North American Model of Wildlife Conservation called “flawed” model

Wildlife management experts suggest improvements to the model used by many wildlife professionals-

Many of the better debates over wildlife management in this forum have referred to the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation,” which purports to describe how North Americans came to embrace wildlife conservation. The model also prescribes how wildlife should be ethically managed by way of professional applied science and recreational hunting.

Michael P. Nelson, Ph.D., John A. Vucetich, Ph.D., Paul C. Paquet, Ph.D., and Joseph K. Bump, Ph.D describe and critique the model (which is also a political narrative) and suggest enlargements to it bringing in wider concerns such as consideration of wildlife populations in the context of ecosystems (precisely what the current anti-predator bias of many state wildlife agencies does not do). The authors would also like to see professional wildlife conservation paying attention to the wider human values of life, liberty, and social justice.

Here is their commentary in the Wildlife Professional. Summer 2011. An Inadequate Construct? What’s Flawed, What’s Missing, What’s Needed.



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  1. CodyCoyote Avatar

    Funny thing. On Friday I filed an 8-page comment to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on the draft Wyoming wolf plan. My two main points were the state of Wyoming wrote a great wolf plan… for the 19th century. Also that Wyoming had squandered an opportunity to develop a North American Wildlife Conservation Model, version 2.0 by bringing the modern science of ecology and realistic predator management into the model , neither of which existed or were shunned when Teddy Roosevelt and his peers developed the North American model.

    That North American model served its purpose fairly well — rebuilding interior America’s wildlife populations from the killdown of the market hunting era of the late 1800’s —but did so with an incomplete toolset. And yes, it was done specifically to improve sport hunting. The North American model achieved most of its goals by 1960, but those goals were aligned with sport hunting. We now have to broaden the North American model to include all wildlife for all purposes—how could we do it otherwise , honestly ?

  2. Wolfy Avatar

    A few points: The North American Wildlife Model (NAWM) is simply a modified, lighter version of the European Wildlife Model. For hundreds of years in Europe, wildlife (game) has been managed for sport hunting. Anything that endangers the prosperity of the game populations is dealt with harshly. Predators of all kinds are shot, trapped or poisoned to the point of extinction or nearly so. Citizen who wish to pay for the privilege of hunting or fishing do so at great expense. Game violations are harsh.
    In kind, the NAWM is actually a game management model. Wildlife, in this case, means something that you can shoot or hook. In this model, pittance is paid to non-game species while game species absorb the lion’s share of the attention and funding.
    Lastly, the NAWM is fundamentally flawed as a true conservation model. Its devotion to a select five percent of the wildlife species while ignoring or eradicating the other 95 percent is a recipe for disaster. Unless, of course, you like the status quo of living in the 1940’s.

    1. IDhiker Avatar

      “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of their time.”


    2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      The way national parks were established and managed fairly early on certainly raises some doubt about a self-centered greed motivation of those who were influential in early conservation who were sport hunters. They generally seemed in favor of the predator control function of the European game keeper, but why did they not also make a core function of the parks to manage (through culling, etc. along with dealing with poaching) for maximizing sustained trophy hunting opportunity like any respectable Scottish estate? They clearly wanted to protect from all harm (including even sport hunting) animals in these areas that they enjoyed and saw most value in, and from reading early accounts many probably viewed predators similar to poachers. However, I suspect that while the purported reason for having park rangers spending a great amount of time and effort killing off predators was protecting “game” in the park that in the broader picture the U.S. government did not want the parks to become reserves for wolves being extirpated all around for the livestock industry. Overall, I think those early conservationists were concerned enough about the rapid direction of game populations that they felt immediate broad, encompassing protection was needed to have anything left, not just potentially for themselves but for future generations — and in the case of bison and pronghorn they certainly made the difference. And certainly the national parks supported by those individuals have been very important for all species that survived.

    3. mike post Avatar
      mike post

      Wolfy, I must disagree. The NAWM is in need of revision however your characterization of the european model is grossly understated. The NAWM differs principly in that wildlife are considered to be a PUBLIC resource whereas the europeans veiwed wildlife as a privately owned asset, be it the kings private hunting preserve or any other landowners harvestable stock. This is a huge difference.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        +The NAWM differs principly in that wildlife are considered to be a PUBLIC resource whereas the europeans veiwed wildlife as a privately owned asset, be it the kings private hunting preserve or any other landowners harvestable stock. This is a huge difference+

        Mike – I’m guessing from that assumption, you haven’t been paying a lot of attention to how privately owned lands are now dealing with THIS country’s “kings” and their lands.

        A series of ranches in my area (which use to be open to block management – i.e. the peasants/locals) are now in the control (and off the block) by one outfitter.

        Its probably a lot less paper work and the government BS attached, if you only have to deal with one guy and his little network of sources regarding where the PUBLIC’S resources are, on any given day……

        1. JB Avatar


          The “right” to exclude evolved relatively recently in North America. When the North American Model was in its infancy, hunters could were allowed to hunt any uncultivated land.

          Regardless, the wildlife that resides on private lands is, in most instances, considered the property of the people and is managed in trust by the state. This gives the state the ability to manage the “take” (killing, harvest, etc.) of wild animals, despite not having control of property on which they reside. This, as Mike points out, stands in sharp contrast to the European model.

  3. smalltownID Avatar

    I also liked the article by Peter Dratch and Rick Kahn from the same magazine “Moving beyond the model”. I wish they would have been a little more specific about how many “wild” populations are merely glorified petting zoos.

    I think the critique by Nelson et al. is important for adapting to change and for improvement in conservation efforts. Both articles bring up good points about adapting the conservation model for the future. Hunting is being supplanted as the central role in conservation.

    I think Nelson et al could have been more unifying if they had acknowledged the efficacy of the model for saving many populations (game and non-game)other than the one paragraph under “inadequate history”.

    It is not accurate to claim everyone involved with the US wilderness act, ESA, and non-consumptive uses were “non-hunters”. Furthermore, the Clean Air and Water Acts were not targeted for wildlife, wildlife indirectly benefited from protecting water quality for consumption – not because of kind-hearted naturalists.

    In other words, I think they sparked more debate than was necessary which may lead to more divisive camps. I don’t personally know anyone in a wildlife career who champions hunting as the sole answer to conservation. The analogy of slave labor is laughable and a slap in the face to colleagues imo.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I agree, it sort of says it’s time to move on from a central role for hunters. “You’re were a good place holder for awhile, until we came along in the 1960s and 1970s with purer hearts, standing in our gortex garments with arms upheld in a shaft of light from the heavens”. “We’re here now to inherit the earth and ready to take the mantle”. The problem is — are you? We need all the conservationists and environmentalists whether from 100 years ago or 40 years ago because there aren’t that many of us in either camp in this age of indoor electronic preoccupation and captured government and there are a lot of threats out there. There aren’t enough involved from either lineage (and I mean actually as conservationists) to start cutting each other loose.

    2. JB Avatar

      “It is not accurate to claim everyone involved with the US wilderness act, ESA, and non-consumptive uses were “non-hunters”.

      If you read carefully, you’ll find that is not what they claimed, they merely claimed that non-hunting conservationists were also important:

      “…history indicates that recreational hunting was only one of several important factors that led to improved conservation in North America. Beginning in the 1960s, for example, conservation was dominated by non-hunters whose legacy includes key legislation such as the U.S. Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Air and Water Acts…”

      No where does it say that ALL of these people were non-hunters; nor do they claim that the Clean Air and Water Acts were meant to conserve wildlife (though clearly the ESA was); rather the claim is that these acts improved conservation. I hasten to add that efforts of non-hunting conservationists pre-date the 1960s, as when George Bird Grinnell persuaded thousands of bird lovers to sign a petition not to harm any bird–which is not insignificant given the focus of the NAM on hunting.

      This critique was desperately needed, in my opinion. There has been an astounding lack of critical thought about the North American Model (as articulated by Geist and others) since it was introduced in 2001 to much fanfare.

      Finally, I would also point out that by making hunting the centerpiece (“democracy in hunting” is one of the seven “pillars”); Geist’s articulation is hardly unifying. It suggests that the allocation of wildlife is founded on democracy–so long as those voting are hunters.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        I think this later point (“democracy in hunting”) is make sure that hunting does not end up as a sport for the rich and/or not like hunting in Texas.

        I do see Geist, particularly in his current incarnation, as someone who likely supports these right wing views that the United States and Canada should be run by and for those with a lot of wealth.

  4. Wolfy Avatar

    Thanks to everyone on the clarification of my earlier points. Just a few more points and I’ll be quiet. As a public wildlife manager, I see that funding for species conservation comes from two main sources: public funds with targets attached and private funding from non-governmental sources. If we follow the money, the large majority of the funding and expected accomplishments are geared toward game species. It can be said that habitat management for game species benefits non-game species, indirectly. I and many others would like to see a top-down, multi-species, ecosystem approach. An approach where we are managing for the entire suite of species instead of a select few. The NAWM is not able to do this in its current configuration. (IMO) Money dictates the direction that management follows. And the NAWM is funded in large part by the game protagonists, both public and private. For any model to work for “ecosystem management” , there must be input (dialog and funding) from consumptive and non-consumptive sources. The non-game folks need to scoot up to the table.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      Completely agreed — they need to scoot up and their participation and money will bring influence.

  5. smalltownID Avatar

    JB you illustrate my point precisely.

    And it is still inaccurate if you supplant “everyone” with “dominated”….if you read carefully.

    1. JB Avatar

      I’m not sure how I’ve illustrated your point? Nor am I sure if I agree that “dominated” is inaccurate–though I submit that’s a question that can’t really be answered without knowing the minds (and behaviors) of those involved in the original legislation.

  6. smalltownID Avatar

    Thank you,

    That point by the authors is moot if not inaccurate, because you don’t know the minds/behaviors of those involved in the legislation and can’t say “conservation was dominated by non-hunters.”

    Again, I agree with the main points of the article and because I would like to see more people at the table for conservation I wish it was less divisive and more accurate. This being only one of the points off the mark by the authors in my opinion.

    1. JB Avatar

      I’m curious to know what other points you disagree with? Note: I’m not asking for the sake of arguing; I teach a course on wildlife policy that covers the NAM, and, as I mentioned above, there is almost no critical thought regarding the model’s seven components. Last year, I had them read the Wildlife Professional’s special issue and then we critiqued these ideas as a class. Much of what we talked about is mentioned by Nelson and colleagues, so I’m curious to know what points you find objectionable?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan