THE EVERYDAY HUNTER®: The Seven Sisters of Wildlife Conservation

Does wildlife need protection from hunters? No, not in North America, not if “protection” means putting wildlife off limits. North America has a system which insures that wildlife thrives AND is accessible to the masses.

A long time ago when everyone thought wildlife was limitless, and hunters (virtually everyone at the time) took too many of certain species, populations suffered. By the 1930s, however, hunters were well on their way to correcting their errors, and were seeing an ingenious model of conservation come together. It was a model where hunters were self-limiting and a model that made North American wildlife the envy of the world.

North America is the only continent where wildlife depends on these seven core ideas, often called “the seven sisters of wildlife conservation”:

1. The Public Trust: Most of America’s colonial settlers rejected the European system where only the wealthy had access to wildlife. An 1842 Supreme Court decision (Martin v. Waddell) established that wildlife resources are owned by no one and must be held in trust by government for the benefit of present and future generations. Canadian provinces followed the states and government agencies became the caretakers for the people’s wildlife.

That means I, you, we own the animals regardless of who owns the land. That’s why, if I decide to put a high fence around my land, I must make sure I do not keep deer that belong to the public inside my fence.

2. Prohibitions on Commerce: Prior to the advent of refrigeration, stockyards, and a transcontinental railroad, market hunters supplied restaurants with table fare. Beginning in the latter half of the 1800s, the sale of wildlife was prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations.

Today, states and provinces, by unifying to prohibit commerce in wildlife, are better able to enforce laws and prevent a black market from forming for wildlife meat and parts.

3. Democratic Rule of Law: The elimination of commerce in wildlife and an open, democratic process makes it possible to give the masses equal access to wildlife.

It also prevents any elite class of landowners from controlling wildlife law, and enables wildlife to be managed by scientific principles.

4. Hunting Opportunity for All: Open access to wildlife drives the North American model. Public participation, where everyone has the right to hunt and fish, makes wildlife valuable to everyone. Other models where land ownership and social class limit who may hunt prevent ordinary people from having access to wildlife, and make wildlife valuable to only a few.

This makes hunting and fishing egalitarian sports. Anyone can qualify to hunt. No one needs to be a landowner to hunt because public lands are made available for the public to hunt.

5. Non-Frivolous Use: Anyone who would take any animal must have a reason, so guidelines for appropriate use of animals were established and licenses are issued to permit killing for food and fur. Laws also allow killing for self-defense and defense of property. These categories prevent killing for the sake of killing, and killing to acquire such things as decorative feathers.

This principle prevents the wanton waste of wildlife. It creates respect for game animals. It keeps a deer from being viewed simply as a rack of antlers.

6. International Resources: Since wildlife and fish can freely cross national and state boundaries, they are considered an international resource. Broad cooperation is critical for the model to work that’s why it’s called the North American model and not the United States model.

National and state borders are no more restrictive to wildlife than private property boundaries. Game animals must be pursued as free creatures, and this gives rise to the idea of “fair chase.”

7. Scientific Management: Wildlife management must be based on the best available science. This practice goes all the way back to the earliest American expeditions where explorers recorded the diversity of species they came across as they charted the continent. Hunters and fishermen are themselves amateur naturalists who study the animals and their habitat as a part of their normal pursuit.

Much of the money hunters raise for wildlife goes to scientific study so that all species can be sustained in perpetuity.

Whenever a wildlife agency sets laws, classifies animals, creates seasons, protects habitat, establishes enforcement policies, or does anything else critical to any wildlife species (not just game animals), these “Seven Sisters” are essential to their work. And hunters support all of them.

When the “Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell him exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com. This column and others can be accessed online at www.EverydayHunter.com.