In many respects, the challenges to conservation of forests, wildlife, water, and soil at the turn of the 21st century remain the same—only exaggerated due to growing populations and demands for resources. In 2005, 83 percent of the U.S. population lived in metro areas, explaining, in part, the trend away from nature-based recreation of almost all types. Richard Louv, in his recent book Last Child in the Woods, called this “nature deficit syndrome.” President Roosevelt saw the same change in national awareness at the turn of the 20th century:
“He lives in big cities. He deals in industries that do not bring him in close touch with nature. He does not realize the demands he is making upon nature. For instance, he finds, as he has found before in many parts of this country, that it is cheaper to build his house of concrete than of wood, learning in this way only that he has allowed the woods to become exhausted.”
Our commitment to the outdoors through hunting is central to the success of the North American Model. It is an important part of our conservation heritage and an essential ingredient for success in the future. For many, it is essential for quality of life as noted at the 1908 conference by William Black, president of Missouri Valley College:
“So far, the argument is utilitarian. But hunting and fishing are our finest forms of recreation, and thousands of lives are bettered by the open air, the change of scene, the mental excitement, and the good fellowship of hunting and fishing. Does not our President enjoy the chase, and did not Mr. Cleveland angle with delight? . . . It will be a sad day when men can neither hunt nor fish.”
In this regard, it is important to remind ourselves of how unique the North American Model is compared with the European system of private control of wildlife and comparatively limited access to hunting. In North America, access to hunting and fishing opportunity is commonplace. And in turn, hunters and anglers provide support through excise taxes on sporting goods and by purchasing licenses and stamps. Further support is through membership in organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, which has conserved more than 12 million acres over 71 years. Other organizations like the Boone and Crockett Club (established in 1887), Trout Unlimited (1959), National Wild Turkey Federation (1973), Pheasants Forever (1982), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (1984), and many more represent a diverse and essential basis for perpetuating the North American Model.
Through the Sporting Conservation Council (which advises the Secretary of the Interior on hunting and conservation issues) and with a range of other conservation partners, Ducks Unlimited has been involved in helping prepare for a White House conference this fall prompted by President Bush’s executive order in August 2007. The North American Wildlife Policy Conference will set the stage, a century after the 1908 Conference of Governors, for ensuring that the North American Model is maintained and strengthened.
Diverse talents, bipartisan support, and lasting commitment will be essential for this to occur. Patience, tenacity, and commitment were evident for most of the century before the 1908 conference in the investigations of John James Audubon, the writings of Henry David Thoreau, the foresight of George Perkins Marsh, the determination of Gifford Pinchot, the intellect and influence of George Bird Grinnell, the competing views of John Muir, and, of course, the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt.
One wonders if Roosevelt would have stood by today and relied on small increments of conservation progress in the midst of substantially greater resource demand. Or, would he have thrown a political wrench in the legislative gears and prompted sufficient dialogue and discussion to result in action? Hopefully, as a result of this fall’s conference, we will learn from the past, take action today, and set the stage for the future of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
Dale Humburg is chief biologist at DU’s national headquarters in Memphis.