Initially, wildlife management in the United States was skewed toward protection.
- In the early 1900s, for example, wildlife managers attempted to preserve a mule deer herd in the remote Kaibab Plateau of Arizona. Hunting was banned, and predators were destroyed. The result was severe overpopulation, habitat destruction, and mass starvation. The Kaibab Plateau was opened to hunting in 1929, which brought the population into balance with the habitat. Today, a large, healthy herd of mule deer inhabits the area.
- Around the same period, a similar event took place in Pennsylvania. Deer had been brought into the state after the native population was thought to be extinct. With most of the predators eliminated and little hunting allowed, the herd grew out of control. As the food supply dwindled, thousands of white-tailed deer starved to death.
- From these hard lessons, wildlife managers learned that there is more to conservation than just protecting wildlife. They discovered that nature overproduces its game resources and that good wildlife management yields a surplus that can be harvested by hunters.
The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation
In the first two decades of the 20th century, sportsmen from the United States and Canada developed a set of guiding principles for managing wildlife resources. Called the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, these seven principles provide the foundation for the success of fish and wildlife conservation in North America.
- Fish and wildlife are public property. The government holds them in trust for the benefit of all people.
- Wildlife cannot be slaughtered for commercial use. This policy eliminates trafficking in dead game animals.
- Wildlife is allocated by law. Regulations determine how wildlife resources are managed, including hunting seasons and bag limits.
- The reasons for killing wildlife must be valid. Wildlife shall be taken by legal and ethical means, in the spirit of "fair chase," and with good cause. Animals can be killed only for legitimate purposes—for food and fur, in self-defense, or for protection of property.
- Wildlife is an international resource. As such, hunting and fishing shall be managed cooperatively across state and province boundaries.
- Science plays a key role in managing wildlife. Wildlife populations are sustained and scientifically managed by professionals in government agencies.
- Hunting, fishing, and trapping shall be democratic. Every citizen in good standing—regardless of wealth, social standing, or land ownership—is allowed to participate in the harvest of fish and wildlife within legal limits.