Whenever I read the online news site, The Wildlife News, I feel sometimes as if the whole wildlife system is falling apart at the seams.
There always seems to be stories about people finding carcasses of dead wildlife, how some are taking advantage of the system, or even what we are told is false. Reading stuff like this makes me wonder if it really was a good idea for me to even think about getting the degree that I got. Or even if I should continue on this career path that I have chosen. It took an hour long walk and much deep thought for me to realize that while those on that website probably know what they are talking about, the majority do not.
Like everything else in the country wildlife is governed by a set of rules, or rather principles. These are the guiding factors that influence and dictate what direction wildlife personnel will take. It is not long, nor is it hard to memorize, but they are there and if this is your field of choice you need to know them.
- In the Public Trust – Wildlife belongs to the people and managed in trust for the people by government agencies.
- Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife – It will be illegal to sell the meat of any wild animal in North America.
- Allocation of Wildlife is by Law – Laws developed by the people and enforced by government agencies will regulate the proper use of wildlife resources.
- Opportunity for All – Every citizen has the freedom to hunt and fish.
- Non-frivolous Use – In North America we can legally kill certain wildlife for legitimate purposes under strict guidelines for food and fur, in self-defense, or property protection. Laws are in place to restrict casual killing, killing for commercial purposes, wasting of game, and mistreating wildlife.
- International Resources – Because wildlife and fish freely migrate across boundaries between states, provinces, and countries they are considered an international resource.
- Managed by Science – The best science available will be used as a base for informed decision making in wildlife management.
There is one thing to remember about these pillars, just like the United States Constitution, it is a living breathing philosophy that can and has changed over time. Remember from history classes about the taming of the West? That was the wildlife management of the time, kill everything that you can because it will always be there. In my field it is called the Age of Abundance and Exploitation. That was the philosophy of the time, everything would always be there as you explore the American Frontier. Use it as you wish.
It was only later, after the American Civil War that people started to notice a decrease in the populations at the time. While legislation was put into place around the 1880's, it was not only ineffective, but also did not cover all wildlife. Deer, yes, but not elk, bison, or carnivores. It was only with the rise of sports hunting that more money came into the field and more interest in saving these animals for future generations. In that respect we can thank President Theodore Roosevelt who helped to create not only the US Forest Service, but also helped to establish our National Park System, including Yosemite (right) as a place where anyone can go and see wildlife in there natural habitat.
Then you have legislation that was passed soon after that guarantees money for wildlife purposes. Ever heard of someone talking about Pittman-Robertson Act? It has an 11% sales tax on guns, ammunition, bows, arrows, and more that goes to the states for wildlife restoration. What might surprise people is that it also guarantees a 3:1 match by the federal government. Yet it does not only help game species, according the the US Fish and Wildlife website, funds have also been used to help wildlife habitat that is used by painters, hikers, bird watchers, wildlife photographers and many other pastimes.
All of this was possible, not only because hunters wanted more things to shoot, but also because powerful people saw a need to do something before something uniquely American was lost. Even then it is important to remember that this is a very young profession, we will make mistakes. As a whole the ideas behind wildlife management, restoration, and protection, are only about 125 years old. As a science, it is younger that that – Pittman-Roberston specifically was only passed in 1937.
Which brings me back to the beginning of the story. I have found that I have to keep reminding myself that what people are complaining about, is valid, and is probably known on some level. But when compared to our own Constitution, it is like comparing a ten year old to a twenty year old. Not only is it hard to draw appropriate comparisons, but you are comparing something from two different time periods.