What is Conservation and Why Does it Matter?
The 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” and most people probably agree when they understand what Roosevelt meant by conservation.
The dictionary definition of conservation is preventing the waste of resources, and in the meaning spoken by President Roosevelt, conservation refers explicitly to the protection of wild lands and the wildlife living there.
Conservation in the modern sense also refers to a plan of managing natural resources to protect them from wanton destruction and over-use. Most people would agree that protecting our natural resources benefits human beings in multiple ways, from the material to the spiritual.
Conservation’s Long History in America
During the taming of the American frontier, free-market interests had been at the forefront of people’s priorities. Many populations of elk, bison, deer, and other game were reduced to dangerously low levels because it was legal to hunt these animals and sell their products on the open market. Habitat was lost due to the development of farmland and towns, further reducing native animal populations.
By the mid-1800s, many people had moved from rural areas to cities, and this change prompted an increasing public interest in the spectacular landscapes, wildlands, and wildlife across the U.S. As people took up city life, they also took up a greater interest in retreating to the wilderness for relaxation and renewal. Hunting, fishing, and camping became widely enjoyed recreational activities.
Soon after this, hunters and anglers began seeing the importance of protecting game populations and their natural habitats to preserve these sports for future generations. This was the era of Teddy Roosevelt and his campaign for the creation of our National Parks, National Forests, and the extensive network of game and bird reserves, furthering his goal of nature conservation and the continuation of the sport of hunting which he loved so much.
An American Vision of Conservation
Roosevelt’s vision for protecting the wildlands of America combined with the desires of sportsmen and women around the country to preserve the traditions and pleasures of hunting and fishing. A movement began for developing a national system of managing and monitoring wildlife populations and the natural environments they need for survival.
The result was the creation of The North American Wildlife Conservation Model, a uniquely American vision for sustaining wildlife populations and habitat while also preserving American traditions of hunting, fishing, and trapping.
Seven important principles form the backbone of this conservation model:
- Wildlife is viewed as a public trust, owned by all Americans and managed by state and federal governments for the benefit of all citizens.
- Native animals and their products cannot be sold, which ensures that market forces cannot create an incentive for depleting wildlife and fish populations.
- Laws have been established for the government taking the lead in protecting and managing wild animal populations, rather than allowing private industry or private property owners to take on this role.
- Other laws establish the right to hunt and fish for all Americans and help keep fees low for hunting and fishing licenses so everyone who wants to can participate.
- Hunters and anglers are expected to use animal products for reasonable purposes and not to kill wantonly or for trophies.
- International treaties for wildlife conservation further protect native animal populations, since many species migrate across national borders.
- Science is used to study wildlife populations so that all decisions on management have a sound foundation in field observation and research.
Conservation Protects American Traditions and Wildlife
The concepts of conservation set out by President Roosevelt in 1906 have resulted in a uniquely American system for protecting wildlands and fisheries, while also protecting the rights of all Americans to hunt game and catch fish while enjoying the great outdoors.