North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

Modern wildlife management principles in the US are guided by what we call the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The North American Model was developed by concerned sportsmen in the 1800s, who were witnessing their wildlife disappear under ever increasing hunting pressure. They believed in different principles than those practiced on the other side of the Atlantic. The European model maintains that wildlife is reserved for the elite population, while the North American Model declares that everyone has an equal opportunity to hunt and fish. Other values it includes are that wildlife be sustainable, equitably distributed, and calls for the use of science in management. They believed that the consumers of wildlife should be responsible for the cost of that resource conservation. Therefore, in Louisiana, those public conservation efforts are funded by the licenses and fees that wildlife consumers pay, and take no money from the General Fund.

The North American Model gained traction in 1842 when the Supreme Court ruled in Martin v. Waddell that wildlife resources did not belong to anyone, but rather belonged to everyone. The ruling stated that the government should manage wildlife on behalf of the people, for current and future generations.

It wasn’t until Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency that the implementation of wildlife management really began. Seen as the father of conservation, Roosevelt oversaw actions such as the 1930 American Game Policy Act, and the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. These acts set a precedent for the role of science in wildlife management and policy.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is summarized by the following seven principles:

#1 – Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust

Wildlife is held in the public trust- the public holds government accountable for managing wildlife for use by all, ensuring its sustainability for future generations

#2 – Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife

Unregulated markets for wildlife effectively privatize public resources, and lead to their decline.

#3 – Democratic Process of Rule Making

Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to develop rules of use and conservation.

#4 – Hunting Opportunity for All

Every citizen has an opportunity to lawfully hunt and fish in the United States and Canada.

#5 – Non-Frivolous Use

This principle holds that wildlife should be killed for legitimate purposes. Examples of legitimate uses include for food, fur, self-defense and protection of property. It is unlawful and unethical to frivolously kill wildlife.

#6 – International Resources

Wildlife and fish do not recognize political boundaries. Therefore, working together, the United States and Canada jointly coordinate wildlife and habitat management strategies.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 demonstrates this cooperation.  The Act made it illegal to capture or kill migratory birds, except as allowed by specific hunting regulations.

#7 – Scientific Management

Sound science is essential to managing and sustaining North America’s wildlife and habitats. This principle was inspired by Aldo Leopold who wrote in the 1930s that trained wildlife biologists should make decisions based on facts, professional experience, and shared principles rather than special interests.


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(young hunter photo by Bradley Marr; young angler photo by Ryan Schaefer)