6 Things Everyone Should Know About Wildlife Conservation

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Black-footed ferrets are just one of many species that have benefited from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s species-conservation programs. Photo by Tony Gurzick/CPW.

Conservation is at the heart of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mission. And no other scientific principle is more responsible for creating Colorado’s enormous abundance of fish, wildlife and its world-class outdoor recreation. Yet, in spite of its importance to our state, conservation—in the context of wildlife management—is a concept that’s often overlooked and misunderstood.

Whether you’re a hunter, angler or just someone who enjoys Colorado’s wildlife and wild places, here are six things you should know about wildlife conservation:

1. What is Wildlife Conservation?

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Thanks to “wise-use” conservation principles, Colorado boasts the largest elk herd in North America. Photo by © Jerry Neal/CPW.

Although conservation is a term that’s commonly used when discussing resources like water and energy, it can be challenging for many people to understand how conservation applies to wildlife. Simply stated, conservation is defined as the “wise use” and active management of wildlife, where biologists manage wild animals, fish and their habitats in order to achieve specific and measurable outcomes. This includes regulating overabundant or depleted wildlife populations, protecting threatened and endangered species, reintroducing native animals and raising/stocking fish. In addition, a critical component of conservation is recognizing that wildlife is held in the public trust. Therefore, fish and wildlife must be managed for the benefit of all citizens, providing people with the opportunity to enjoy and experience the natural environment through fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and a variety of other outdoor pursuits.

2. Conservation vs. Preservation

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Left unchecked, many wildlife species can face overpopulation and become more susceptible to starvation and disease. Photo by Joe Lewandowski (CPW).

The terms conservation and preservation are often used (or misused) interchangeably when discussing wildlife, but their main ideologies differ greatly. In contrast to conservation’s “wise-use” principles of managing wildlife, preservation is the “non-use” or hands-off approach to resource management. Despite their opposite meanings, however, conservation and preservation can work together harmoniously. In fact, a good conservation strategy may include themes of preservation. For example, biologists may establish a refuge free from humans to re-establish critical habitat or to protect threatened or endangered species. But, by itself, preservation is not a feasible long-term strategy for wildlife management, and those who suggest that wild animals are best served by removing all human involvement are misguided. Left unchecked, many species of wild animals become more susceptible to disease, starvation and overpopulation, which can also lead to increased human/wildlife conflicts. Additionally, a preservation-only approach to wildlife and natural-resource management prevents people from actively experiencing and connecting with nature. With Colorado’s burgeoning population, science-based conservation is more important than ever to maintain a balance between sustainable and healthy wildlife populations and ensuring that outdoor-recreation opportunities remain for future generations.

3. Who Pays for Conservation?

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Image/design by  Wayne D Lewis/CPW.

Because Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) does not receive general tax dollars to fund its wildlife conservation programs, the vast majority of these efforts are paid for by sportsmen and women. Known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAMWC), hunters and anglers, through purchasing hunting and fishing licenses and habitat stamps, are the primary source of funding for all state wildlife conservation programs in the United States. In Colorado, hunters and anglers fund more than 70 percent of CPW’s wildlife management programs. Additionally, as part of this funding model, federal excise-taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, firearms and ammunition generate millions of dollars for conservation programs that benefit both game and nongame species. Lynx, moose, black-footed ferrets, turkeys, elk and deer are just a few examples of species that have benefited from the NAMWC. No other conservation model in history has had greater positive impacts on wildlife, and it is the reason Colorado is home to some of the most abundant and diverse wildlife populations in the world.

4. Who Supports Conservation?

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A young volunteer helps CPW and the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society relocate a herd of bighorn sheep in northwest Colorado. Photo by Matt Yamashita/CPW.

In addition to state and federal wildlife agencies, a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits support conservation science. Groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Trout Unlimited and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) are just a few examples of conservation agencies/organizations that work toward the common goal of ensuring sustainable fish and wildlife populations and supporting hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. These local and national organizations also work to protect the future of wildlife by speaking up for conservation in our national and state capitals and focusing their efforts toward on-the-ground projects. CPW works cooperatively with many of these organizations on habitat restoration, research studies and other programs that benefit Colorado’s fish and wildlife.

5. Do All Organizations Support Wildlife Conservation?

While it’s important to acknowledge legitimate conservation organizations, it’s equally important to identify groups that are at odds with science-based conservation. In recent years, some animal rights activists and environmental-extremist groups have attempted to brand themselves as “conservationists” in an effort to fight the negative stigma that’s associated with their preservation-only, antihunting and activist agendas. Despite adopting this moniker, most of these organizations dedicate their time and resources lobbying against hunters and anglers and fighting programs and legislation that support true conservation. Unfortunately, these efforts often undermine science and take away Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s ability to establish sound policies for land-use and fish and wildlife management. Moreover, antihunting and preservationist initiatives often lead to problems like overpopulation of wildlife and increased human/wildlife conflicts. Instead of sportsmen managing wildlife populations through controlled hunting—a critical component of conservation—wildlife officers must euthanize animals that become habituated to humans or that grow beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. The bottom line is that most animal rights groups oppose conservation, and their policies do little or nothing to actually support or fund wildlife management in Colorado. It’s important to understand these differences before donating to any organization.

6. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Mission as a Conservation Organization

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CPW has a long tradition of restoring native species in Colorado. CPW’s successful Lynx Reintroduction Program helped to re-establish a sustaining population of the wild cats in Colorado’s ecosystems. Photo by CPW.  

Established in 1897, CPW has a rich history of managing Colorado’s wildlife resources through conservation science. In fact, CPW’s own mission statement embodies the primary themes of conservation:  “The mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state, to provide a quality state parks system, and to provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources.”

In a future blog post, we’ll discuss CPW’s wildlife conservation “Success Stories” and profile some of Colorado’s fish and wildlife species that are thriving thanks to conservation science.


Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor for Colorado Outdoors Online. 

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