The Myth of NAM, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

- An exposition by John Laundré, Ph.D.

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM) is often heralded by hunters and hunting agencies as the guiding light that brought us out of the "Dark Ages" of mass destruction of wildlife. NAM is purported to have not only saved, but also restored, vast wildlife populations across the continent. But this is simply a myth, perpetuated by hunters. 

NAM has two basic principles: that fish and wildlife belong to all Americans, and that they need to be managed in a way that their populations will be sustained forever. Hunters like to point to what (to them) are success story after success story, thanks to the seven principles of the NAM, which they call The Seven Sisters for Conservation.

With the NAM and its "Sisters" proudly pinned to their chests, hunters and hunting agencies proudly proclaim that they and they alone have the secret to how nature works and how to successfully “manage” the wildlife in nature.  In their self-elevated position of nature experts, hunters commonly ridicule other “well meaning” but “misled” conservation groups as not really knowing how nature works. They believe these poor misguided individuals should just leave it to the hunters and their handpicked agencies to do what is best.

However, in saying these things, hunters clearly demonstrate that they DON’T know how nature works. They also expose the NAM for what it really is, a self-serving hunters model that is not remotely concerned with wildlife conservation.

NAM is a model designed to protect a few favored species and citizens at the expense of the rest of wildlife. In doing so it threatens not only wildlife, but ecosystem integrity.

The Seven Sisters for Conservation

Even a cursory overview at the NAM's guidelines, The Seven Sisters for Conservation, shows it is NOT a conservation model; it really is a self-serving hunting model. At least four, if not six, of the Sisters are dedicated strictly to hunting. And regardless of what the hunting industry says, hunting is NOT the same as conservation.  But even as a hunting model, it is also easy to see that the Sisters are full of hypocrisy and duplicity that even further reveals their self-serving nature to the hunting industry.

Below I present each of the Sisters in bold italic to see if—even as a model—the hunting industry is following their hallowed guidelines. My assessment follows each.

NOTE: The Sisters below are directly sourced from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), as we do not be accused of misstating them.

Sister #1: Wildlife is Held in the Public Trust

In North America natural resources and wildlife on public lands are managed by government agencies to ensure that current and future generations always have wildlife and wild places to enjoy.

This is probably the only tenet that does not have hunting somehow imbedded in it.  But needless to say, the RMEF’s interpretation of “ensuring current and future generations always have wildlife and wild places to enjoy” really means to hunt and kill as it seems that is the only way hunters seem to be able to “enjoy” wildlife.  As these government agencies are created for, controlled and run by hunters, what this tenet actually says is “wildlife is held in the hunting public trust” and is for the “enjoyment” of hunters and no one else. This can be seen in hunters’ dismissal and even demeaning of any non-hunting views. In their view, only hunters “know how nature works” and so should have the only say in what happens to wildlife. And how nature works in their minds is that some wildlife species were created to hunt, others to kill (there IS a difference) or ignore.  This leaves about 99% of the wildlife species out of the hunting public trust and 95% (see below) of the public out of any “management” decisions.

Sister #2: Prohibition on Commerce of Dead Wildlife

Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife is prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife populations.

Besides being a blatant hunting tenet that has little to do with conservation—and again leaves out the 99% of the wildlife not in the rifle scope of hunters—this is probably one of the most abused tenets of the NAM. Under this sister, the commercial hunting and sale of some wildlife, e.g. deer and ducks, seem to be “protected” from commercial use.  However, we would argue that today’s modern hunting industry is really a form of commercial hunting.  Hunters pay game agencies to raise certain wildlife species so they can hunt them. Money changes hands. Hunters demand and agencies are indebted to produce…more game in the bag for these paid “hunting opportunities.” 

Also, the industry itself, a commercial entity, depends on these hunters to be successful so they will continue to buy all the paraphernalia surrounding modern industrial hunting. So though not directly selling the carcasses of hunted animals, the opportunity to hunt them is very commercial and thus does not ensure sustainable wildlife populations but rather the abuse of these populations to meet market demands. 

Secondly, with regards to fur bearing wildlife, this sister is nonexistent. As you will see later in tenet 5, the hypocrisy and self-service of the NAM is clearly displayed. Under this tenet, I cannot commercially hunt certain wildlife, again, ducks and deer. However other species can still be killed purely for commercial reasons, the sale of their fur. This was obviously a concession to the trappers who also were included in the hunting public trust. It is this blatant commercialism of a whole sector of wildlife, mainly carnivores (although beavers, muskrats and other herbivores are thrown in) that clearly demonstrates the fallacy of this “sister”. So commercial hunting on several levels still exists, rendering Sister #2 to be a blatant lie that is never followed.

Sister #3: Democratic Rule of Law

Hunting and fishing laws are created through the public process where everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to develop systems of wildlife conservation and use.

Again, this is strictly a hunting sister and has no business in a conservation model. Apart from that, it is again abused to the point of being worthless. First, hunting and fishing laws are NOT created through an open public process where everyone has an opportunity to participate. They are created by hunters and for hunters, period. This came very clear to me long ago when I attended one of the “public” meetings. The then director of the state GAME agency started out by being very clear he was talking only to hunters and fishermen when he said: “the goal of our agency is to put more fish in the creel and more game in the bag.” There was no room for input on the other 99% of the wildlife or how those goals would affect the conservation of these species. There is no desire to have the non-hunting public participate in this process.

When interested and well-meaning citizens do attend and voice their opinion regarding what is happening to wildlife because of hunting interests, they again are ridiculed and debased as “not knowing how nature works,” being anti-hunting, and not having any right to express their opinion. The ultimate fallacy of this sister is attested by the fact that in some states, the only way a person can be on a game commission is if they hunt or fish. So much for inclusivity and the democratic rule of law!

Sister #4: Hunting Opportunity for All

Every citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States and Canada.

Just what this has to do with wildlife conservation mystifies me! This tenet would apply only to the species that are hunted, again, leaving out the other 99% that are not. It appears that this tenet is one of the most self-serving sisters in that it is an attempt to justify, codify, hunting. Just because everyone has the opportunity to hunt does not mean hunting and hunters should dominate wildlife conservation policy. This is especially true in that in the U.S. only 5% of the citizens 16 years and older hunt! If the previous tenet were observed, this means that democratically, hunters should only have a 5% say in what happens to all wildlife! 

Sister #5: Non-Frivolous Use

In North America, individuals may legally kill certain wild animals under strict guidelines for food and fur, self-defense and property protection.  Laws restrict against the casual killing of wildlife merely for antlers, horns or feathers.

The hypocrisy of this sister defies all logic. How can anyone rationally reconcile these two explanatory sentences? How is it possible that individuals may legally kill certain animals for their fur but not be allowed to kill others merely for their body parts?

Last time I checked, a bobcat’s fur was as tightly connected to its body as antlers, horns, and feathers are to their respective species. Also, last time I checked, deer have fur. So if we can kill a bobcat, rip its fur off, and discard its body, why can’t we also do the same with deer? If all we want is the hide, why can’t we just shoot deer, skin them, and toss the carcass?  Who gets to decide which “certain” animals we may kill just for their fur? Under sister # 3, we ALL should make that decision!

Also, under the self-defense clause, why can we not kill deer in large numbers to reduce the highway carnage they create, killing up to 200 people a year and injuring thousands? Yet we can kill a crow any time we want if it is doing damage or ABOUT TO DO damage?

I could go on and on about the duplicity of this tenet but suffice to say it’s value as a tenet in a conservation model succumbs under its own illogical weight.

Sister #6: International Resources

Wildlife and fish migrate freely across boundaries between states, provinces and countries.  Working together, the United States and Canada jointly coordinate wildlife and habitat management strategies.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 demonstrates this cooperation between countries to protect wildlife.  The Act made it illegal to capture or kill migratory birds, except as allowed by specific hunting regulations.

Again, this tenet seems to have a strong conservation theme to it, the protection of wildlife by international law. However, the follow-up sentence clearly indicates that the RMEF interprets this as only applying to the HUNTING of species that cross national and international boundaries. The wildlife and management strategies they mention are again, to insure “hunting opportunities” not wildlife populations.

Sister #7: Scientific Management

Sound science is essential to managing and sustaining North America’s wildlife and habitats. For example, researchers put radio collars on elk to track the animals’ movements to determine where elk give birth and how they react to motor vehicles on forest roads.

Lastly, the supposed use of sound science for managing wildlife.  What a crock this is! Again, their follow-up indicates that the only real science that is “sound” is the science that insures…more game in the bag. If the hunting industry and agencies really were serious about following this sister, then the RMEF would publically admit 1) their insistence on maximizing the number of elk in an area is ecologically wrong, 2) their war on predators like wolves and cougars is wrong! 3) that wolves and other large predators are essential to ecosystems and thus wildlife conservation and 4) insist that cougars and wolves be reintroduced into eastern forests to counter the ecologically disastrous effect the RMEF’s reintroduction of elk is having on eastern ecosystem. ALL the science indicate that uncontrolled ungulate populations are not good for sustaining wildlife and habitats. ALL the science indicates that killing predators to enhance ungulate populations is ineffective and just wrong. ALL the science indicates that top predators are essential to ecosystem health and sustainability of North America’s wildlife and habitats.  It is obvious that the RMEF is ignoring this science and so one has to ask, just what science are they referring to?

In Closing: A Call to Action

I end by saying that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The NAM is NOT a conservation model but a hunting model. It has been selectively applied for the self-serving benefit of hunters, not wildlife, for far to long. It was created and enshrined by the hunting industry to justify their blatant abuse of wildlife in North America, under the false claim of “conservation.” The continued adherence to the NAM by hunters and their agencies only ensures their heavy-handed influence and power over how wildlife are treated in this country… to the detriment of most of the wildlife and to the ecosystems that support them. 

It is time we stop saying it is such an ideal model that has saved wildlife, deer and ducks maybe, and that somehow all wildlife CONSERVATION decisions be based on its flawed and rarely followed “sisters.”  It is time to change paradigms totally and develop a truly wildlife conservation model that, still would include hunting but not be dominated by it. Hunting, based on level of participation and funding of wildlife conservation, should be relegated to the corner office of wildlife conservation agencies. We can no longer sacrifice whole ecosystems to support the perverted, self-centered vision of hunters’ idea of “how nature works.”

It is time that the other 95% of the population has a say in how we conserve (not manage) wildlife for the public trust and for ALL to enjoy. It is time we have a model that applies to ALL wildlife and ALL citizens. It is time for a change.

About the Author

John Laundré, Ph.D., 1949-2021, worked as a large mammal predator-prey conservation biologist for over 30 years in the western U.S. and northern Mexico.  Laundré originated the concept of “the landscape of fear,” which proposed that a prey’s fear of its predators is important in maintaining ecosystem integrity.  He published over 70 scientific articles, authored the book Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest, and wrote frequently on America's mismanagement of carnivores.  Laundré served as Vice-Pres. of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation and Asst. Director of the James San Jacinto Mountains Natural Reserve at U.C. Riverside, and served on Predator Defense's Scientific Advisory Board. Read special memorial tributes