities, because a profit-based approach would give venison producers first dibs on hunting grounds.   In fact, this is what some anti-hunters want - especially those within the equestrian community:   fewer deer and fewer deer hunters.   That's a precise antithesis to the North American model of wildlife management.

In conclusion, the North American Model of Wildlife Management is based upon several premises:
1. Commercial hunting devalues the resource and demoralizes subsistence and recreational hunters
2. Recreational hunting is sustainable when it is scientifically based and sustainably funded
3. All users should pay, and some users must pay, for the sustainable management of wildlife resources
4. Americans value the native assemblage of species in each region.  Due to human disturbance, this natural assemblage can no longer work independently of human restoration and management efforts.
5.  If hunters and anglers can no longer sustainably fund landscape scale conservation efforts, then other resource users must be compelled to pay at the same or greater scale.

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