During the first Session of the International conference, “Crossroads – Leading the Way for Wildlife Conservation” Dr. L Scott Mills, Associate Vice President of Research for Global Change and Sustainability at the University of Montana, gave his opening remarks to set the scene for this panel discussion. He started by giving a brief overview of North America in the late 1800s, early 1900s, where the region was facing an extinction crisis, largely due to unregulated killings and market hunting. These factors caused a drastic decline in numbers for various different species, including elk, deer, moose, mountain goats, mid-level herbivores, as well as a number of bird species. This eventually led to the development of what we now know as the North American model – the aim of this was to ensure that wildlife was a public trust that was accessible to the people, not just wealthy individuals and organisations. The North American model was an approach that converged conservation and sustainable use with scientific research, and ensured that funding from hunting was distributed towards habitat management and conservation that benefited many different species, not simply those that were being hunted. This has since led to the recovery from this extinction crisis, and an increase in numbers to sustainable levels for many of the affected species.
Following this, Dr. Mills went on to present the principles of success and the lessons learned from the North American model. These were as follows:
1) Benefits offset the burdens for those involved in conservation
The need for incentives for those involved in wildlife conservation was described as necessarily in order to facilitate habitat management. This can be seen when looking at the excise tax, which is a tax applied to all goods and equipment that is used for the purposes of hunting. These funds would be collected and redistributed by the state for the purposes of habitat management according to need. The Duck Stamp is also used to collect money for the migratory bird fund, and used for the purposes of habitat acquisition and restoring. Another example of this is the Farm bill; this provides financial incentives for rural residents to provide access for hunters on private lands.
2) Embrace the power of modern wildlife science
Wildlife science has seen a lot of development in recent years, and has contributed to advancements such as monitoring population numbers and the use of non-invasive techniques (genetic sampling, population structure, measuring stress levels, etc). It has also given us a stronger conceptual background on the discipline and interfaces with the practical application of conservation decision making. The case study of Mallards in the southern tier of the US was given, where Duck Stamp funds were used conduct an investigation that found that activity on breeding grounds had the largest influence on population growth rates.
3) Partnerships matter
The need for partnerships in conservation going forward was stressed – the example of Waterfowl hunters and their relationship with the Fish and Wildlife service was mentioned, where hunters allowed a reduction in harvest limits during a period when the population was at an all-time high. In addition, the emergence wildlife friendly enterprises were discussed; these are organisations that utilize conservation commercialisation and generate funds from stakeholder buy in. Dr. Mills and his wife operate such an enterprise, which aims to support Asian elephants in India by selling tea.
OPENING STATEMENTS BY PANEL MEMBERS ON THEIR VISION FOR CONSERVATION IN NORTH AMERICA
Ronald Regan, Executive Director of the US Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, spoke of the importance of fostering the relevancy of conservation and conservation constitution to all. This would involve putting forward a clearer value proposition to governmental entities in North America regarding conservation and the benefits that it would bring to all citizens in any jurisdiction. An improvement in quality of life, healthy protein, active lifestyle, green space, clean air and water are all factors that could be used. The need for more funding was also spoken of; it is anticipated that we will need a further 1 billion USD to manage species in the future. Embracing new audiences was mentioned as a key driver conservation, with a need to shift towards an outdoor centric ethic, and embracing the youth, women and millennials.
The Executive Director of Dallas Safari Club, Corey Mason, talked of the opposition that the North American model has received, despite its successes. This can be attributed to citizens being less engaged with the natural world around them, with less than 10% of Americans participating in hunting. As the majority of citizens have no first-hand knowledge of wildlife conservation, and receive most of their information from second and third hand sources, the main challenge going forward will be to re-establish relevancy and identify as a community – engage with those with differing views and find common ground.
Shane Mahoney, opened by describing wildlife as being a global gift to humanity. The one hope for wildlife in this planet is if we can manage to convince people that wildlife and its preservation is an act of citizenship. We currently have too few people who care, the people that do care are divided, and there not enough funds to support wildlife conservation. We solution would be to reach out to new people and to have an inclusive view of wildlife – to treat wildlife as a community of different species, and to not single out the species that are hunted. The need to accept major challenges and a need to do things in a different way was stressed, with a particular mention of deferring to the knowledge of those that depend of wildlife for survival.
When answering the question “Which alliances should be made so that there is less conflict” it was discussed that new relationships based on trust are not the most reliable, and the need to change circles, reach out to other organisation to get out of your comfort zone. Adjusting and moving with social trends, such as healthy food and fitness, was also stressed as way to make alliances.
Panellists, when asked what conservation was, responded with a variety of answers. Trying to maintain use to the maximum capacity possible – if people are going to use it, we have to make policies and laws to make that use sustainable. Bringing NGO and private sectors together, and ideas of inclusivity, were other examples that were mentioned.
The topic of conflict between public trust and principle was also brought up. It was mentioned that predators in North America have been known to put burdens on sections of the poorer; this burden could be spread more evenly if resources were well distributed. Shane Mahoney suggested that the idea of equal ownership, where land owners would have rights over the animals of their land, should be a principle that spreads across the globe