Last week we looked at the basis for the North American Model and its first two principles – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust and Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife. Let’s look at the remaining five principles to get an overall picture of how the model works. Each of the remaining principles is just as critical to model success as the first two. Especially number seven.
Principle 3 says wildlife management is governed by the Democratic Rule of Law. Have you ever attended a state DNR or Wildlife Commission public meetings on new game regulations? That is what this is all about. Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has input into the systems of wildlife conservation and use. Season and bag limits for migratory game are set at the federal level through public input. State legislatures typically have a Wildlife Committee that establishes game laws. And you as hunters and anglers have the opportunity to speak your peace about how those game laws are enacted.
Principle 4 tells us there are Hunting Opportunities for All. Every citizen should have an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish. This is there to insure we do not adopt the European model of hunting mostly for the privileged wealthy. Notice two things. First, “under the law” means not only do you have to obey game laws but others as well. If you are a convicted felon you cannot be in possession of a firearm. That pretty much limits you to muzzleloaders and archery equipment. Also if you violate game laws you may have your license revoked. The second part is “opportunity”. We must always remember that hunting and fishing are privileges, not rights. They can be restricted or removed.
Principle 5 says there will be no Non-Frivolous Use of wildlife. Basically this means you use what you take. This is there to prohibit strictly trophy hunting; killing an animal for its trophy status and leaving the carcass in the field is the best example of this. Yes, there are hunters that go on trophy hunts. But they also pack out the meat and personally consume it or in many cases the meat is donated to food pantries for those in need. Doing otherwise can result in fines or license suspension/revocation. An older example of this mentioned in last week’s column is the market hunters in the late 1800’s that killed buffalo just for their hides and left the carcasses in the field.
Principle 6, Wildlife are International Resources. Let me state the obvious: animals cannot read signs saying “Entering the United States”. Elk in the northern Rocky Mountains freely cross over the border between Canada and the United States. The best example though is migratory waterfowl. Many of the ducks and geese hunters harvest in Arkansas rice fields or Mississippi flooded timber started their journey in the open plains of Canada. For the model to work we had to have cooperation between both countries. Due to market hunting, waterfowl populations were at a near extinction point in 1900. That is why this provision is in the model.
Last of the seven principles is Scientific Management of wildlife. In my humble opinion, this should have been in the top three. Why? Because of the seven principles, this is the one we have most violated; particularly in the last couple of decades. Governments and non-profit conservation groups, mostly made up of hunters, have spent millions of dollars studying wildlife habitat and their needs. The scientific evidence is established. However, in the last twenty or so years emotion has ruled over science. Examples are replete. Let me share one.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service started the re-introduction of gray wolves into the Upper Midwest about 20 years ago. As with any species, the herd grew and reached a maximum carrying capacity about eight years ago. They tried to establish limited hunting and trapping opportunities through a permit system to maintain balance. Animal rights groups have taken legal action to stop it. Now moose and deer populations are declining in the region because the wolf population exceeds capacity. Bear hunters are losing dogs to wolf attacks. Science should determine game seasons and limits; not emotion.
Let me close with a quote from the man who brought the Model to conclusion, President Teddy Roosevelt. It sums it up in one sentence: “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will”. Hunters and anglers, we must take that responsibility seriously.