Sunday, February 8, 2015

What is the North American Model of Wildlife Management? Part II

There's been a lot of policy talk lately about "The North American Model of Wildlife Management."  Essentially, recreational hunters and anglers love "The Model," and everyone else has never heard of it, but is suspicious of it, as if it's a Magna Carta for hunters to kill unlimited numbers of everything across the landscape, forever.

In Part I (click here), we looked at American wildlife before meaningful regulation, and during the tough intersection of when American weapons manufacturing was advancing faster than regulations on killing, buying, and selling wild animals.  Beginning in 1900 with the Lacey Act and moving past 1918 with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, killing or "taking" of some species of wildlife for some reasons was banned or regulated.  On the heels of those laws, a young American biologist named Aldo Leopold published the world's first scientifically based, multi-species wildlife management text, called simply "Game Management" in 1933.  The book, among other things, discussed then-revolutionary ideas like "food webs," and "habitat management," as well as the concept of "reserving" portions of wildlife population for future seasons, rather than simply hoping that hunters would be unlucky and miss a few shots.

Beyond Leopold's scientific approach to "wildlife systems" and their protection and sustainable management, he also encouraged a philosophy that drew heavily from America's first major conservationists:  Muir, Pinchot, and Roosevelt.   Those three men, and the agencies that were created by their work (US Forest Service and US National Park Service) believed in varying degrees that land resources, and by default, the fish and wildlife in them, belong to the American people, and for varying reasons, that public ownership needs to be held in trust by government agencies to ensure proper management for future generations.   Of course, this is the Public Trust doctrine.

In addition, with the passage of the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940, we see that the forefathers of "The American Model" recognized that some species, whether for scientific or cultural reasons, should have extra protection from harm.   This means that some species are designated as "game," and others are designated as "nongame."

So this is really the beginning.  The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is based upon five principles:

1. Regulation (and strict limitation) of commercial wildlife trade 
2. Regulation of recreational fishing/hunting via bag limits and licensing, revised periodically based upon field data, to ensure the resource is sustainable
3. Scientific tools and methods to best assess population and habitat trends and needs to better inform #2
4. Consideration of multiple types of users across multiple years
5. That distinctions can and should be made between "game" and "nongame" species for scientific and cultural purposes. 

Of course, all of this sounds great until one realizes that it's a bunch of relatively unfunded ideas, in a nation where no one has ever really paid for fish and wildlife, save private hunting and fishing clubs.  Well, non-hunters, this is where hunters begin to get indignant about that whole, "anti-hunting thing," because hunters have essentially funded conservation (including endangered species habitat work and research) since the 1930s.  Beginning with the 1937 "Duck Stamp" Act, 1937 Pittman-Robertson (Excise Tax) Act, and countless other state-level funding programs that target only hunters and anglers.   So let's add a fifth leg to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

6.  Users willing to pay high taxes and fees to enjoy the public resource, ensuring that it is funded sustainably. 

Outdoor gear retailers have lobbied hard to make sure that kayaking, biking, and birdwatching gear are exempted from the excise taxes, and that non-hunters don't have to purchase the federal duck stamp to entire National Wildlife Refuges (which are purchased through the revenue raised by federal duck stamp sales).   As a result, while the number of non-hunting outdoor enthusiasts has increased, the funding for wildlife conservation has actually declined. 

So then, 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.  Wildlife are classified as game, non-game, or even 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 III of these series...we'll examine some questions and answers about The Model.

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