What is the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation?


North America has a unique system of protecting wildlife, often considered the most successful in the world. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAMWC) protects the game and fish we chase as sportsmen. Additionally, it protects citizens’ rights to hunt and fish.

Although not officially created until more recently, The NAMWC had its origins in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Wildlife populations were at an all-time low due to reckless hunting and fishing, and commercial markets. Prominent figures like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, supported by hunters and anglers who recognized the need for a management system, advocated the development of a model that kept wildlife populations at optimum levels and protected the rights of those using the resource.

A photo of Theodore Roosevelt.

This model, still in use and now officially recognized as the NAMWC, has been wildly successful. Game and fish species that were almost extinct have made a rebound, and hunters and anglers today have access to plentiful resources that provide healthy food and a connection to the outdoors.

The NAMWC is based on seven key principles. Each is vital to the success of the model.

The Seven Principles

Wildlife is a public resource

In contrast to the historical ability of a king to limit which wildlife could be taken (by effectively owning wildlife on land he owned), the NAMWC keeps wildlife in the public trust. This means that wildlife, regardless of whether it’s on public or private land, belongs to all citizens. A person can own the land upon which wildlife lives, but can’t own the wildlife. Governments are trusted to manage game and fish on behalf of the people, but the government also doesn’t own it. It simply manages it.

Markets for game are eliminated

Market hunting was one of the biggest reasons many species were, at one point, on the brink of extinction. Even species as common today as whitetail deer were almost wiped out. This was due to commercial operations, which would buy and sell meat and other animal parts.

Making the buying and selling of wild game illegal brought a lot of species back to healthy populations. While you’ll often see elk or bison on restaurant menus, these animals actually come from farms and are not wild game. In order to eat true wild game, you’ll need to hunt or catch it yourself, or get it for free from someone who did.

There are exceptions, such as some furbearers for which there is a market in the U.S. and Canada. This market is highly regulated, though, and has other benefits such as limiting human-furbearer conflicts.

Allocation of wildlife by law

Although wildlife is owned collectively by the people, the government manages this resource using bag limits, seasons, and licenses to ensure that populations remain healthy and stable.

In most cases, state governments are responsible for deciding how wildlife can be allocated each year, and hunters and anglers need to follow state laws when harvesting game. This ensures that populations are appropriately managed year-to-year.

Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose

Another important step toward keeping populations healthy is the principle that wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose. Legitimate purposes are things like obtaining meat or fur, or for self-defense. Although specific state regulations vary, most have some version of wanton waste laws. These laws make it illegal to kill fish or game without making every effort possible to retrieve and use the resource.

Wildlife species are considered an international resource

Since some species of fish and game, like migratory birds, cross political boundaries, it’s necessary to treat these species as international resources. This principle asserts that for such species, international treaties and agreements are necessary to manage internationally-shared resources. These agreed-upon regulations protect the populations of species that move across state or country lines.

Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy

Another important step toward healthy populations is the belief that science is the best way to establish regulations around the harvesting of game and fish. Scientists may put collars on elk or tag fish to monitor the status of the species. With the knowledge gained from this monitoring, appropriate bag limits and seasons can be applied during decision-making.

The democracy of hunting

According to the NAMWC, all citizens regardless of social status, economic class, or land ownership, have the right to hunt and fish. As opposed to models that limit these opportunities to those with special privilege, the NAMWC asserts that all citizens have access to wildlife within the bounds of government regulation.

Individuals may lose this right by violating game laws. For example, poachers can lose hunting or fishing privileges in one or many states for years. Law-abiding citizens, however, all have equal rights to the resource within regulations.

A female hunter flushing out a pheasant in front of a pond.


The application of the NAMWC requires funding. Without monetary resources, all the sound science and good intentions in the world are useless as a management strategy. Hunters and anglers grabbed this bull by the horns and developed a system that has been vital to the success of the NAMWC.

Two key acts, the Pittman-Robertson Act and Dingell-Johnson Act provide much of the funding for the application of the principles. They established an excise tax on gear used in hunting and fishing (Pittman-Robertson is for hunting gear, and Dingell-Johnson is for fishing gear).

These excise taxes, combined with the money generated from license sales, make up the majority of conservation funding in the U.S. Another huge benefit of this funding is that money spent protecting the habitat of game species and fish also protects other non-game species by default.

For more information check out The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.


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