Our wildlife: conservation vs. exploitation

May 4, 2023 4:55 am
A hunter at dawn

Researchers have found that "a majority of individuals want to enhance conservation without exploiting animals and without contradicting ethical hunting codes." (Yves Adams | Getty Images)

This story was updated on Monday, May 8, at 10:35 a.m.

Across the United States, fish and wildlife agencies face mounting opposition as hunting policies and practices are called into question.

People are pleading for more wildlife protection over the traditional consumptive uses to manage wildlife population. Although Americans generally support wildlife management, practices that give hunters an unfair advantage over an animal are not aligned with present-day public values. As a result, decisions made by fish and wildlife agencies are contested more frequently, with the public interest that agencies are charged with representing being overlooked. 

Researchers have discovered changes in societal values – a majority of individuals want to enhance conservation without exploiting animals and without contradicting ethical hunting codes. 

To understand growing conflict around wildlife management, a 50-state study was conducted that describes individuals’ values toward wildlife across states. Led by researchers at Colorado State University and The Ohio State University, “America’s Wildlife Values” was published to help fish and wildlife agencies adapt to changing societal conditions.

The study demonstrates a large decline over time in several states of people defined as traditionalists. This group believes animals should be used for purposes that benefit humans, like hunting and medical research.

Mutualists, on the other hand, view animals as companions and part of their social networks, and project human traits onto animals. They believe that animals deserve care similar to people. (Guiden and Whaley, 2019)

While the public advocates for policies that are reflective of Americans’ wildlife values, killing contests, the use of dogs, trapping, high-powered electronic tracking devices, and an open season on predators stand at the forefront of controversial issues. From Washington State to Maine, state fish and wildlife agencies face growing requests, petitions, and statewide initiatives created by the public advocating to ban hunting practices that ignore the welfare of the animal and potentially cause habitat fragmentation.

The foundation of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, as we know it today, states hunting objectives follow “ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animal.” (Boone and Crockett Club, n.d.) These principles known as “fair chase,” created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, are left up to each state wildlife agency to interpret.

Future fair chase debates are inevitable as long as the stakeholders on boards and commissions are comprised of members of the hunting community. According to the study, embracing a broader view of wildlife and their habitat requires recruiting and retaining commissioners and staff with diverse values and perspectives within the agency.

An environment with diverse opinions that welcomes new perspectives on wildlife management will better represent the interest of a broader constituency and help advocate for policies that are reflective of Americans’ wildlife values. (Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 2019)

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Donna Di Casparro
Donna Di Casparro

Donna Di Casparro has been a publisher in the Lakes Region for over 30 years. Her work has highlighted life in rural New Hampshire – the culture, people, traditions, and history. Now retired, her writing and research is focused on sustaining healthy ecosystems and the value of our wildlife.