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The North American Wildlife Conservation Model is the philosophical framework that guided the restoration of wildlife populations from the brink of extinction in the late 1800s to the abundant levels we know today. Hunters are the backbone of this successful model, which is found nowhere else in the world. Hunters’ collective contributions have benefited huntable wildlife as well as songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.
The model’s two basic principles—that fish and wildlife belong to everyone and are to be managed so their populations will be sustained forever—are explained through a set of guidelines known as the “Seven Sisters for Conservation.”
Sister #1: The Public Trust
In the United States and Canada, wildlife is not owned by individuals. Instead, federal, state and provincial governments are responsible for managing wildlife and their habitat on public lands. This public trust gives all citizens the opportunity to view, hunt, fish and enjoy these natural resources.
Two hundred years ago, American colonists appreciated this unfettered access to the continent’s abundant wildlife. Back in Europe, in many cases only nobility and the very wealthy were allowed to hunt. In 1842, the U.S. Supreme Court set a legal precedent by supporting the American ideal that wildlife belongs to everyone.
Sister #2: Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife
Because we all own wildlife, it is illegal in North America to sell the meat of any wild animal. In some cases the hides, teeth, antlers and horns of game animals and the hides of a select few furbearers may be sold.
In the latter half of the 1800s, buying and selling meat, hides, feathers and other wild animal parts was big business. Excessive hunting nearly wiped out bison, egrets and elk, and drove other species, such as the passenger pigeon, to extinction. Strong laws written at the turn of the 20th century restricted market hunting and the buying and selling of some wild animals, which allowed many threatened wildlife species to rebound and thrive.
Sister #3: Democratic Rule of Law
Every citizen of the United States and Canada has the right to help create laws to conserve and manage wildlife. You can share your ideas and opinions about wildlife management at government hosted public forums or by voting for or against ballot measures.
Early 20th-century conservationists wanted to protect wildlife populations, yet many still wanted to hunt and fish. So they established laws and set limits to enjoy the bounty without depleting the population.
Sister #4: Hunting Opportunity for All
Everyone is allowed by law to hunt and fish in the United States and Canada regardless of social status, race, creed, religion or gender.
Hunters and anglers led the crusade for wildlife conservation a century ago. For instance, before Theodore Roosevelt became president, he helped found the Boone and Crockett Club. The club’s Fair Chase Statement was the first document outlining a code of conduct and ethics for hunters and anglers. It became a cornerstone of our game laws.
Sister #5: Non-frivolous Use
In North America, we can legally kill certain wild animals under strict guidelines for food and fur, self-defense and property protection.
Laws restrict us from casually killing wildlife. We can’t kill wildlife merely for antlers, horns or feathers or to use only a small portion of the meat. Laws also help ensure we show respect for and avoid mistreating wildlife and the land, and that we make maximum use of every animal hunted for food and other purposes.
Sister #6: International Resources
Because fish and wildlife migrate freely across boundaries between states, provinces and countries, the United States and Canada jointly manage land and wildlife to ensure wildlife can safely cross borders and that no country, state or province will take more than its share of a common resource.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 demonstrates this cooperation between countries. The Act made it illegal to capture or kill migratory birds, except as allowed by specific hunting regulations. Treaties now exist between the United States, Canada, Mexico and Russia, which has helped restore ducks, geese and cranes that cross several countries between their wintering and nesting areas.
Sister #7: Scientific Management
Scientific research—and applying that research--is essential to managing and sustaining North America’s wildlife and habitats.
Understanding the basic principles of wildlife conservation can help you become an informed decision-maker and a better spokesman or woman for hunting. Many Americans don’t know hunters and anglers led the way in rescuing our wildlife populations let alone that we continue to be the biggest supporters of conservation today.
Read the full explanation of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's Web site.
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