One of the greatest stories rarely told is the one that details the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which according to the Association of Fish &Wildlife Agencies “is the world’s most successful system of policies and laws to restore and safeguard fish and wildlife and their habitats through sound science and active management.”
You would think that in today’s world, where the conservation conversation takes place in settings ranging from the grade school classroom to the top levels of government, the story detailing the world’s most successful wildlife conservation model would be well-known, but it isn’t. In fact, I would venture to say the average American has no idea the North American Model even exists, let alone knows the details.
The perfect opportunity for shedding some light on the North American Model came and went with the nationwide distribution of a news release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 25. In that release, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel announced the distribution of “nearly $1.1 billion in excise tax revenues paid by sportsmen and sportswomen to state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies to fund fish and wildlife conservation and recreation projects across the nation.”
But there was more to the story.
Included in that $1.1 billion is nearly $761 million from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Fund and another $326 million from the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Program. More than $18 million of that is destined for Nevada. These funds are generated through excise taxes that hunters, anglers and recreational shooters pay on firearms and ammunition, archery equipment and angling tackle. In Nevada, as in other states, these funds will be matched with money generated through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and tag fees, and then used to pay for wildlife management efforts.
What does this have to do with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation?
The folks at the Association for Fish and Wildlife Agencies put it quite simply: “Hunting and angling are the cornerstones of the North American Model with sportsmen and women serving as the foremost funders of conservation.” And how do they do that? “Through self-imposed excise taxes on hunting, shooting, archery and angling equipment,” something they have done since the middle of the great depression.
Sportsmen first became involved in conservation in the late 1800s, long before it became fashionable. As settlers made their way west, it was not long before unregulated market hunting and changes to wildlife habitat caused populations of game species such as elk, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears, turkeys and even the whitetail deer to diminish. Hunters and anglers recognized that limits of some kind were needed to protect the wildlife they both enjoyed and depended on. Then they took the steps necessary to put hunting seasons and limits in place.
With support from such people as President Theodore Roosevelt, himself an avid hunter, the conservation efforts of America’s sportsmen and women became the backbone of the North American Model. That model is based on two basic principles: First, that our fish and wildlife belong to all Americans; and second, that those resources need to be managed so their populations will be sustained forever.
Those two principles are outlined further in a set of guidelines called the Seven Sisters for Conservation. Among those are the idea that America’s natural resources and wildlife on public lands are to be held in the public trust, that every citizen has an opportunity under the law to hunt and fish, and that under strict guidelines an individual may legally kill certain wild animals for food, fur and self-defense and property protection, if necessary. In addition, it is recognized that many of our wildlife resources are international in nature as they migrate freely across both state and national boundary lines, and that management of our wildlife resources must be based on sound science.
Given that this model, supported by sportsmen’s dollars and time, has brought back the nation’s elk, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears, turkeys, whitetail deer and waterfowl among other hunted species, and benefited multiple species that are not hunted, one could say America’s sportsmen and women accomplished what they set out to do long ago, and they are still doing it.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.