We Don't Have Wildlife by AccidentNeil Thagard


We don’t have all of the economic, sporting and recreational benefits that our wildlife brings, by accident.  As early settlers made their way West, North America’s wildlife populations dwindled due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss. Many species such as bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, bison and waterfowl included – went from countless numbers to just a few thousand at the close of the 19th century.

Hunters and anglers such as President Theodore Roosevelt realized we needed to set limits in order to protect rapidly disappearing wildlife, and assume responsibility for managing wild lands. They had the foresight to see where these resources were headed and knew that if we were going to salvage our wildlife and the places they inhabit, it was going to take human intervention.

Their efforts are the backbone of the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which contains two basic principles—1) that our fish and wildlife belong to all citizens, and that 2) we hold the responsibility to manage them in such a way that their populations will be sustained forever. 

While the Industrial Revolution initiated rapid technology development and laid the foundation of the urban workforce, the movement also placed harsh demands on the natural world.  Wildlife in particular suffered, as we began taking over and developing their habitat for our own uses.

History clearly shows us that such technological advancements are cyclical in nature, and today we are facing many of the same challenges as they did a century ago - a ballooning human population is placing increased demands on our natural resources.  Our wildlife is at risk from human encroachment. Today, crucial wildlife habitat is being developed to feed the ever-increasing human appetite for both land and other natural resources such as water and energy. 

Our public lands are managed under a multiple-use concept, and theoretically this means we can have human development alongside other uses such as hunting or angling.  However, multiple-use does not mean that all uses are suitable in all places.  We as conservationists must recognize which places must be conserved for our wildlife vs. those in which other uses, for example energy development, are suitable.  And in determining these places we must recognize the needs of the species that inhabit them, such as white-tailed deer, which are habitat generalists, vs. mule deer, which are a very habitat specific species that depend on crucial ranges with intact migration corridors.  This is not an issue that can be looked at microscopically, wildlife do not recognize the local or even international boundaries we draw on maps.  Loss and fragmentation of habitat today is a planet-wide problem, even the mighty Serengeti is facing the building of a highway, to pursue energy resources, through its heart which would disrupt the annual migration of the wildebeests, one of the natural mysteries of the world.

When it comes to conservation, it is not enough to just want to do something about it – we must put our beliefs into action.  As has been clearly evident here in Wyoming, as well as in many places across North America, we are currently (and in many cases unsuccessfully) asking wildlife to work around development and industry – it is time that we learn to work around wildlife.  With new and emerging technologies, this is certainly possible, and indeed necessary if we are to preserve populations for future generations.  We must be as foresighted as President Roosevelt and his peers, and be looking ahead to ensure suitable habitats are available for fish and wildlife – and not just in the places we pursue them, but the crucial habitats, such as fawning grounds known as parturition areas, winter range and transition areas which are important for the future survival of a species. 

As in any other policy-governed industry, the only way to affect the laws and regulations that determine how we manage our wildlife is to change the way people think.  Decision makers must first understand the importance of wildlife – the importance of sustaining ecology and succession, aesthetic and recreational values, and thereby also sustaining the $200 billion dollars generated for the U.S. economy through wildlife related activities.

Taking personal responsibility for our wildlife and for conservation of its habitat is not a new idea, but a torch that has been passed to our generation.  In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt was famously quoted as stating “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in our country”.

Our governmental policy makers are not always informed about wildlife’s best interests; they have a long list of other items they need to address such as war, healthcare, jobs, and a major deficit.  Therefore we need to be at the table to educate them, as there are decision makers in government today that are ready to sell our wildlife and habitats for short term gain.  I challenge you that it is our responsibility as friends of wildlife, conservationists, hunters and anglers, to ensure that our policy makers understand the value and the importance that wildlife has to you – don’t let them sell us out!  It takes our action – remember, we do not have wildlife by accident!