Wildlife conservation: history and funding

February 5, 2017 GMT

Our wildlife in North America was decimated during the 19th century by market hunting, hunting meat for commercial use. Wildlife was slaughtered by any method possible, year-round, with no restrictions or limits. No law existed. Greed ruled. Restaurants featured duck, plover, deer, turkey, and even song birds.

Egrets were slaughtered for plumes, the fashion in ladies’ hats. Steamships full of barrels of salted passenger pigeons plied our rivers headed for St. Louis and New Orleans. Mining towns and military installations had teams of men sweeping the plains and mountains for elk, deer, bison, and bighorn sheep to feed their personnel.


These irresponsible, uncontrolled activities are not hunting. They are wasteful slaughter. The remnant wildlife fled far into the mountain vastness or distant untrammeled plains. These remnant herds formed the basis for wildlife recovery when the beginnings of a conservation ethic began to stir in the nation.

The recovery of wildlife in America during the past 120 years is an amazing story yet few know the details. They know little of the funding history. They know little of the North American Wildlife Management Model and its tenets and tools which have been at work as the basis for wildlife conservation for the past 120 years.

Recovery: At the end of the 19th century our big game had only a few survivors. But the recoveries have been miraculous. The fledgling North American Wildlife Management Model was the reason for this recovery, even as the Model itself was still evolving its tenets.

Pronghorn antelope had dropped to 12,000 and have recovered to 1.1 million in 2014. whitetail deer had dropped to 500,000, but have recovered in 2014 to 18 million. Turkeys were down to 30,000, but have recovered to 7 million by 2014. Elk were down to 41,000, but have recovered to 800,000 by 2014. These recoveries continue to the present. Many other species have paralleled these recoveries. These recoveries were made while these animals were being hunted, when appropriate, under sustainable-use regulations of the Fish and Game departments of each state. This shows that sustainability and even population increases can and do co-exist with regulated hunting.

Funding: Nothing of substance occurs without funding. Our wildlife recovery and management has been funded almost exclusively from three sources: Hunting and fishing license and permit fees charged by the state agencies, federal excise taxes at 11 percent on all hunting and fishing equipment (guns, ammunition, fishing rods and reels, boat fuel, etc.), and funds raised by voluntary citizen hunting and fishing organizations like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Turkey Federation, Trout Unlimited, BASS, SCI, and about 20 more.


Total funds raised since 1920:

License and permits, $36 billion.

Federal Excise Tax, $17 billion.

Hunting and Fishing Private Sportsmen Organizations, $6 billion.

Total since 1920, $59 billion.

Adjusted for inflation in 2016 dollars, this totals $96 billion. These are all hunters’, fishermen’s and trappers’ dollars, all given enthusiastically because sportsmen know conservation efforts require significant funds.

These dollars go to state fish and game departments frequently accounting for the major of their funding. These funds are not from general tax accounts but directly from the sportsmen.

These funds serve species that are sought by sportsmen but many other species as well (amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and wild birds like raptors and song birds.) These funds are also used for habitat acquisition and protection as well as scientific research. No other segment of our society approaches the funding supplied by sportsmen.

The history of conservation and sustainable use in our country was spread over many years. It evolved into the North American Wildlife Management Model (NAWMM).

Tenets of the North American Wildlife Management Model:

• Wildlife is held under a Public Trust Doctrine as property of the people.

• Wildlife may not be sold in commerce.

•Wildlife is to be governed by each state.

• Wildlife will be made available equally to all citizens regardless of wealth, power, or social station.

• No wasteful uses allowed.

• Wildlife that migrates over international boundaries will require international treaties.

• Management decisions must be based on the best available standards of wildlife science and data measurements not political or emotion-based issues.

In the next column, Feb. 12, the individual tenets will begin to be analyzed and discussed.

Jerry Bullock of Blackfoot is a member of the Safari Club International, National Rifle Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever and is a co-founder of the Idaho Sportsman’s Alliance.