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The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: Inadequate History, Inadequate History

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The North American Model of Wildlife Conser-
vation has seen a meteoric rise in acceptance
Model appeared in 2001 (Geist et al. 2001
Wildlife ProfessionalTWP 2010).
Inadequate History
tant factors that led to improved conservation in
Water Acts, and similar acts in Canada. In addition,
Balmford et al). These perspectives on the
necessary for conservation.
American Sports-
men and the Origin of Conservation ()
An American Crusade for
Saving America’s
Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990
By Michael P. Nelson, Ph.D., John A. Vucetich, Ph.D., Paul C. Paquet, Ph.D., and Joseph K. Bump, Ph.D.
Michael P. Nelson,
Ph.D., is an Associate
Professor of Envi-
ronmental Ethics
and Philosophy in
the Lyman Briggs
College, the Depart-
ment of Fisheries
and Wildlife, and the
Department of Phi-
losophy at Michigan
State University.
Credit: Heather Varco
Coauthor Affiliations
John A. Vucetich, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Animal Ecology in the School of
Forestry and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University.
Paul C. Paquet, Ph.D., is a wildlife ecologist, an Adjunct Professor of Biology and
Associate Professor of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, an Adjunct
Professor at the University of Manitoba, and a faculty associate at Guelph University
and the University of New Brunswick.
Joseph K. Bump, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology in the School of
Forestry and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University.
5.2 Critiques thru T&T6fromMB.indd 58 5/26/11 4:41 PM
An Inadequate Construct?
focuses almost exclusively on the ideas and actions of
Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and others with a
narrowly utilitarian focus, while downplaying the con-
tributions of individuals such as John Muir and Aldo
Leopold, who motivated broad-based conservation
without focusing on hunting as its primary tool.
While the Model’s selective historical narrative serves
the conclusion that recreational hunting is (or at least
was) necessary for conservation, a more complete
historical narrative does not support that conclu-
sion. Developing a historical narrative to serve the
uncommon. It is troublesome, however, if that his-
tory is so selective that it ignores historical elements
contradicting the ethical prescription. Because the
Model ignores historical evidence contrary to its
ethical prescription, it is based on an inadequate ac-
counting of history.
Inadequate Ethics
The North American Model also represents inad-
equate ethical reasoning and a misguided prescription
for the future of conservation for three main reasons.
First, it relies too heavily on the principle that past
havior. To suggest that a historical episode can justify
an ethical prescription is to commit a logical fallacy
known as argumentum ad antiquitatem (the argu-
ment from antiquity or from tradition). One would
not argue that society should perpetuate child slave
labor or gender discrimination simply because such
practices are part of our history. Likewise, it is wrong
to conclude that hunting should play a central role in
future conservation simply because it had in the past.
Second, if conservation is best served by a multi-
pronged approach, then why do advocates of the
Model focus almost exclusively on the role of hunt-
ing, especially since participation in hunting is on the
decline? If one’s primary concern were conservation
in general, then to focus on hunting as the means to
conservation would seem an obviously inadequate
strategy. This raises the concern that advocates of the
Model are not primarily motivated by conservation,
but rather by defending hunting. We do not object to
advocating for either. However, these concerns make
us wonder if Model advocates have obfuscated moti-
vations, a hallmark of inadequate ethical reasoning.
A third reason to wonder whether the Model’s prima-
ry interest is hunting rather than conservation is its
neglect to address important contemporary instances
with conservation. For example, hunter interest is
leading to overabundance of ungulates and the dimi-
nution of ecosystem services provided by predators,
both of which compromise ecosystem health. Indeed,
some important Model advocates are not allies in
efforts to restore and maintain the ecosystem services
that predators provide (e.g., Geist 2008).
The “Seven Sisters” of the Model
The seven basic tenets of the North American Model
help illustrate its inadequate historical and ethi-
principle, it is far from obvious why together these
principles represent an adequate or insightful basis
for conservation in general, or for wildlife conser-
vation in particular. A great deal of scholarship
(Callicott 2005, Jamieson 2008, Speth 2005, Me-
ine 2004) suggests that the future of conservation
will depend much more on principles that address
complex questions such as: Are non-human creatures
and ecological collectives valuable for their own sake
or only for their value to humans? Do people living
in developed countries have an obligation to reduce
health, and how can it be maintained while, at the
same time, maximizing values such as human liberty
and social justice? The seven tenets of the Model do
Even if the seven tenets represent appropriate prin-
ciples in and of themselves, several of them seem
characterized more by the questions they raise than
by the conservation insight they provide. For example,
one tenet asserts that Wildlife Can Only Be Killed for
a Legitimate Purpose. This principle is as basic and
ing a legitimate purpose.
Another tenet asserts that Science is the Proper
Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy. This is mis-
taken for equating a desire for policies informed by
science with science discharging or determining, by
itself, what policies ought to be adopted—a seri-
ous, but very common, error in ethical reasoning.
determine how we ought to relate to nature or which
policies are most appropriate (Moore and Nelson
2010). This tenet is also inadequate because, while
... it is wrong to conclude that hunting should
play a central role in future conservation
simply because it had in the past.
5.2 Critiques thru T&T6fromMB.indd 59 5/26/11 4:41 PM
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it notes the relationship between science and policy,
it fails to recognize the most important obstacle
understanding how ecological, sociological, eco-
nomic, political, and ethical knowledge should be
synthesized for the purpose of policy development,
acterized by an inability to make precise predictions
about how policies will affect natural systems.
Several of the seven tenets touch on how natural
resource management is related to social justice and
human liberty (i.e., Wildlife are Considered an In-
ternational Resource, Allocation of Wildlife by Law,
Democracy of Hunting, and Wildlife as a Public
Trust Resource). However, these principles are not
useful without also acknowledging questions like:
In practice, when is it wrong to prevent the over-
exploitation of a resource by local people who have
no other means to satisfy their short-term needs?
And, is it wrong to preclude a rural population from
hunting a wildlife population because urban citizens
think that is an inappropriate use of the resource?
The challenge in a democracy is to know when the
interests of the majority are relevant or trivial and
whether they should be honored if they represent a
serious infringement on the interests of the minority.
Another problematic tenet asserts that the Elimi-
nation of Markets for Wildlife is necessary for
conservation. Yet wildlife resources are commer-
cialized and privatized in many parts of the world,
including Europe, where conservation seems as well
developed as in North America. In addition, “wild-
life” such as aquatic organisms, marine organisms,
and plants are often commercially harvested. In
many of these cases, the concern is for developing a
sustainable commercial harvest, not elimination of
the market. The Model fails to explain why conserv-
ing terrestrial vertebrates in North America ought to
be so exceptional to conservation elsewhere.
Moreover, to believe that North American hunting
no longer remains a highly commercial and market-
driven activity is to fail to recognize the commercial
interests at stake. Many companies, like hunters
tions and wildlife consumption. Consider catalogs
from companies like Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops. The
consumption that such “wildlife” markets promote
represents a threat to wildlife and conservation.
Finally, forms of wildlife management such as the
harvest of furbearers perpetuate markets for wildlife.
Perhaps Elimination of Markets for Wildlife should
be replaced with Eliminate or Transform Markets
that Threaten Conservation. This would make it
clear that the goal is not merely the elimination of
markets that threaten recreational hunting.
Even if the North American Model’s primary mo-
tivation was to promote hunting, and even if it did
so transparently, the Model would still fall short.
The problem is not that hunting is an unworthy or
indefensible activity, but rather that the Model gives
an inadequate defense of hunting; misapprehends the
relationships among hunting, conservation, and the
seven tenets; and ignores the most potent criticism
against hunting (i.e., that some hunts are inconsis-
tent with the tenet that Wildlife Can Only Be Killed
for a Legitimate Purpose).
A More-Inclusive Construct
The ethics of hunting is a complex and easily mis-
understood topic requiring far more attention than
can be offered here. Ultimately, we doubt the claims
of proponents that the North American Model is
“probably the greatest environmental achievement of
the 20th century … [and] may be one of the great-
est achievements of North American culture” (Geist
2006). Further, it is unclear how the Model is useful
for understanding or evaluating what the role of rec-
reational hunting should be in developed countries of
the 21st century.
Perhaps the greatest value of the Model, however, is
that it highlights the need to confront a more basic
question: What is conservation? All of us should
explore whether wildlife management and conser-
vation are the same, as implied by Model advocates,
or whether the two disciplines represent different,
led to the founding of the Society for Conservation
Biology, which views wildlife management and con-
servation as different ambitions (Soulé 1985, Aplet
et al. 1992).
The future of conservation will require an adequate
understanding of these and other issues that are both
essential and under-treated (Vucetich and Nelson
2010, Vucetich and Nelson in press). We need to ask:
What does it mean for a population or ecosystem to
be healthy? Do populations and ecosystems deserve
direct moral consideration? How does conservation
such as social justice, human liberty, and concern for
the welfare of individuals? Resolving these and other
ingful conservation model worth celebrating.
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