Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who Owns North America’s Wildlife?

The following article was put together by an Orion board member:

The answer to “who owns wildlife?” differs greatly in the United States and Canada from the rest of the world. In North America wildlife does not belong to individuals. Instead it belongs to everyone with federal, state and provincial governments responsible for managing wildlife on public land. However, this bedrock principle is being tested in Vermont now.

In the final days of Vermont’s 2010 legislative session, language known as the Nelson amendment was inserted in the appropriations bill (H.789 Sec E.702.1), which changed the status of native deer and moose enclosed on a captive shooting facility from the public domain to private ownership.

This legislation was reportedly passed to save a celebrity game preserve moose known as Pete from being culled. Rules governing captive-hunting facilities were adopted by Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Board, and stipulated game preserves could not have any moose or white-tailed deer in their enclosures as way to protect wild herds from chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and other diseases carried by captive animals.

The Nelson Amendment of H.789 contains language that transfers regulatory authority of illegally taken native deer and moose from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department to the Vermont Department of Agriculture and permits an individual citizen to own and profit from those wild animals that rightfully belong to all Vermont citizens.

Several groups are up in arms over this threat to public ownership of wildlife including Orion-The Hunters’ Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to upholding hunting by providing intellectual leadership on hunting-related issues.

 “This giveaway of public wildlife resources to a single individual for personal gain threatens wildlife management in Vermont and beyond,” said Eric Nuse, executive director of Orion - The Hunters' Institute. “To change this management system, just to solve a short-term problem without any debate or input from the public and the professionals at the Fish and Wildlife Department, is reckless governance.”

The concept of ownership by the people and management by federal, state and provincial governments is known as the public trust doctrine of wildlife. It’s one of the reasons why this country enjoys the greatest diversity, quality, and quantity of game animals and other wildlife in the world. The idea dates back to when America defeated the English during the Revolutionary War. When wildlife was transferred from the King to the new government and thus to the people, it nullified the centuries-old European model where wildlife was privately owned and hunting was reserved for the upper class.  Since then, a series of Supreme Court rulings have firmly established the public trust as it relates to this country’s wildlife.

For more information about Vermont’s public trust doctrine issues, click here (link externally to


  1. read all about the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation in the recent Wildlife Society publication. You might want to print the table of contents then decide which articles to print, such as pages 22-50, at least.

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