The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is a set of principles that can be used to aid in the success of wildlife conservation and management. The Model focuses on efforts throughout Canada and the United States – Mexico has its own set of standards in place. A valuable teaching tool, it allows for evaluation of current and possible future challenges that affect wildlife management and conservation. The Model is not just used to identify areas that need work – it can also celebrate achievements and successes. Flexible, the Model can adapt to various changing environments.

Canada and the U.S. have been working together on conservation efforts since the 1800s and the formation of the Boone & Crockett Club in 1877 was extremely significant. This group was instrumental in recognizing the need for managing wildlife populations and in enforcing multiple fish and game laws. Several of its members played pivotal roles in getting laws in place and changed. U.S. Congressman John Lacey wrote the Lacey Act of 1900. Canadian Charles Gordon Hewitt penned the Migratory Bird Treaty Convention in 1916. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was also a leader in wildlife conservation and Canada implemented the Conservation Act 1909. These events helped shape the conservation and wildlife management efforts of today.

Implementing the Model’s principles, however, can be difficult because of the different styles of government over Canada and the U.S. In Canada, responsibility for wildlife conservation can be Federal (including migratory, marine, and federal trust species), Provincial, or Territorial and each has their own agencies in place to devise and implement conservation programs. Exceptions include Treaty Indians and aboriginal communities, which include many exceptions to the standard government laws. These complex laws demand that the multiple jurisdictions maintain cooperation with each other in order to be successful in their joint efforts. In the U.S., wildlife laws are broken into federal and state governing bodies. Both countries also work with Mexico to combine their efforts in protecting wildlife.

Funding these conservation efforts also varies between the countries. British parliament governs and funds Canada, so public boards and committees aren’t as effective there as they are in the U.S. All of the tax money goes into a pool and parliament decides which resources are funded, meaning wildlife competes for money with education, health care, etc. The U.S. has many federal departments that receive money for allocation towards wildlife and conservation efforts, allowing their agencies to be better equipped. The U.S. also has numerous taxes and other fees that help fund conservation programs, such as the revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and park entry fees. Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in these areas and new tax proposals have been met with strong opposition, thus increasing the threat of declining funds for wildlife management and conservation efforts. In both countries, the need for funding needs to be voiced to the governments.

Currently, there are seven principles within the Model and each has its own set of unique challenges:

  1. Wildlife resources are a public trust.
    • A review of the Public Trust Doctrine has revealed threats to existing laws including inappropriate ownership claims, unregulated sales, access and use restrictions, and an animal rights doctrine.
  1. Markets for game are eliminated.
    • Once unregulated, wildlife markets (ex. meat, hides, etc.) are now controlled or eliminated, as they were responsible for significantly decreasing the animal populations. There are exceptions for furbearers because of the active market in both Canada and the U.S., but they have more robust populations and are closely monitored and regulated by law.
    • Commercial trade for fish, amphibians and reptiles is popular and has led to a drastic decline in the number of freshwater turtles, which are sold to Asian countries for their meat. There is a need for stricter reporting requirements and other regulations to be enacted.
  1. Allocation of wildlife is by law.
    • The laws are in place for the hunting and harvesting of animals but they are often not enforced. More resources dedicated to enforcement are also needed and decisions on land use and other related subjects also play a role in this principle, as are De facto The outcome of the rulings on the Public Trust Doctrine are critical to this principle as well.
    • Wildlife habitats are in danger of being destroyed as more land is developed.
    • There is a need to monitor wildlife populations and a more uniform system to accomplish this needs to be in place.
  1. Wildlife can be killed only for a legitimate purpose.
    • The term “legitimate” needs to be more clearly defined, in this case. There are too many loopholes and enforcing the laws has proven challenging. .
  1. Wildlife is considered an international resource.
    • Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Convention of 1916 which paved the way, several other international treaties are now in place.
    • Components of the Model have been introduced to other continents.
    • Many factors can hinder the success of the Model’s principles, including travel laws, cultural beliefs, permit processes, and physical boundaries (like the wall between the U.S. and Mexico).
    • Overall, the collaborative results between countries around the world have been positive and many management efforts have shown an increase in population sustainability. The importing of bison to Coahuila from South Dakota is an example of this collaboration.
  1. Science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy.
    • Canada and the U.S. paved the way in wildlife conservation but many agencies and other factors are overlooking or misusing science for political gain. The focus needs to be put back on science and on the environment and less on politics.
  1. Democracy of hunting is standard.
    • Hunting is a valuable tool for animal population control but animal rights activists are working to make hunting illegal.
    • Outlawing hunting would also cause many wildlife and conservation efforts to lose funding generated by the support and fees associated with the sport.
    • Gun control and other firearms laws have a major impact on hunting.

Regarding the challenges that the Model is facing, serious discussions need to take place amongst the law makers and other officials in both the academic and political realms. The needs for conservation efforts and wildlife management need to be communicated to the government and the public needs to be educated. There also needs to be discussion about implementing the Model and applying its principles to all species and habitats. Legislation needs to be developed to further define legal terms, jurisdictions, and hierarchy to eliminate the confusion and “gray” areas that are inhibiting the Model’s success. Gun control laws and ammunition regulations should not be regulated in such a manner as to prohibit or deter people from hunting and managing the populations of many species of wildlife. There is a great need for funds to be allocated toward environmental, wildlife management, and other conservation efforts.

As the needs and challenges of conservation and wildlife management efforts change, so will the Model. Its adaptability ensures its future. It can be used to facilitate dialogue on very specific matters or on the broadest of subjects. The Model’s principles are malleable, enabling eliminations and additions, as long as the original foundation of the principles are not abandoned. As the world’s population grows, its wildlife and natural resources will decline, making wildlife management and conservation efforts even more vital, and making the Model an invaluable tool.

Appendix: Status of Wildlife Management in Mexico

Mexico is extremely crucial to the world’s biodiversity, since it is home to about 10% of the plant and animal species. Wildlife conservation efforts did not start until the 20th century when the Bureau of Forestry, Game and Fisheries was established. Hunting was not regulated until 1940 and the law was revisited in 1952. It was not updated again until 2000 during the Zedillo administration and, although substantial, it is lacking in implementation. Other changes that shaped Mexico’s conservation efforts include the formation of the Ministry of the Environment in 1995 and the creation of the Units for Conservation, Management, and Sustainable Harvest of Wildlife (UMAs) program in 1996, which allowed Mexican landowners to be a part of the conservation and wildlife efforts. Both of these agencies continue to be driving forces in the country’s conservation and wildlife management efforts today.

The Mexican Government’s Wildlife Department is currently under Dirección General de Vida Silvestre (DGVS). DVGS is part of Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), a ministry of the Mexican federal government that is of low priority, thus making funding a challenge. Lack of funding puts severe restraints on what the organization can accomplish, as far as policy creation and enforcement. DGVS is also responsible for the conservation and management of terrestrial wildlife and all species on Mexico’s Federal List of Endangered Species, while UMAs are responsible for Sustainable Use Wildlife Management. They are working to increase awareness and cooperation among various groups. Although wildlife is still considered a public resource, its future could become unstable due to inadequate funding and lack of clear laws.

The Model’s same seven principles can be applied to Mexico’s conservation efforts:

  1. Wildlife as Public Trust Resources in Mexico.
    • 3 types of land grants come into play:
      • Community Grants – Large parcels of land given to citizens for homesteading purposes. Hunting was also included in this.
      • Private Grants – Given to individuals for private use. Landowners controlled property rights but not the wildlife.
      • Quasi-Community Grants – Large parcels of land given to individuals and / or small groups to settle. Once settled, the land was to be used for community purposes.
  1. Markets for game are eliminated.
    • Before the Spanish arrived with cattle, Mexico’s inhabitants had to rely on collecting invertebrates, such as snails and grasshoppers, or on capturing vertebrates, such as otters and iguanas, for their main protein sources. The native markets were a wonderful source to trade for these items, as well as hides and furs.
  1. Allocation of wildlife is by law.
    • Wildlife is defined, according to Article 17 of the Mexican Constitution, as “all natural elements,” along with the forest, water, and other natural resources, “owned by the nation for the benefit of all Mexican citizens.” Just 5 years later, hunting bans had to be placed on several species due to overhunting and dwindling populations of bighorn sheep (lifted 10 years later) and pronghorns (still in effect).
    • Forestry also suffered until Miguel de Quesvedo, “the tree apostle” began conservation efforts and started the country’s first forestry schools, as well as the Mexican Forestry Society.
    • PROFEPA, the government agency responsible for enforcing Mexico’s environmental laws, needs to expand in all areas from wildlife management to environmental impact in order to meet the rapidly increasing demands.
  1. Wildlife can be killed only for a legitimate purpose.
    • There is a lot of concern regarding what is “legitimate” and some species, like the jaguar, are being killed despite it being a federal offense.
  1. Wildlife is considered an international resource.
    • Many treaties exist between Mexico and the U.S. regarding wildlife and the countries share joint responsibilities in managing the wildlife populations that migrate across the borders.
  1. Science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy.
    • There is a great need to increase the use of science in Mexican conservation and wildlife management programs, as well as education programs at the university level.
    • There are protocols in place but they are not science-based. The scientific community needs to grow and expand.
  1. Democracy of hunting is standard.
    • All hunting in Mexico must be done through an outfitter. This is a problem because it causes monopolies and allows for a select number of people to be employed in the industry.
    • The sale of firearms and ammunition is controlled by the Ministry of Defense, allowing only a small number of stores to sell these goods. This restricts the hunting industry greatly.

Like Canada and the U.S., many of the challenges that Mexico faces regarding conservation and wildlife management efforts come down to political control and financing. These countries need to work together and with the rest of the world in order to create the environmental change that is needed. There are too many challenges to succeed individually, but if everyone unites their strengths and shares resources, conservation and wildlife management efforts will succeed and future generations will reap the benefits. The Model can make this happen if we put it to work and continue to adapt it to the various environments. Above all is the need for education, awareness, and communication. ‘International collaboration is a clear win-win situation if properly implemented, and it can open new opportunities to learn and improve conservation and management practices.’

  • Source Organ, J.F., V. Geist, S.P. Mahoney, S. Williams, P.R. Krausman, G.R. Batcheller, T.A. Decker, R. Carmichael, P. Nanjappa, R. Regan, R.A. Medellin, R. Cantu, R.E. McCabe, S. Craven, G.M. Vecellio, and D.J. Decker. 2012. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The Wildlife Society Technical Review 12-04. The Wildlife Society, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Available at : [Accessed 03/2021].