The North American Model of Conservation: Authorities and Management of Disease
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2015
Becky Humphries
National Wild Turkey Foundation, Edgefield, SC, USA


The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is a retrospective model that has guided wildlife management and conservation decisions in the United States and Canada for the past century. The model’s foundation was laid in the 19th century’s conservation movement as a result of the near extinction of several species of wildlife, including the American bison, and the rise of sportsmen with the middle class. Sportsmen's organizations rallied and advocated for the preservation of wilderness areas and wildlife conservation. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation is comprised of seven principles or tenets. These tenets are established in law and public policy in the United States:

1.  Wildlife as public trust resources

2.  Elimination of markets for game

3.  Allocation of wildlife by law

4.  Wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose

5.  Wildlife is considered an international resource

6.  Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy

7.  Democracy of hunting

States hold authority to manage fish and wildlife species and set “take” regulations. The federal government has statutory authority over migratory bird species, threatened and endangered species, and wildlife on select federal lands (some national parks) as deemed by congress. Recognized tribes of native people maintain rights to wildlife on ceded lands and some rights on public lands. While state, federal and tribal agencies hold public trust authority of wildlife, the habitats required for wildlife range over all land ownership, including private lands. In addition, certain federal and state agencies have deemed that some wildlife species can be privately owned and have designated them as livestock. Anti-trust laws come into play, making sale and movement of these animals legal.

So, how do authorities address the movement of disease that affects wildlife, livestock and even people? It is a complex quilt of give and take, between individual rights and the public trust, between agriculture and conservation. Two examples from my time with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will illustrate the complexity of authorities and the tug of competing values.

In 1975, a deer was found to have bovine tuberculosis in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula. At that time it was believed that bovine tuberculosis was unsustainable in wild deer populations. Fast forward 20 yr and a second positive deer was killed by a hunter and additional testing of the deer of this area was undertaken. Additional diseased animals were found, and so began a multi-decade battle to try and eradicate bovine tuberculosis from wild deer in Michigan. Since that date, the disease has been found in numerous cattle herds, in the wild deer herd, a privately owned deer farm, in farm cats, in raccoons, and in people. Private livestock has been destroyed and the owners compensated for the value of their loss. Deer have been killed by government sharp shooters, by hunters and by landowners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has tied their rules for livestock trade to wildlife regulations in an attempt to curtail spread of disease. The State Natural Resources Commission, the body with authority over the method and manner of “take” of game, has passed regulations allowing abundant harvest of deer, required disease testing, and enacted restrictions on the placement of feed and bait for wild deer (thought to contribute to the spread of disease). After two decades, an investment of over $200 million and the killing of thousands of animals, the disease continues to spread.

Lessons learned with bovine tuberculosis, prompted Michigan officials to develop response plans for other diseases including avian influenza and chronic wasting disease. In 2008, a privately owned whitetail deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). The 7-acre fenced facility was immediately quarantined along with four other facilities that had been exposed with the infected herd. All deer in the original facility were destroyed and tested. No other infected deer were found at that facility or any of the other facilities. Wild deer were once again killed and tested, and again, no other positive deer were found. The owner of original infected deer was arrested on the first night of the quarantine, after tranquilizing the offspring of the infected doe, and transporting it off the property with the admitted intention of releasing it into the wild. Since the time of detection, additional testing has been done on private deer herds and the wild deer. Restrictions on the placement of feed and bait have been enacted as have restrictions on the import of live private deer and hunter killed carcasses. To date no additional CWD has been detected in Michigan until several weeks ago.

As we battle the diseases that can move from domesticated animals to wild animals or from wild animals to domestic animals, the rights that we have enjoyed for centuries are being challenged. Farmers are frustrated with hunters who want to maintain robust deer populations. Hunters, who pay for state agency conservation work through hunting license fees and excise taxes, are frustrated and vocal when wild deer herds are killed. A successful century of wildlife conservation work is being undermined. Likewise, farmers who raise livestock are negatively impacted when restrictions are placed on the movement of animals and testing requirements.

As we look to the future, there will be even greater demands on our working landscapes to provide space for livestock and agriculture, wildlife habitat and recreation, and people and their domestic animals. Clearly, the rights we have all enjoyed in this past century will have to be curtailed, if we are going to be successful in managing disease. Will individual rights prevail over the public domain? What will happen to our rich wildlife populations or the robust economy that comes from outdoor wildlife recreation? It is time for a new model of shared landscapes that provides better biosecurity for man, livestock and wildlife.


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Becky Humphries
National Wild Turkey Foundation
Edgefield, SC, USA