Protecting Wildlife

Protecting Wildlife for Everyone

In the late 1800s, North American hunters and anglers discovered that expanding human settlement, industry and over hunting were driving fish and wildlife to extinction and destroying their habitats. Led by such figures as Theodore Roosevelt, sportsmen launched a grassroots crusade to conserve wildlife and protect hunting and fishing for future generations.

In Mississippi, serious efforts to restore game populations began after a survey of game animals was conducted by Aldo Leopold in 1928-1929. This statewide survey documented the lack of game in the state and noted the critical need for conservation efforts as well as the need for an agency that would be responsible for wildlife protection.

Because of conservation efforts throughout the country, many wildlife populations made dramatic recoveries and today we enjoy public lands and protected spaces for wildlife. The cornerstone of these successful efforts was the principle that wild animals and fish belong, not to private individuals, but to all of us. That principle is known as the Public Trust Doctrine.

What is the Public Trust Doctrine?

The Public Trust Doctrine holds that wildlife resources are entrusted to the government to be managed for the public. Government does not own these resources, but they are entrusted with their long-term management and care.

History of the Public Trust Doctrine

The concept of the public trust reaches back to sixth century Roman law which stated: “By the law of nature these things are common to all mankind: the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.”

In the U.S., American courts established and strengthened the Public Trust concept. In 1821 the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed that ownership of water and the land underneath was given to the “citizens” upon statehood.

In 1842, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the public held a right to fish in navigable and tidal waters in New Jersey because the water and those lands were held by the state for the use of the people.

Why is it important to protect the Public Trust Doctrine?

The Public Trust Doctrine is the bedrock of the successful North American Model of Wildlife Management. This Model evolved in response to the demise of our once abundant wildlife resources and is the only one of its kind in the world. The Model outlines the components of conservation and natural resource management. These components are:

  1. Wildlife is a public trust resource
  2. Elimination of markets for wildlife
  3. Allocation of wildlife by law
  4. Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose
  5. Wildlife is considered an international resource
  6. Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy
  7. Democracy of hunting

Wildlife management based on these principles allows us to enjoy the most democratic and abundant hunting and fishing opportunities on earth.

Economic Importance

The establishment of healthy wildlife resources also translates into an economic development. A 2008 report found that the economic impact of hunting in Mississippi was $1,203,742, 401. The economic impact of freshwater fishing was $690,161,178 and the economic benefit of birding and other wildlife watching activities was $791,337,311. This a total impact of $2,685,240,890. The importance of these resources should not be taken lightly.

Threats to the Public Trust Doctrine

The natural resources we treasure today were made possible by the efforts of sportsmen, concerned individuals, and agencies working together under the principle that wildlife belongs to the people. Today, the sacrifices and programs that helped the U.S. restore and maintain our wildlife resources are too often taken for granted. Some people are looking to abandon the North American Model that got us to this point in our wildlife management efforts. Having contributed nothing themselves, they wish to take our public right to these resources. Threats that undermine state and federal conservation laws, programs and policies are quietly at work. Of particular concern is privatization of wildlife.

Currently it is possible to obtain a permit from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks to hold white-tailed deer in pens. These deer are still considered the property of the state and subject to state hunting regulations. However, is it really possible to consider these state resources when they are under the control of an individual? Apathy allows threats to go unchallenged until it is too late to be effective. Perhaps even worse, we often hear of outlaws making a mockery of our conservation laws and going unprosecuted by the courts.

As sportsmen and women it is our opportunity to step up and protect the traditions we inherited and assure that we do not return to a time where lawlessness, apathy and greed can devastate our wildlife resources and remove them from public protections.

Read more about the Public Trust Doctrine here [pdf]

Turkey photo by Paul T. Brown

“It is therefore safe to say the wild turkey is 90% cleaned out as to potential area and 99% cleaned out as to potential abundance. “ —Aldo Leopold, Game Survey of Mississippi 1929

Deer photo by Paul T. Brown

“With the possible exception of very limited parts of the Delta, deer can nowhere be said to persist in numbers justifying hunting…” —Aldo Leopold, Game Survey of Mississippi 1929

Hawk photo byThomas O'Malley

“Hawks and Owls – Very few were seen.”—Aldo Leopold, Game Survey of Mississippi 1929

“Of course a regularly constituted game department is badly needed in any event. Neither the ordinary police functions, nor the regulatory functions, in the establishment of refuges, public shooting grounds, etc. can be handled by other agencies.” —Aldo Leopold, Game Survey of Mississippi 1929.

MDWFP biologist working

It must also begin with a realization that depletion of this resource appears to always precede the adoption of a conservation program; that is, the state must feel the pinch of scarcity before collective interest is aroused. Mississippi, having undergone a nearly complete depletion of turkey and deer and a partial loss of smaller game species, is probably now about ready to do something.—Aldo Leopold, Game Survey of Mississippi 1929