by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer
, August 3, 2013.)
pigeon… gone. Billions once darkened the sky. A person has to wonder how they
found enough food, and how they kept from turning the nation into a reeking
bison… almost gone. These enormous bovines thundered across America from the
eastern woodlands to the Great Plains, but as man pushed westward they were
slaughtered almost to extinction.
People think hunters
biggest threat to wildlife, but
nothing could be further from the
Unregulated hunters are correctly blamed
for the demise of the passenger pigeon and the near demise of the American
hunting has caused the extinction of a few species, but we can be thankful that
the North American model of wildlife conservation has replaced unregulated
people think hunters are the biggest threat to wildlife, and voices who opposed
hunting stopped the slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was
modern hunters themselves who organized to protect wildlife, and ended the
indiscriminate killing of wildlife. Since then, not a single species has been
threatened by regulated hunting, and hunters have proven themselves the
greatest conservationists the world has ever seen. The proof is that every
hunted species in North America is thriving.
might seem counter-intuitive, but we have abundant wildlife today because of the
North American model of wildlife conservation. What’s that? And why is it so
effective? Good questions. It’s remarkable that while the nation fought a Civil
War, reconstructed the South, settled a continent from shore to shore, and industrialized
a rapidly growing society, it also developed a policy that provided for
wildlife conservation in the midst of all that – a policy the world had never before
North American model of wildlife conservation rested (and still rests) on two key
1. fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of ordinary people,
2. game animal populations should be managed in order to sustain optimum
principles are new with the New World. In the Old World, wildlife had been the
property of the landed gentry, and they could do what they pleased with the
animals that lived on their land. That’s why, in the Old World, hunting was
primarily a pursuit of the wealthy classes.
America, no societal barrier exists that prevents anyone of any class or race
from hunting. But if everyone is free to hunt, how are hunters prevented from
killing everything? And how can the second principle – sustaining wildlife at
optimum levels – be possible?
one thing, the idea that fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of
people put an end to market hunting. If these principles had been firmly in
place in the late 1800s, regulated seasons, bag limits, and hunting methods
would have kept the passenger pigeon thriving.
principles came along just in time for the American bison, putting that
national icon off limits to hunters while their herds rebuilt.
another, the North American system clearly differentiates between hunters and poachers.
It made game laws possible and desirable, so any violation – whether bag
limits, hunting without a license, or hunting out of season – carries an
enforceable penalty. Hunters are a healthy and necessary part of this system. Poachers
are outside the system just as surely as bank robbers are outside the banking
benefit of the North American model is that it has given hunters a high stake
in wildlife management decisions. Measured by the money hunters put into
wildlife conservation, as well as their time and energy and knowledge of
wildlife, no one else cares about wildlife as much as hunters do.
once wild continent man has now tamed, no other system will let so many people
enjoy so much wildlife – whether that enjoyment is the harvesting of game
animals, or the pure pleasure of simply watching wildlife.
of the two principles of wildlife conservation have come seven specific tenets
by which wildlife is managed across the United States and Canada. They’re often
called the “Seven Sisters” of conservation. Next time, I’ll share them and
explain what each of them addresses.