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Archive for October, 2021

Edited by Shane P. Mahoney & Valerius Geist

Review by Lew Carpenter

To begin, it seems best to articulate the focus of the book. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is “an evolved and shared system of conservation laws, principles, institutions, and policies that has enabled the successes of Canada and the United States in the recovery, management, and protection of wildlife and brought them global recognition,” write Shane P. Mahoney, Valerius Geist and Paul R. Krausman.

And, like many of you, I am most familiar with the seven principles associated with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (the Model):

​1. Maintaining wildlife as a public trust resource, entrusted to the state to manage.

​2. Prohibiting deleterious commerce in dead wildlife products.

​3. Regulating and defining appropriate wildlife use by law.

​4. Ensuring wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purpose.

​5. Recognizing and managing wildlife as an international resource.

​6. Utilizing and safeguarding science as the appropriate basis for wildlife policy.

​7. Protecting the democratic allocation of citizen opportunity to harvest wildlife.

As hunters and conservationists we invoke the Model when advocating for our collective heritage. It is the philosophical foundation of our beloved sport and the significant implementation of how we engage with wildlife and the world around us in a respectful and scientific manner.

This essay is less a book review than an endorsement, a nudge and a hope that you will expand your knowledge of the the Model by making this book a well-engaged member of your nightstand or bookshelf.

Many people, and rightly so, believe that the Model came into existence as a fully formed concept. After all, it is often presented as such. But creation, evolution and structure came long before it was named, as you will find within the pages of this book.

It may come as a surprise to many that this is the first and remains the only book to ever address the Model. Author Shane Mahoney tells us that, “Given this pedigree it was designed first and foremost to be the most complete presentation of not only the Model’s history and structure (principles) but also the urgent context in which it arose (massive over-exploitation), the pre-conditions which gave rise to it (the ecological conditions of the continent as shaped by Native Americans and the influence of European ideals and perspectives) and which help explain its particular personality, and the characteristics of the Model which leave it open to challenge and reflection.”

There is no doubt that the authors of the various chapters seek to inspire an advancement in thought and creation for the next iteration of the Model. The book illustrates more than once the evolution of the Model and how we got to where we are today. And, through this gentle discourse, both strengths and weakness’ beg collective work and a desperate need to adapt and improve upon what has become the greatest system of sustainable wildlife management on the planet.

“The hope is that the book will encourage debate, incite deeper investigation of theModel’s assumptions and will force upon its proponents and detractors alike challenging truths that demand reflection and address,” says Mahoney. “While the book is meant to celebrate the Model’s successes and clarify the desperate plight of wildlife in late nineteenth century North America, it also contains an unequivocal recognition of what I perceive as the greatest misfortune in the Model’s origins and constitution….the complete absence of the perspectives and unparalleled natural history and landscape management knowledge of Native American cultures. If the book achieved nothing else, I would see bringing this to broader attention as a success.”

The format of the book is well designed as each chapter is self-contained, with Mahoney bringing it all home in conclusion. You can start with “A Comparison of the North American Model to Other Conservation Approaches” and jump to “The Great Early Champions” with ease. We are taken by many routes and a variety of voices to places of much deeper understanding about wildlife management, history, conservation and the critical role each of us plays in past and future success.

The historical context is compelling and emerges naturally from the beginning of the book. I simply had no real idea of the history of North American wildlife and its complicated path to being managed today. For example, Geist and Mahoney write, “…in the context of wildlife management and nature conservation in North America, it is important to note that the entry of modern humans at the beginning of the Bølling-Allerød Interstadial some 14,000 years ago marked the last time the continent’s biota and landscapes were natural.” Geist and Mahoney’s history lessons “…examine what is natural, and whether North America’s objectives for wildlife reflect realistic interpretations of the continent’s past and hopes for its future.”

Closer to home, James L. Cummins’ accessible essay on critical legislation explains how laws like Pittman-Robertson, Dingell-Johnson and Wallop-Breaux became key conservation funding cornerstones. As well, Cummins highlights other important conservation Acts, like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (Duck Stamp). 

But the history of how we got to be where we are today doesn’t stop with the examples above, as the significant past comes up time and time again in additional chapters. “Thereare many insightful passages that explain lesser known facts, such as how knowledgeably first North American cultures worked to manage landscapes and how they impacted wildlife, how diverse the personalities and intense the debates were amongst early conservation advocates, how complex our institutions are today and how farsighted founding thinkers were in creating international treaties more than a century ago,” says Mahoney.  

And every hunter should read the chapter on “Hunting and Vested Interests as the Spine of the North American Model,” by James R. Heffelfinger and Mahoney, which clearly illustrates the core role of the North American hunter. It further details how the idea of seeking incentives for successful conservation program implementation was intuitively “baked” into the Model by self interest of the North American hunter.

As well, in Heffelfinger’s discussion of non-game species and their absence from the hunter-incentive paradigm, he rightly makes the case – without naming the effort – for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would provide funding relief to state game and fish agencies for all species under their care. As of this writing RAWA is again set to enter the American legislative process in the U.S. Congress.

Challenges to the Model

The honesty of the book celebrates both the vast successes of the Model, building a case for its continued relevance, as well as points a finger at its current weaknesses. With seven highly articulated challenges, we also find an “Incomplete Historical Narrative” that fails to recognize important contributors to the Model’s success. Brennan, Hewitt and Mahoney write, “To its detriment the traditional narrative also fails to address how prevalent social inequalities between genders, races, and classes during the development of the Model negatively impacted its practical inclusivity.”

Acknowledging the weaknesses of the Model, Mahoney makes the case for an enlightened upgrade, one we should all demand – rather than deny in retreat. “Without commitment to fundamental change, we must accept that current trends in conservation will continue and that the North American Model will inevitably weaken as its foundational principles prove outdated to both nature’s requirements and society’s tolerances and values.” He goes on to emphasize that we should all be leaders of the change – heroes and mobilizers of knowledge.

Mahoney explains that, “Ultimately, of course, the hope for this book is that it contributes to the vital debate over wildlife’s future, reminds us of the cultural ties and community identities that abide within its nexus of historicity and self-awareness, and forces upon the reader the ultimate question: if not this Model, then what alternative is reasonably and realistically proposed. Wildlife, not the Model, is the crucial reality to be, above all else, defended, safeguarded and preserved.”

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this book. As a hunter and conservationist I’ll be reaching for it time and time again as I advocate for its principles, as well as seek resolution to its current challenges. And, to be clear, the book is not just for the North American hunter, it is for all who seek to engage, protect and support wildlife and habitat.

Mahoney says it best in his final conclusion: “Wild nature cannot speak for itself. We must. The greatest question facing North American society today is whether we will.”

The book may be found here: https://www.amazon.com/North-American-Wildlife-Conservation-Management/dp/1421432803/ref=nodl_

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