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The North American Wildlife Conservation Model

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The North American Wildlife Conservation Model

Summary: This blog story is about conservation and stewardship of the land, today we would like to introduce you to the North American Wildlife Model and empower you by explaining how this model can be implemented. 

Canada and the U.S. have been collaborating on conservation for centuries. In 1877 the Boone and Crockett Club was founded to recognize the importance of conservation and wildlife regulations. Some fundamental public figures who contributed to conservation in the 19th and 20th century are U.S. congressman John Lacey and Canadian Charles Gordon Hewitt, who penned the Migratory Bird Treaty Convention in 1916.Theodore Roosevelt played an important role as well, who – amongst other conservation laws – wrote the Conservation Act in 1909. Besides these politicians there were profound environmental writers and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. 

Based on these conservation movements in the 19th and 20th century, a set of principles was developed to manage wildlife. In 2001, this informal set of principles was formalised under the term “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” (Geist 1995; Geist 2001). The model contains seven principles. However, according to a review by the Wildlife Society and the Boone and Crockett club, these principles are facing challenges today.  

The first principle is that wildlife resources are a public trust. This means that wildlife resources cannot be owned by one person or another. According to the model, the U.S. and Canadian government are responsible for managing wildlife populations to remain healthy and abundant, so that every member of the public – present and future – can enjoy their presence. Some of the challenges this principle is facing identified by the review of the Wildlife Society are inappropriate claims of ownership of wildlife and illegal wildlife trafficking.

The second principle is that markets for game are eliminated. This refers to the elimination of uncontrolled commercial markets where wildlife can be bought and sold without regulation. Until the conservation movement in the 19th and 20th century, the hunting market was unregulated. It wasn’t until Aldo Leopold and others wrote the American Game Policy in 1930, that this began to change. All industry evolving wildlife in North America is now regulated. However, the market of certain species is less regulated than that of others. According to the Wildlife Society, the fish, amphibian and reptile market is especially in need of more regulations. Additionally, people actively trade for access to wildlife species such as land leases and shooting reserves.

The third principle is that the allocation of wildlife is by law.  This builds on the previous principle. Who gets to hunt what species, and how many individuals can be taken, is regulated by local, provincial and federal governments. The Wildlife Society identified challenges to this principle as well. One challenge to the allocation of wildlife is that decisions on land use, land allocation, and land ownership indirectly affect the allocation of wildlife. Additionally the allocation of wildlife seems to be inconsistent per species, which needs to be improved in order to maintain a healthy balance between all species.

The fourth principle is that Wildlife can be killed only for legitimate purposes. According to the model, animals may only be killed if there is a legitimate reason for it. However, what is defined as legitimate is different now than it was in the past. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency between legitimate use now, and traditional notions of legitimate use. The Wildlife Society identified a need for clarification.

The fifth principle states that wildlife is considered an international resource. To effectively manage wildlife populations, we need to collaborate internationally. For example, migratory birds fly over and stop in multiple countries. It is important that countries work together to protect migratory animals. However, only a selection of species are currently managed on an international base, and according to the Wildlife Society, many more species need consideration. Additionally, governments need to be aware of the effects of their actions on wildlife. Strong border control between Mexico and the U.S. for example, will have negative effects on trans-border wildlife movements.

The sixth principle is that science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy. Wildlife management is becoming more and more political. And because politics is changing all the time, there needs to be a solid scientific base for wildlife conservation.

The last principle is that democracy of hunting is standard. Although wildlife management regulations are of great importance, democracy in hunting needs to be the standard. This means that hunting should not become an activity for just the elite, but should be accessible for all layers in society, since wildlife resources are a public trust.

To effectively implement these principles, the Wildlife Society identified a few suggestions. First of all, there is a need for scientifically sound and consistent communication amongst law makers, politicians, scientists, and the public. Secondly, the model needs to be legislated so that it can be implemented for all species and habitats. For this, legal terms and jurisdictions need to be clarified to be able to measure the model’s successes. Third, gun regulations must be considerate of hunters and not eliminate the possibility of hunting, since it is crucial for wildlife management. Lastly, funding must be allocated to a broader spectrum of species, ecosystems and conservation efforts.

As the model can be adapted to many different environments and situations, all governments – local, provincial, national and international – can take the responsibility to implement the model. As the human population grows, and accelerated climate change is threatening the world’s ecosystems, wildlife and resources will decline. This makes wildlife conservation and proper management more important than ever. The Chilcotin Ark Institute supports and implements the model, by considering wildlife as an international resource and managing it according to the seven principles. 

If you want to know more about our research and conservation projects or learn how you can get involved and make a difference, check out the Chilcotin Ark Institute.



Geist, V., S.P. Mahoney, and J.F. Organ (2001), “Why hunting has defined the North American model of wildlife conservation” Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, 66.

Organ, J.F., V. Geist, S.P. Mahoney, S. Williams, P.R. Krausman, G.R. Batcheller, T.A. Decker, R. Carmichael, P. Nanjappa, R. Regan, R.A. Medellin, R. Cantu, R.E. McCabe, S. Craven, G.M. Vecellio, and D.J. Decker (2012), “The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Society Technical Review 12-04.” The Wildlife Society.