Rethinking the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

New challenges require new solutions for wildlife management.

For anyone who has heard the ghostly gobble of a wild turkey in the pine woods, listened to the seductive bugle of a bull elk in early autumn, witnessed an elusive bighorn sheep navigate an impossibly steep mountainside, or watched a bounding pronghorn seemingly float above the plains, you can thank a little-known conservation playbook called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. 

The model is a broad set of principles that have guided wildlife professionals in management of species and habitat for more than a century. Wildlife conservation under it has historically relied upon hunters and anglers for funding. These sportsmen and -women play crucial roles in conservation and bear the lion’s share of the cost by purchasing permits, tags, and licenses, and paying excise taxes on gear related to hunting and fishing.

The hunter-led North American Model has provided its share of success stories. Many species have made impressive rebounds, including whitetail deer, turkeys, beavers, bison, and black bears. The model has also helped increase some non-game populations, provide reliable funding for conservation, and effect extensive habitat conservation.

But as wildlife management and human demographics continue to evolve, the model is being tested in new ways. In the 21st century, the model will have to be able to answer questions such as: How does it account for burgeoning wildlife numbers and increasing human-wildlife conflicts? How can it adapt to the dwindling numbers of hunters and anglers? How can it better account for the fact that most habitat is found on private lands while wildlife itself is treated as a public resource? If we want our wildlife conservation efforts to succeed over the next century, we will have to meet these challenges.


PERC’s approach to conservation relies on voluntary exchange that results in positive environmental outcomes for both private and public resources.

PERC believes that better integration of property rights and markets can help wildlife conservation adapt for the 21st century. The user-based funding provided by anglers and hunters is crucial for conservation and provides a solid foundation from which to build. Overcoming challenges to modern wildlife management will require an openness to rethinking earlier approaches and discussing ideas that have sometimes been considered taboo, including whether markets can be integrated into wildlife management strategies, particularly when it comes to species that have become overabundant.


PERC research examines proposals to reform wildlife management to address current realities of the North American Model. 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, which have seen participation declines in recent years. All of these realities present challenges for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

Our research offers new ideas that can enhance the prospects of wildlife conservation in the future. We aim to promote and inspire fresh ideas that can strengthen and sustain wildlife management in the 21st century. Specific possibilities include: exploring the extent to which markets can be used to address the challenges of abundant species, providing incentives for private landowners who conserve public wildlife, and incorporating non-consumptive users into dedicated funding mechanisms for conservation.

Research on This Topic

Conserving Wildlife Habitat With Landowner Hunting Permits: A policy brief outlining lessons from western states to enhance voluntary conservation on private lands.

PERC Reports: Rethinking the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: A special issue of PERC Reports magazine on how to update the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to address present realities and challenges of wildlife management.