In a new study published this spring, researchers found what by now should be no surprise: Our attitudes toward wildlife are changing. More and more Americans view wildlife as human-like parts of their social networks, while fewer believe that wildlife should be managed to benefit people through activities such as hunting and fishing.
The study underscored trends that have long been acknowledged. Interest in hunting and fishing is declining, while wildlife viewing and other non-consumptive activities are on the rise. And 15 percent of Americans are what the researchers describe as “distanced,” having little or no interest in wildlife.
These realities present challenges for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which refers to a broad set of principles that have guided wildlife management in the United States and Canada for more than a century. This special issue of PERC Reports is devoted to understanding and addressing many of those challenges.
For one, wildlife conservation under the North American Model has historically relied upon hunters and anglers for funding. But as Shane Mahoney explains, today’s challenges require that we continuously scrutinize the model. “The model cannot become an orthodoxy,” Mahoney writes, “nor questioning it a violation.” Demographic changes will also test the model’s viability in the future, writes Brian Yablonski. He suggests that it may require several tweaks, including better integration of property rights and markets into conservation efforts, to remain relevant and effective in the 21st century.
Adding to the challenges, most wildlife is treated as a publicly owned resource, yet much of its habitat is found on private land. James Huffman examines ways that U.S. legal statutes and precedents have provided incentives—or disincentives—for private landowners to conserve public wildlife.
Despite such obstacles, there’s no denying that the North American Model has helped usher in dramatic recoveries of several prominent species. These successes, however, have created challenges of their own. Jim Sterba describes the difficulties presented by surging numbers of white-tailed deer, which have magnificently adapted to sprawling suburban areas in recent decades. And Tate Watkins explores the ways that trade in hides and meat from nuisance alligators helps manage the abundant reptiles in Florida.
Last fall, PERC hosted a workshop that explored many of the examples and ideas discussed in this issue. The event assembled a wide variety of experts, including legal scholars, biologists, state and federal policymakers, and leading conservation and landowner organizations. Many of the articles in this issue are derived from, or inspired by, the workshop discussion.
In these articles, we explore these challenges and their implications for wildlife management today—with a willingness to rethink earlier approaches and to discuss ideas that are sometimes considered taboo. Along the way, we aim to promote and inspire fresh ideas to enhance wildlife management in the 21st century.