By John W. Laundré
We hear more and more lately about the hallowed North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM), mainly being touted by hunting groups. They proudly point to this model to try and demonstrate that hunters are indeed “conservationists” (and in their minds, the only true conservationists).
They insist that it was the NAM that “saved” wildlife from the many abuses of past hunters (like themselves?) and has led to the recovery of many wildlife species that we enjoy today. What they fail to point out however, is that as they interpret and unfortunately implement via wildlife agencies, the principles of the NAM, it is far from a conservation document. It is not a conservation model but instead it is a hunting document designed by hunters, for hunters to justify hunting.
Why do I say that? We only have to look at the 7 “sisters” the hallowed tenets of the NAM, to understand what a self-serving NON-conservation model it is.
Briefly put the tenets are:
1) Wildlife is held in the Public Trust
2) There should be a prohibition of commerce in dead wildlife
3) The use of wildlife should be allocated by law
4) Wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purposes
5) Wildlife is considered to be an international resource
6) Science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy
7) Democracy of hunting: hunting opportunities should be available to all
Shooting Bison from a train late 1800’s
As one can see, just by the nature of over half of the tenants, it indeed is a hunting model, that is to say the only legitimate use of wildlife is to hunt and kill them. These tenets then are set up to try to regulate the killing of them. What this means is that if a species is not a game species, it falls outside of the protection of the NAM principles.
The cases in point are predators, large and small, and other “vermin” species ranging from ground squirrels to crows. If we would apply the same principles of the NAM to these species, we can easily see that our “management” of them indeed violates many of the NAM’s very tenets.
Each tenet has its weakness but the two most glaring ones I will touch on here are tenets 2 and 4. Under the second tenet, we can get a fine or go to jail for selling meat (venison) from deer or elk that we kill. This was in response to the market hunting of our ancestors. However, there seems to be no problem ripping the skins off of the carcasses of all the fur-bearing species, most of which are predators, for the prime purpose of selling it.
From fox to mink to bobcats, the fur “industry” worldwide is a multi-billion dollar business where about 15% comes from the commercial trapping of millions of wild animals. So, does not fur trapping violate this tenant of no commercial trafficking in dead wildlife? Maybe their skin does not count? If not, then why can we not just shoot a deer for its skin and throw the carcass away? How do hunters (trappers are hunters, they just use traps instead of guns) reconcile this with the NAM? They don’t even try! It seems that past market hunting for meat was a despicable practice but market hunting for fur is an honored tradition!
Commercial hunting is commercial hunting be it for meat or for fur. I should point out that I am not taking a stand here as to whether we should trap animals for their fur or not, that is another topic. What I am arguing here is that killing animals for the commercial sale of their fur is as wrong under the NAM as killing of deer for the commercial sale of their meat. If a person wants a fur coat they should have to do the same as the person who wants venison has to do, hunt it themselves. If the NAM was indeed a conservation model that disavows commercial hunting, it should do the same for commercial sale of all parts of the animal. It however, does not and so the NAM is NOT a conservation model.
The second and largest gapping fallacy of the NAM is tenet 4 (legitimate purposes for killing wildlife). As the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation points out on their interpretation of the NAM, this means there should be strict guidelines for legally killing wild animals including “Laws restricting against the casual killing of wildlife merely for antlers, horns, or feathers”.
Again, this tenet sounds good. True, there are many rules and regulations against the frivolous killing of wildlife. One of the most universal is the “if you shoot, it you eat it” regulation that most state game agencies have. A person can get fined heavily if he or she just kills a deer or even a squirrel and “wastes” the meat. Worse yet, such an act earns distain from fellow hunters. This is one of the hallowed doctrines held high by the hunting community. Most hunters abhor the idea of wantonly discarding the unused carcass of game animals.
When it comes to the undesirable species (predators and vermin), all this moralistic crap flies out the window. From killing ground squirrels to coyotes, this tenet is violated daily in America. Each year millions of pounds of animal flesh is left in the field, dump/ed in the ditch, or worse yet, hung on fences as warnings to other varmints. If this is not casual killing of wildlife, I don’t know what is. And this wanton killing is condoned by the very same agencies that will throw you in jail for “wasting” a deer. Where is the consistency in this tenet? The answer is that there is none.
It again is aimed at those favoured species. Favoured based upon some specific criteria, a criteria defined by the 10% of the American population that hunts and consistently violates tenet #2.
How can this tenet be adhered to so strictly for one set of wildlife but totally ignored for another and still be a viable part of this great wildlife conservation plan? The answer is simple, it can’t! This tenet is a hunting tenet not a conservation one. It is designed to boost our acceptance of reasonable use of certain species but ignore or worse encourage excessive waste of all the rest.
Why is Puma killing justified when no one is in danger?
One could argue that the wanton wasting of many of these animals is for self-defence or property protection, e.g. protecting domestic animals or plants and thus it is ok. It is true that any person has the right to protect themselves and their livelihood, when it is being directly threatened. But are the killing of millions of these varmint species related to direct threats to humans or their property? Since when have ground squirrels, crows, and other smaller varmints been a serious threat to humans? Yet we kill millions yearly.
As it goes, even the larger ones, up to wolves and cougars don’t pose a significant threat to us. On rare occasions people can be threatened by some of these species, and those animals should be killed. But does the slim possibility that a species will threaten you justify killing individuals on a large scale across whole landscapes?
If it does then, how about those deer? They kill us at the rate of 200-300 people a year via car-deer collisions. Based on those figures, it would seem justified to just go out and kill a bunch of deer to protect ourselves and our children, let them lay in the ditch as a warning to other road happy deer. But do we do this? Of course not, any attempt to even reduce deer herds through the only-eat-them rule is confronted by angry gangs of hunters, screaming about the ethics of such wanton slaughtering.
Where are those angry voices when other less threatening wildlife are killed and left to rot? These voices are there but on the other side, kill more, not less!
According to the RMEF interpretation of this tenet, the ban on wanton waste of animal flesh does not pertain to furbearers. “… individuals may legally kill certain animals… for food and fur…”. Of course this is the self-serving interpretation of the hunting/trapping community. Even here the tenet is steeped in hypocrisy. If we can kill an animal just for its fur, why can’t we kill an animal just for its antlers, horns, or feathers? Why is ok to kill and skin a cougar and discard its 120 lb carcass to rot in the field but not do the same with a similar weight deer just for its hide or antlers?
Why can we kill, skin, and let rot weasels, beavers, fox, bobcats, fishers, martins, etc. but not shoot a pheasant, an exotic species, just for its feathers? What is the difference? The meat all smells the same when it is rotting away. Where are the high brow ethics here?
Trappers kill and discard millions of pounds of animal flesh yearly. Are they distained by the rest of the hunting community who righteously eat what they kill? No! Many of them also are these moralistic hunters of these other game species, being able to switch from outrage at wanton waste to perpetrators of the same acts they abhor with other game species. Again, this points out the hypocrisy of the application of this tenet. Thus, this tenet again has nothing to do with wildlife conservation but with somehow trying to morally justify the wanton hunting and killing of specific species.
I have discussed here how just two of the 7 sisters are sufficiently violated to nullify them as any reasonable tenet of a North American model for conservation. Unfortunately, the other five tenets are just as hypocritical and designed to not extend the conservation of wildlife in America to all Americans but to concentrate that “right” into the hands of the self-serving special interests of a relatively small percentage of Americans. I will address those weaknesses in the NAM in future posts.